When we travel to Manchester we usually stay with my father-in-law but for one reason or another this wasn’t possible on our last trip. I looked into the usual hotels nearby, and to be honest, they were expensive.

I turned to trusty Airbnb. Usually used for trips abroad, it only just occurred to me that there would probably be more suitable properties nearer to our family and, as luck would have it, I managed to find a 2-bedroom cottage only five minutes drive away from the church we were attending for a christening, and just outside the centre of Manchester.

It was in the perfect location, and much more suitable for our needs. My son was able to get to sleep in his own room, while we relaxed downstairs – much better than creeping around a dark hotel room! The cottage itself was very comfortable, clean and had a wonderful little garden that had been landscaped around a beautiful water feature.

But this post isn’t really about our Airbnb accommodation, as much as we enjoyed staying there. The bonus of staying at The Reach was meeting Sally – the owner of the property and finding out about a project she has spearheaded.

On the mantelpiece of the house was a fascinating book that contained photos of a work-in-progress; of a project to turn wasteland into a stunning piece of landscape. And, because we were staying in the house, we had the special code to gain access to this beautiful, hidden garden set in the middle of a housing estate.

Sally was kind enough to tell us a bit more about what has essentially been a labour of love for her and her family for the past three decades:

‘Some 30 years ago thousands of tons of rubble were dumped on part of a reservoir to build a housing estate. A small valley was left for a drainage stream. Gradually this piece of forgotten land turned into a swamp filled with rubbish and noxious weeds. I was indeed surprised to see it when I visited my daughter and family on my return from abroad. Then I was outraged when a swan died of starvation there. None of the neighbouring households were willing to help clear it, so I did it myself.  All costs, including the purchase of the land, have been funded privately by the family.  The aim was to make a beautiful space for families and wildlife to enjoy with plenty of features to stimulate a child’s imagination and give them the space and freedom to explore.’
Let’s just say the photos don’t do it justice. The following morning, we had some breakfast and with excitement headed across the street to the entrance. As a child I always loved the book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and as an adult I am still filled with wonder when I discover a walled, hidden horticultural oasis. Once through the door, we walked down some steps and came across a little tree house. And, while my son was happily scrambling up the ladder, I turned and was blown away by the sight in front of me.
Sally and her family have done a truly amazing job. The Secret Valley Garden has it all and the ethos behind this wonderful space has certainly been achieved 10 times over. Grassy banks with a winding stream with walkways over a lake filled with billowing plants and creepers; ducks and swans roaming freely; pathways leading up to secret sculptures, seating and swinging chairs to enjoy the surroundings; a dining area with a BBQ; an allotment with vegetable patches and fruit trees; play dens for children. But more than anything, a tranquil, peaceful getaway, that feels a million miles away from anywhere.

Although The Valley is only available to the visitors of the two properties at The Reach, members of the public are able to enjoy the garden, together with an organic allotment and the meadow when it is open to the public on the first Sunday of every month from April to September in aid of McMillan nurses in the National Gardens Scheme. However, if you miss out, and need to stay somewhere in or around Manchester, then I would heartily recommend staying at The Reach and becoming a member of a secret club who’ve been fortunate enough to enter the Valley Garden.

Now that we have discovered it, there’s no turning back for us. We will definitely be staying here again, and I look forward to being able to enjoy The Valley once more. Sssshhhh, just don’t tell too many people about it…


Ting blogs about travel inspiration over at My Travel Monkey.