24 July 2020 by Sam Duffy
Over the years, I’d done lots of walking with friends. Then in January 2020, I moved from London to Manchester for work. I needed a fresh start after my husband died suddenly in 2017, so this was a brave (and terrifying) move.
Relocating meant I found myself in a small, rented flat with no outside space. I hadn’t had the chance to establish a social network, but walking is always a great way to make friends. So, I started to follow some Manchester walking groups on the Meetup app and saw a notice for a local Ramblers walk. It said that everyone was welcome, so I decided to go along. They were all really welcoming, and I became a member.
Exploring my new home under lockdown
I managed just one Ramblers group walk before the COVID-19 pandemic meant we went into lockdown. I took the tram and joined a walk starting from Prestwich, which finished up very near my new flat. Until then, I hadn’t realised how much ‘green’ space I could access locally. I found out about the Salford Trail, and started to explore the River Irwell. This gave me a crucial starting point once lockdown started and I couldn’t join any more group walks.
Across that Easter weekend at the start of lockdown I had a week’s holiday booked. The weather was glorious, so I walked every day. I explored other parts of the Salford Trail such as Salford Quays and ventured further up the River Irwell to Clifton Viaduct, Aqueduct and Livia Forest. I found out about the local history of the beautiful Weaste Cemetery, and walked the Kersal Wetlands flood basin, The Meadows and Peel Park.
Broadening my horizons with Ramblers Routes
Meanwhile, the Ramblers app really helped me to explore my new neighbourhood. It has lots of walking route suggestions and feels like Google Maps with all the footpaths superimposed, so I could walk and explore. I started to explore the canals and urban areas around Manchester, using the Ramblers app to navigate – I could see where the canal bridges were, and make sure I didn’t get stuck on the wrong side of a canal on a long walk! I discovered places such as Piccadilly Village on the Ashton Canal and New Islington.
Although I hadn’t had the time to meet many members in person before lockdown, I really enjoyed being part of the local Ramblers Facebook group. Members shared photos and routes where they had been walking, and advice on how to interpret the lockdown rules. It gave me confidence to explore, as well as more route ideas. I was also able to advise other walkers. For example, once we were allowed to drive to take exercise, I recommended Kersal Wetlands to another walker. She hadn’t been sure if it was somewhere she could feel confident about driving to, but she went and shared some lovely pictures.
Building new friendships
I’d been taking photos of where I was walking, and it was lovely when the Facebook group featured one of my pictures as the cover photo – it made me feel part of something. I’ve also built up ‘virtual’ friendships, and I’m looking forward to meeting them in person and walking with them, once lockdown easing makes it possible.
The timing of my move up to Manchester had been very unfortunate. Just when I needed the support of social networks, everyone had to shut themselves away under lockdown. My parents were close by, but I couldn’t visit them. I am a musician and usually make friends through joining bands, but no one could rehearse or perform any more. I couldn’t even go into work as my College closed and I had to work from home. Being supported with my walks as a member of the Ramblers made me feel part of something and got me out exploring my local area. It has started to feel more like home as a result.
Joining the Ramblers gives you access to Ramblers Routes, a growing collection of more than 3,000 routes, developed by walkers for walkers of all levels of experience, across Great Britain The Ramblers, Great Britain’s largest walking community, is waiting to welcome you for just £3.05 a month. Find out more.