What do travellers have in common? Rucksacks, hostels, adventure, airports. The many stories told by a traveller will rarely include the transit through an airport, probably because 2 hour waits and passport checks are not very interesting, however many airports have a lot more to them than just duty free. Obviously many airports are just a warehouse+tarmac combo in the middle of nowhere, but others have lots of things to do both in and around them. Allow me to raise the curtain on airports, to turn that boring day long wait for your flight into another tale…..
Maybe I’m being a bit full on speaking on behalf of airports around the world that I’ve not even visited, but I can definitely vouch for Manchester Airport and give you a complete run down on what there is to do there. I have been to a few airports in the United Kingdom and Manchester airport is definitely my favourite. Note, if you have checked-in and gone through security you will NOT be able to do these activities, arrive a few hours before you’re due to check in or after your flight has touched down to complete them instead.
Runway Visitor Park
An absolute classic, who doesn’t like watching planes take off and land? There is a viewing platform for people who like plane spotting called the Runway Visitor Park. As well as having the best views of the runway, it also boasts decommissioned planes that you can explore including a Concorde! Some planes are free to go into and are open daily, others (like concorde) you have to book in advance and pay for (£7 per person). There is also a restaurant and picnic area so you can really make a day out of it!
You can get there via the 200 bus which goes from the airport bus station, or drive there and it’s on Sunbank Lane (WA15 8XQ).
I never thought I’d ever have fun in a car park, but if you want to park your car with a view head to the airport. Great vantage point to see the whole scope of the runway and the planes in their hangers. There’s always a group of plane spotters with deck chairs at the top of the car park, head to them they probably have the best view.
Plane watching with a twist
If you’re not really bothered about staring at planes running up and down run ways, let me put a twist on it to make it more appealing. Here is where it gets interesting, there is another place to watch the planes jet off. Unlike the official viewing platform, this area only gets stumbled on by wandering locals. The key difference in how you view the planes, is that at this site you are sitting at the end of the runway so the planes take off right over your head! It’s quite magnificent lying back in the grass and watching the planes shoot off right above. To get there is quite a journey, but a lovely walk which is also part of the fun.
The easiest way to do it is to get off at Mobberley train station and walk down Hobcroft Lane for about 10 minutes and the field is on your left, and you will know the field as you can see spotlights on the ground. Only problem with this route is that the station only serves Chester to MCR Piccadilly and can’t be reached from the airport station.
So here’s the Nomad’s way of finding the field. The only tricky bit is getting to the starting point, as there is no public transport that will take you there. The starting point is the roundabout on the A538 where Wilmslow Road meets Altrincham Road. My top tip is to get a taxi from the airport to one of the hotels next to the roundabout, for example the Airport Inn. Black cabs are expensive, costing between £5-10, the best alternative is to call a local taxi company which would halve the cost, Passenger cars are a good option (0161 928 1111). Once you’ve got to the roundabout, you need to look for a set of steps which is where the journey begins. Walk up the steps and follow the path, you’ll see a road but stick to the path even when it gets overgrown. Don’t be thrown by any gates, you are allowed to pass through them.
The path follows the fence of a fire station and eventually runs alongside the runway. You will re-meet the road, walk down it until you meet this river crossing (picture on the right). I’m not sure of the bridges name, but let’s call it The Bollin Bridge, I call it this because it goes over the River Bollin. The bridge is actually part of the runway! on the left of the picture you will see the edge of another bridge which crosses the river, cross at this point as the other river crossing is a bit out of the way. Walk through the tunnel, it is quite spectacular!
Once through the tunnel you need to follow the path round for a good 15 or so minutes, other then one left turn following the path round it’s pretty much a straight line for a while. The easy thing is it’s hard to lose your direction as you’ve got the runway next to you. At the end of this path you join onto another one which runs alongside the fence of the runway, it’s a nice walk as it runs alongside a stream as well. At the end of this path you will get to a field, this is the field at the end of the runway! Look for the spotlights in the ground as confirmation. Once you’re there congratulations you have completed the trek, kick back in the grass and pull out a drink as you watch the planes fly overhead. The planes fly about once every 10 minutes, and you can hear them coming they are VERY noisy! One thing to watch out for is that the airport switches which runway it is using at different times of the day, sadly I don’t think there is any way to predict which one they will be using, but every time I have gone it has been this one.
The Airport Pub
One last place to watch the planes fly around is The Airport Pub. You’ve got the pub/restaurant inside and the Hanger Bar outside where you can sit and watch the planes on the runway. They do great breakfast, great food and have a large selection of drinks at the bar. Not the cheapest of places but also not too expensive either. My friend Ben works in there so if you’re ever in give him a wave, he’ll be the guy who’s always got a big grin on his face.
At the north end of the runway, near where Ringway Road meets the main road Ringway Road West.
Just to show that other airports have fun things to do around them, here is a picture of the salt lake right next to Larnaca Airport, Cyprus. Even more interesting, at certain times of the year the lake is filled with bright pink Flamingos.
Hopefully after reading this you may look at airports in a different light, as one more resource to explore. Instead of wasting hours for the check in gate to open, have a little wander around you may stumble across one more great story to tell.