National Trust gardeners plant trees on the Castlefield Viaduct. Credit: Annapurna Mellor

Castlefield Viaduct ‘sky park’ gears up for July opening

More than 3,000 plants will soon cover the grade two-listed bridge, which the National Trust says will open for guided tours at the end of July.

Originally, the park was to open on 3 July, but the Trust said it had experienced unexpected delays in the £1.8m project.

When it does open, Castlefield Viaduct will be a temporary park – operational for only 12 months. It will spend that time acting as a living, breathing consultation, as the Trust seeks to gather feedback on how residents and visitors want to see the space used.

Guests will work their way along the 330-metre viaduct, experiencing several unique garden areas and learning about the viaduct’s history.

The entrance will be an experimental garden, in which 280 sandbags will become planters holding ferns, broom, buddleja, liriope and more. This is the favourite section of Pamela Smith, senior national consultant for gardens and parklands at the Trust.

She described this entry garden as an “aperitif of horticulture” that sets the tone to help visitors as they proceed through the park and eventually “get to the wow”. The “wow” in this case will be a show garden at the end of the guided tour route.

Many of the show garden plants have yet to arrive on the viaduct site. These plants are being grown at Dunham Massey, a plant nursery in Yorkshire and at the Trust’s plant conservation centre in Devon.

“This is the crown”, Smith said, gesturing around the viaduct. “We have all the jewels still to come.”

Weight restrictions on the viaduct have presented a challenge to the horticulturalists with the National Trust. They are experimenting by using a new extra lightweight and peat-free compost. Large planters may also not be what they seem – some will have polystyrene filling up the lower halves to help lighten the weight of the planting.

With no water systems on the bridge, water has to be brought to the site in tanks. Volunteers and gardeners then pour the water into watering cans to hydrate the plants. Because the plants are exposed to more wind, being so high up, they have a tendency to dry quicker. This means the Trust is using 1,000 litres of water a day to keep the plants healthy.

These restrictions have led to experimentation, and the Trust said that it will continue to have its garden team try out new planting techniques to see what works best on the site.

MC Construction is the main contractor for the project, bringing to life the vision crafted by Twelve Architects & Masterplanners.

“It’s such a joy to see this iconic structure being given a new life as well as adding to the diverse urban fabric of Manchester,” said project architect Irina Adam of Twelve Architects.

“This pilot phase of the project is designed to show visitors the viaduct in its existing state while also taking them through a series of different spaces that show how it could be transformed,” she continued.

“We’re excited to hear people’s ideas for how a larger viaduct public park could be, and to work with the National Trust on future phases.”

Ultimately, the full transformation of the 125-year-old abandoned bridge is set to cost £20m.

Your Comments

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Something’s gone wrong. The artist’s impression looks quite like the finished project.

Well done 🙂

By John L

The city council should have a 300m sprint along here when the city games come to town. I recall something similar along Deansgate. Best 200m runner v best 400m runner. Great showcase!

By GShutty

Superb initiative. A little saddened to hear we don’t have it permanently!

By Tom

Absolutely fantastic! Why is it not planned to be a permanent feature?

By Tom

Nice! Why was I not told about this?..I was ??…I need to pay more attention…

By Anonymous

In reply to Tom (both Toms, or a double posted Tom), I believe it is meant to be permanent, but the current iteration is a temporary test build, to see if it works up there, to get feedback from visitors and restrict numbers due to weight issues on the bridge. If it is successful and if the funding can be acquired, the plan is to turn it into a permanent park/path, which will require significant structural works on the viaduct. If we are lucky, it could also be extended to drop down to the river walk as it approaches Cornbrook. This could of course encourage our council(s) to renovate and maintain the riverwalk which is in an incredibly sad state, creating a lovely walk from the city centre in Deansgate to the Quays

By Jo

“Why is it not planned to be a permanent feature?”
Isn’t it temporary just because they don’t really know what will work so want to experiment and find out? Once they work it out the plan is to work up a more permanent scheme if possible, I think

By the light of the moon

Will the park be free and what hours will it be open to the public?.

By Anonymous

Thanks for the replies! That makes perfect sense 🙂

By Tom

“Will the park be free and what hours will it be open to the public?”
Yes it’ll be free but it’s guided visits only that have to be booked via the National Trust website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/castlefield-viaduct

By the light of the moon

Looks fantastic ! Like the high line in New York ! A wonderful asset for Manchester ! A jewel.in.the crown ! 👑

By Janice Lillies

Nice to see it getting all spiced up again

By Anonymous

This is a really exciting and innovative project and I cannot wait to visit when it opens.

By Sheila Graham

Manchester’s own “High Line”

By RI

fab love this cannot wait to see it finished

By n

Admission will be by day/timed ticket. Refurbishment of the steel staircase was underway last week. Can we hope that the electric lift will also be back in operation after standing derelict for years?

By Graham Burns

This is a great project. There are plenty of other places around the city which could also benefit from the urban park treatment.

By Francis

Is the ‘sky park’ wheelchair accessible? Thanks.

By Anonymous

Great idea….been talked about for 35 years ……would be a no brainer if money was no object……but sadly it is. Unless there is a ridiculously wealthy benefactor out there, this is going nowhere.

By Anonymous

Dunham Massey is in Altrincham…..not Yorkshire!

By Anonymous

    You are right! The plants are being grown in Dunham Massey AND a plant nursery in Yorkshire AND at a site in Devon. – Julia

    By Julia Hatmaker

is there access for mobility scooters and wheelchairs

By john price

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