MANCHESTER is the world's 17th busiest international airport, so the chances of your being greeted by an instruction to 'Wait In Lounge' until the mechanical malfunction or foreign fog clears up are reasonably high.

Last weekend, the longest waits were 20 hours for two Cyprus Airways flights to Larnaca, held up by a strike in Cyprus, and nearly five hours on an Inter European Airways service to Dalaman. For flight information call 061 489 3000.


Ringway Airport, eight miles south of Manchester city centre, has never enjoyed a brilliant reputation; its local nickname is 'Ringworm'. The existing facilities are overloaded at busy times, and a second terminal is due to open in March next year. Meanwhile, disruption caused by the building work adds to the misery.

Eating and drinking: if you get a free meal voucher, try to use it at the Lancaster Restaurant (061-489 3108). The menu ranges from fish-and-chips to filet mignon, and features an excellent three-course set dinner for pounds 11.95. The Forte Crest airport hotel (061-437 5811) has a reasonable bar opposite the terminal, but to reach it you must take the courtesy coach or do battle with some fearsome flyovers. The Hilton National (061-436 4404) is the other hotel within the perimeter; it has a Grill Room and the plush Portico Restaurant.

Child care: once you are through passport control, the Playcare Centre looks after younger children while parents eat, drink or shop. Do not forget to collect them before boarding: the number of announcements asking parents to pick up their offspring suggests that quite a few try to sneak off without them.

Fitness to travel: the Health Club at the Forte Crest admits guests only if accompanied by a member. Befriend one or work out at Spindles Health Club (061-434 3411), 10 minutes away at the Britannia Country House, Didsbury. A day's use of the gym, sauna, Jacuzzi and pool is pounds 10. It opens 7am-10pm weekdays, 9am-9pm weekends.

Spot the plane: the spectator area on the terminal roof is free and open from dawn to dusk. So is the Aviation Viewing Park at the south of the airport, which also offers country walks, picnic areas and a pond full of rare great crested newts.


Beyond the perimeter road you can see some splendid sights, but check with the airline's handling agent before disappearing for the day. Getting away is not easy, usually entailing a taxi (sample fares shown below) or a hire car. All the leading rental companies are represented in the arrivals area, but the vehicle depot is way up on the 11th floor of the multi-storey car park.

Shopping: the nearest town is Wilmslow, four miles away by the convoluted road network. Five miles north, in Stretford, is the second Arndale Centre to be built (the first was in Leeds). Shopping is more fun in Stockport or Manchester city centre (reached by 757 bus, every half-hour).

Revolutionary history: a fascinating relic of the Industrial Revolution lies just beyond the end of the runway. Quarry Bank Mill was built in 1784 and ceased commercial production of cotton in 1959. Such mills made Britain economically great for a time. Now - in a parable of the nation's economic fortunes - this National Trust site turns out only small amounts of calico, mainly for tourists.

You can try your hand at spinning raw cotton and work a drawing frame (as operated by Jenny Seagrove in the television film A Woman of Substance). Do not miss the huge waterwheel which powered the looms through a Heath Robinson arrangement of sprockets and drive shafts. It opens 11am-5pm daily, admission pounds 4.25 for adults, pounds 3 for children; family ticket, pounds 12.50. A taxi from the airport costs about pounds 4.

The mill is neither dark nor satanic, and it lies within the green and pleasant landscape of Styal Country Park. The woods are laced with paths, and you can follow in the apprentices' footsteps to the 'factory colony' village of Styal.

Walking: anyone who has read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen will relish the chance to visit Alderley Edge, the mystical rocky bluff where Alan Garner's novel is set. It is five miles ( pounds 8 by taxi) from the airport on the Macclesfield Road - look for the portentous sign pointing 'To The Edge'. You can traverse eerie sandstone formations and enjoy fine views. Close to the Edge, on the corner of Artist's Lane, the Wizard restaurant is full of literary paraphernalia.

Space - the final frontier: people who boldly go the eight miles south to Jodrell Bank ( pounds 12 taxi) enjoy a hands-on look at how the universe is charted by the UK's largest radio telescope. The visitor centre explains light, using a hall of mirrors and some spectacular holograms, and leads you on a mission through space which ends with the Independent's front-page lead of 24 April: 'How the universe began'. The centre opens 10.30am-5.30pm daily; adults pounds 3.20, children pounds 1.80, senior citizens pounds 2.40, family ticket pounds 10.

Entertainment: Batman Returns is showing at the Rex in Wilmslow (0625 522266). The MGM multiplex at Stockport station (061- 476 5996) boasts 10 screens and a 10-pin bowling alley.

Sport: Lancashire plays county cricket at Old Trafford, pounds 9 away by taxi. England meets Pakistan here in a one-day international on 24 August. The first Premier League soccer match at Maine Road is on 17 August, when Manchester City meet QPR.

Close by is Old Trafford, Manchester United's ground; its first home game is against Everton on 19 August. You can tour United's stadium - including the dressing rooms, trophy room and club museum - any day except Monday. Tours operate hourly 10am-2pm, price pounds 2.95 for adults, pounds 1.95 for children and pounds 6.95 for a family ticket. Book in advance on 061 877 4002.

Beaches: the nearest decent beach is at Southport, an hour away by road or rail.

NEXT WEEK: Luton, the only British airport celebrated in a Top 30 hit record.