WITHINGTON IS the cute village three miles south of the city centre, also known as “posh Fallowfield” and the village where you could end up if you fall asleep on the Magic Bus on the way home.
The name of the village has Saxon origins: ‘Withy-ton’ , meaning ‘marshy town’ suggests the place may have been a bit of a bog at one point, so it’s amazing what nine-hundred years can do to a place as it is now a hearty 11,000-people-strong village with a rich Victorian architectural heritage.
The village is incredibly chilled compared to the bustle and excitement of Fallowfield, almost a world away from the kebabs and OP and Gaffs. It is an interestingly traditional suburb where most people rent their homes from private landlords. There is a plethora of charity shops and discount stores if you’re thrifty consumer (given the recession, student loans and that ‘orrible word you will come to know as rent, dear fresher; hand-me-downs from Cancer Research UK on Wilmslow Road are just the ticket) and there’s plenty to scour.
For the outsider looking in, there does not seem to be many students here as the houses are either old Victorian terraces or semi-detached family homes. But don’t be fooled. According to Manchester City Council, 35% of Withington population are 20-24 year olds, which means fat pickings if you’re on the dating scene…or just want to make a ton of new friends.
Speaking of friends, the ones you’re likely to make here are those who are probably vegetarian or vegan, like nothing better than a bit of Manchester folk music and take pride in the fact that the oldest cinema in Manchester is just down the road – The Scala – although it’s now closed and serves as an enigmatic landmark.
Another Withy landmark is Fuel café, the notable vegetarian hangout for all cool students and cool ex-students who choose to take up residence in the area. Serving mint hot chocolates (which are amazing and you must drink one), delicious pitta bread sandwiches and full veggie breakfasts for under a fiver, it’s worth an extra 20 pennies’ worth of bus fare to get some healthy grub to ease the morning-after. But be warned: Saturday mornings are incredibly busy here. You’ll soon discover why.
The Edwardian buildings in the centre of the village are protected – ah, that’s how they stay so elegant – and sprawl out into the residential areas and past the tiny yet chic Withington Library.
If you can drag yourself away from Fallowfield and the city centre scenes for drinks and giggles, then try out the three-lions pub crawl. It’s quite tame in comparison to a Printworks night out but that means less ladies in over-tight dresses throwing up everywhere. So, to drink with the lions you start out at The White Lion on Burton Road, a giant pub which curves around the corner and has a well in the basement (some say it’s full of Saxon beer, others say this is ridiculous trollope). If you’re brave enough, go for a non-lion pub in between the three. So next would be Wilmslow road favourites The Turnpike, then The Red Lion before trundling into the heart of Withington to The Cotton Tree and finishing off at The Golden Lion opposite Christies’ Hospital. By the way, if you do get into banter with proper Withington folk, you’ll find that many of them either work at this cancer-specialist hospital (at which the University of Manchester has its own research unit) or at the airport. You can learn a lot on a Withington pub crawl.
For some fresh air the beat the hangover, head for the hills. Although Fallowfield has Platt Fields, Withington’s green spaces are just as extensive with Fog Lane park and its seven tennis courts, the tiny Kingswood Park and the hidden haven of the Marie Louise Gardens, a conservation area lovingly preserved to retain its wildlife and wildflowers. The Gardens are full of squirrels so if you do stumble across the tiny park – people bafflingly make the mistake of believing the grounds to be private as they are that beautiful – then bring a bag of monkey nuts. On a balmy summer’s evening you might even spot some yoga-bunnies here stretching out in the grass. //to be published in Uncovered, Manchester’s student Freshers guide this autumn