Milton Keynes – city in the forest

Having decided to leave Yorkshire earlier than planned, we had two weeks to fill, before our house sit in Bath was due to commence. Teresa is a mastermind in these situations. Basically, the trickier the job, the easier it seems for her to handle it!

We got onto the housesitting web sites and stumbled upon a two week job in Milton Keynes – the ‘city in the forest’, or the ‘new city’ as it’s often called. Funny though, I read that Milton Keynes hasn’t been declared a city yet – a very weird situation when it’s population is hitting the 250,000 mark and it appears to be the most successful of the ‘new cities’ conceived since the 1950s.

The job entailed looking after a newish detached home. The pets involved? Two tanks of guppies! Well in actual fact, one tank for the ladies and children and one tank to himself for Mr Guppy. We were instructed not to put Mr Guppy back in with the ladies or we’d be dealing with an overpopulation problem.

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We had heard the comments about Milton Keynes; “land of roundabouts”, “nice but boring”, “a cultural wasteland”. I try to never let others peoples comments cloud my judgement before arriving at a new destination. It’s exciting to arrive in a new place, learn about how it developed, what drives it forward or holds it back. Milton Keynes looked to me to be a fascinating place, quite unlike the rest of the UK, and therefore full of interesting aspects to discover.

Even being told beforehand, the roundabouts take you a bit by surprise. Just the sheer number of them. Stretch of road.Roundabout.Stretch of road.Roundabout.Stretch of road.Roundabout. There’s definitely a method to negotiating these too. Locals obviously have it worked out. Tourists like ourselves put up with a bit of horn abuse before working out the required method. The Method – approach roundabout at high speed, look right and estimate if possible to enter roundabout without decreasing speed, use cars momentum to take you through the roundabout at maximum speed, accelerate when leaving the roundabout so that you scare the shit out of anyone else contemplating entering the roundabout. It takes a day or so to catch onto The Method, but then it becomes an instinctive reaction. There are apparently about 300 roundabouts in Milton Keynes. I wonder if there is a record time for negotiating all of them?

MK roundabouts – the major ones anyway

Our house sit here was set to the western edge of Milton Keynes, in an area called Westcroft.  I’d say that Westcroft was developed about circa 2000. The housing here is mostly semi-detached or terraced, three levels, brick and tile, internal access garaging, and small rear gardens. It’s all tidy and neat but rather plain and cookie-cutter like. There was a small shopping centre nearby, servicing Westcroft, providing a supermarket, cafe, two pound stores, charity shops, hairdresser and a chemist. Westcroft isn’t really walking distance to Milton Keynes central (about 10 minutes drive away). There were regular buses that travelled in, but we both thought that it seemed a great shame that MK had never established an attractive rail/shuttle service that linked all the villages with the central area. Apparently this was in the original city design but was never completed.

Milton Keynes main shopping area is based around a massive mall. Teresa and I wandered about here for half a day, often wondering where the mall was going to end. It has all the usual chain stores you find in the things and an appealing aspect is that there’s quite a bit of open space too. There is a large atrium to the eastern end of the mall and they use this space for concerts and other events – they held a job fair in this space while we were in MK and it was a really good space to be able to squeeze in perhaps a hundred or so exhibitors.  As a weird association, I managed to find a video on Youtube that was shot in the mall. It’ll give you a good idea of the space, which doesn’t appear to have changed much since this video was shot in 1981.

and again…..”Oh wohohohoh, oh oh oh. Woh woh woh” (btw…Cliff is a rubbish skater, having spent many of my teenage years at rollerskating rinks. I’m sure he gets a wee push every so often, to keep him up with the girls 🙂

I joined one of the local Meetup groups while we were in MK. These groups are always a good way to get out and see the countryside, and meet a few locals too. I attended two events, the first being a pub meetup close to the centre of town and the second being a four hour walk in the countryside.

The pub meetup had about 30 attendees, various ages, with a mixture of long time locals and newbies to the area. Many lived in other villages or small towns close to MK. It’s always a tricky thing being a random, first timer at these events. You have to go in with an open mind and be willing to chat to anyone and everyone you meet.  If you’ve been following Teresa’s posts you’ll know that she is an extrovert and I am an introvert. But even though we term ourselves these personality styles, I am the one who finds it easier to walk into a room of strangers and strike up conversation. Teresa is far better than I at carrying on conversations once the ice has been broken. I tend to get a wee bit bored after discovering peoples main personality and lifestyle points.  Together at events we make quite a good team. By myself this evening I managed to meet about eight people, but none that I thought would turn into longer term friends.

The walk meetup was more successful. For starters it was a much smaller group, about eight of us. A good mix of men and women, again mostly people who actually lived locally, rather than outsiders like myself.  We had a lovely, late summer day too. Once I get going on these walks I really enjoy the countryside. It’s very different from New Zealand countryside, so for me it’s all a great voyage of discovery. I do have to remind myself to chat to others, rather than just ogle the trees, birds and landscapes. The other fab thing about these walks… they nearly always stop at a pub for lunch. I think there is at least one blog post gestating, just about English pubs, so I’ll save that for later.

harvested fields close to Milton Keynes

Just to wrap up our stay in MK, Teresa and I took a day trip, north-east into Cambridgeshire, the land of my fathers family. One of the reasons for the trip was to revisit my great grandparents grave site. I had visited the site back in 2003, on my first visit to the UK. It took me a while to find the grave back then, and when I did, there was a tree well established in the middle of it. The concrete surround was badly broken and the lettering was almost illegible. Thankfully this time around the cemetery had had a bit of a makeover. Well, at least the tree had been cut down and the grass had been mown. We also detoured to Wistow, the small village where my father was born. Like many others in England, Wistow is very ‘Midsomer Murder’ like. You wonder if everyone mowed their lawns and then left quietly. We popped into the only pub in the village. We were the only ones there at 2pm. The landlord seemed disinterested and we only stayed long enough to finish our drinks. Perhaps this was why my father decided he couldn’t hang around after the end of the war, signed onto the New Zealand navy, and never returned.


In my fathers footsteps – Wistow, Huntingdonshire





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