Five years ago, we had just landed in this most infamous of 20th century town creations – Milton Keynes. Coming from a tiny, ancient cathedral city in North Yorkshire, full of centuries-old charm and rural influences, plenty of people felt able to ‘prepare’ us for what we could expect in our new home. “Roundabouts”, “concrete cows”, “no soul” – and even “You really don’t want to go there. It’s like nowhere else in England!”
But we did it anyway – in fact, I wrote my first ever blog post about the move for Sam Poole, as a relocation story, and you can read it here – and five years later, I can truly say that I love this New Town of ours. I can also testify that all of the things people warned us about were inaccurate, or actually one of MK’s greatest assets. So here is my love letter to Milton Keynes, a town that should be a city, but which is also has villages, with some of the loveliest scenery and best shops…you’ll get the idea.
Where to begin, MK? Well, it has to be with…
Yes, we’ve got dozens – 130, to be precise – but they are AMAZING. The grid road system in Milton Keynes is so efficient, and means it’s unbelievably swift to traverse the town. (For the uninitiated, the grid road system is similar to that of city “blocks” in the USA. The town was designed in squares, with roads criss-crossing in vertical and horizontal lines around the villages and estates within them.)
You can usually get from one side of Milton Keynes to the other in no more than 15 minutes, and I now feel quite put out if I have to travel more than 20 minutes to get anywhere. It’s also so easy to navigate. If you find your route blocked, all you need to do is follow the grid roads round to divert, and end up exactly where you wanted to, in a similar amount of time.
Several ancient villages are within the boundaries of MK, including our lovely Loughton, complete with its thatched cottages and 13th century church. That’s the case for lots of towns and cities in the UK, of course – but the difference for you, Milton Keynes, is that these places were villages in their own right so much recently. They have still got their sense of individuality, so many of their old and beautiful buildings that haven’t fallen victim to the Blitz, or post-war redevelopment plans – and in some cases, they still have some original residents. There are parts of MK you can walk around and feel as though you are still in the Buckinghamshire countryside, 50 years ago – but you’ve still got Marks and Spencer only 10 minutes’ drive away.
While we’re on the subject of M&S – the shops. Oh yes, I do love the shops. So many shops. Two different malls in the centre, right next door to each other, and at least four different retail parks I can think of on the outskirts. A huge Waitrose, a full size Sainsbury’s ‘local’ just a short step away, and an enormous 24-hour Asda down the road. The best thing about this is that unless you actually want to go to them, you wouldn’t even know you were near them. The cunning MK grid road design keeps the majority of the high-volume traffic away from all the residential areas.
Our Lakes, our Parks and our Trees
It’s so green. And blue. The lakes, parks and millions of trees – 22 million of them! – give us so many beautiful places to explore. Over 200 miles of redway – the cycle and pedestrian paths that loop, rise and fall around the grid roads and through the squares – mean we can reach it all without going near a vehicle.
When we moved, it was the start of the summer holidays, and I was in a place where I knew nobody, with a three year old and nine month old, while my husband got to grips with a brand new job. But within days I had found the local toddler group, open all through the holidays, and full of other mums who lived moments away, ready with a cup of coffee, support and a hug whenever I needed them. They are still some of my closest friends.
Milton Keynes, you’re the biggest place I’ve ever lived, and getting bigger – about 230,000 residents – but we’ve never lived anywhere with such strong sense of community, and one into which we’ve been welcomed with such open arms. The school events – fairs, discos, festivals; the village events – fetes and scarecrow trails; the MK events – fireworks night at Campbell Park, the summer Play Days, charity Christmas lights co-ordinated by all the residents in several areas each year – it’s wonderful, and it’s all so inclusive. Everyone is welcome in MK. (We even know almost everyone in our street – unheard of, for us).
Where we lived before, there was limited choice – for all of us. Jobs, schools, activities, days out – many of these couldn’t be achieved without a car journey, and usually at some distance. Here, we all have so much choice, in our careers and in our leisure. Businesses, traditional and modern, flourish here and so do the job opportunities,. Before coming here, I never imagined it would be possible to start my own business. In our hugely diverse community, we can to meet and get to know so many people, of so many different backgrounds. And there’s London, with all of its cultural and historic riches, winking at us from only 35 minutes away on the train.
We know that a lot of people have a lot of opinions about you, MK – but for us, you are perfect. We are together as a family: we can all live and work in the same town as each other, which we just couldn’t do before we moved here. The facilities, the opportunities and the education on offer for our boys are outstanding.
For all these reasons and more, those people were right – there really isn’t anywhere else like you, Milton Keynes. And I love you.