In 2014, we migrated from our tiny cathedral city in North Yorkshire to the UK’s most famous 20th century New Town – Milton Keynes. Before our move, 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 move there. It’s like nowhere else in England!”
But we did it anyway, because it offered us a way to cancel Mr RLC’s bi-weekly commute to London, and within a very short time I could truly say that I loved this New Town of ours – and could also testify that all of the warnings we had were quite inaccurate – or in fact, one of MK’s greatest assets. So here is my love letter to Milton Keynes: a town that should be a city (perhaps this year, Your Majesty?) but which also has villages with some of the loveliest scenery, broad green spaces, and the best shops…you’ll get the idea.
Where to begin, MK? Well, it has to be with…
Yes, we’ve got dozens – over 130, to be precise – but they are AMAZING. The grid road system in Milton Keynes is very efficient, and makes it 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. I’m now so spoilt that I 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.
Our Ancient Towns and Villages
It may be a New Town, but there are many parts of MK that go back centuries. There are parts you can walk around and feel as though you are still in the Buckinghamshire countryside, 50 years ago – but you’ve still got Marks & Spencer only 10 minutes’ drive away.
Loughton, our beautiful little part of the city, is listed as Lochintone in the Domesday book. We have thatched cottages, a green, two very old pubs, a church from the early 1200s, and two beautiful lake walks to either side of us.
The other old villages that were gathered into the creation of the New Town are much the same – Woughton-on-the-Green is also a slice of English countryside in the middle of a city (and may even have been visited by Dick Turpin).
(For those in the MK know, the original towns and villages are:
The Towns: Bletchley, Newport Pagnell, Stony Stratford, and Wolverton
Villages and Hamlets: Bradwell village and Abbey, Broughton, Caldecotte, Fenny Stratford, Great Linford, Loughton, Milton Keynes Village, New Bradwell, Shenley Brook End, Shenley Church End, Simpson, Stantonbury, Tattenhoe, Tongwell, Walton, Water Eaton, Wavendon, Willen, Great and Little Woolstone, Woughton on the Green)
While we’re on the subject of M&S – the shops. Oh yes, I do love the shops. So many shops. Two different shopping centres, right next door to each other, and at least four different retail parks I can think of on the outskirts. There’s a huge Waitrose, a full size Sainsbury’s ‘local’ just a short step away, an enormous 24-hour Asda down the road, and a 24-hour Tesco up the road. The towns host beautiful high streets full of independents, and we’ve got our own Love Local Hub sitting alongside the big brands in the main shopping centre, which allows small local businesses to rent a shelf space and get exposure they’d never normally dream of.
One of the best things about all 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.
After a year of lockdowns and daily walks, we had still only scratched the surface of what there is to discover in MK. If all the local history (some going back to the Stone Age) wasn’t enough, our many, many acres of beautiful parkland are an utter treat to walk through. You’re never more than half a mile away from one, and we have literally millions of trees – and what’s more, they host some really awesome public art, sculptures and incredible structures. We’ve explored the sculpture trail in Campbell Park; the Peace Pagoda at Willen Lake; the Tree Cathedral in Newlands; followed the Grand Union Canal at Stanton Low; and spotted herons at the Teardrop Lakes. There are so many formal trails to follow, as well as just walking where the paths take you, all over the city, using our miles of redway (the dedicated paths for cyclists and pedestrians). Destination Milton Keynes have a host of them on their website – historic trails, artistic trails, or cultural routes, taking in all the sights, sites and sounds on offer (including the remains of a Roman villa, pictured below): https://www.destinationmiltonkeynes.co.uk/getting-around/trails-walks-bike-rides/
We moved at the start of the summer holidays, with a three year old and nine month old, and knowing not a soul. But within days I had found the local toddler group, which was open all through the holidays, and full of other mums who lived moments away: always 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 you’re 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, Cubs and Scouts, the 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. (And we even know almost everyone in our street – unheard of, for us).
Where we lived before, there was limited choice for all of us in a lot of matters. 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, education, and in our leisure. Businesses, traditional and modern, flourish here and so do the job opportunities. I could not have considered to starting my own business before moving here, and in our hugely diverse community we can 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 all outstanding.
Thank you, MK, for being a big, beautiful, diverse place, rich with history and the cultural contributions of your citizens stretching back centuries. In so many ways, you’re like the UK in miniature – the modern alongside the ancient, respecting what’s gone before and welcoming new ways of doing things. For all these reasons and more, those people were right – there really isn’t anywhere else like you, Milton Keynes. And I love you.
More fabulous facts can be found on the Destination Milton Keynes website, where you can find so much more about our brilliant home: