Sunday, 26 January 2014

Inside Milton Keynes

Peace Pagoda at Willen Lakes park
Back when I was a young hack I remember negotiating a multiplicity of roundabouts in the fledgling Milton Keynes to get from the M1 to our typesetters. (Back in the days when there were such people as typesetters in magazine production!)
And roundabouts are all most of us know of the place. Even the canal circles around the edge of it and never gets close to the centre. So this past week it's been a first chance to take a wander around what is by far the most successful of the sixties 'new towns'.
Great views from Campbell Park. Shame about the MacD litter!
Odd as it seems, the roundabouts that enable you to get across the town without ever finding the centre are at the heart of its design. For it is actually pretty much a town without a centre or a heart - that's the whole point. The architectural theory behind it was that a town of the future didn't need to radiate from a centre but instead should be a metropolis of smaller business or residential areas linked together by a web of roads for easy access. And it works.
Clever sculpture of memorial day columns at Campbell Park
'The Face' - Campbell Park again
The clever thing is that, unlike many traditional towns, where pedestrians and cyclists battle for survival among cars and trucks on ring roads and one way streets carved among the older streets, MK successfully separates traffic from people. You can walk or cycle from place to place without ever encountering a car.
Open air theatre
There is a centre - a shopping centre anyway - and we are moored on the edge of Campbell Park which is the closest the canal gets to that. It's a ten minute walk away but though the walk is great, the shopping centre isn't. Unless you like shopping, of course, in which case it's probably okay though the low-rise shops look rather old-fashioned to anyone brought up on trips to Bluewater and the like.
No, the parks and walks are the best part of the town - a delight and a surprise. Immaculately tended, even now in mid-winter, with little litter, tarmac pathways and lots to see from urban art to a Buddhist Peace Pagoda, they are superb. Brian the Dog is particularly impressed!
As well as Campbell Park, with its fine views, open air theatre, cricket ground and artworks, there is Willen Lakes, for bird watching and the 'tree cathedral' - yes, a plantation of various tree species in the layout and scale of a cathedral.
The only thing that's wrong at the moment is the weather – a good soaking yesterday and another rain and hailstorm today which has driven us back inside just as we were about to go for another park walk. Sorry about that, Brian.


  1. So Brian hadn't dug a hole at Kensal Green and left the pair of you in it! Nice to see progress and Harry on the move again. MK gets a mixed press, a case of love or hate, but at least there is somewhere for Captain Brian to stretch his legs...Oh/ and remind me when we next do lunch to tell you about my first experience of the MK Concrete Cows. Now are you going to let us into the secret of the route ahead?

  2. With my pedant hat on I have to say that MK was built not as a 'new town' but as a 'new city'. In fact locals still talk about going 'up the city'. But for some unknown reason it was never actually given city status.
    Kath (nb Herbie)