Without mysteries, life would be very dull indeed.
What would be left to strive for if everything were known?
Charles de Lint
Talking about the history of Milton Keynes brings me to what can be referred to as another myth. People generally believe that Milton Keynes is just a town based around a grid system – i.e. the roundabouts. This may be true of the newer, central parts. Most of the areas that existed prior to 1967 are, however, little towns in their own right just outside of the new town already mentioned. These towns, together with the gridded area, make up only 30% of Milton Keynes. Outside of the town there is a vast rural, or should I say, country, area, which makes up the rest of Milton Keynes. Although I had intended to explore all these areas when I first moved here, I am yet to do so, so although I’m aware that there is a vast richness within these areas with numerous stories of their own to be told, I intend to focus on the urban parts.
This takes us back to the grid system. Outside of Milton Keynes most people seem to be unaware that the much-mocked roundabouts form the basis of a grid system that enables people to rapidly move from one part of the city to the next.
For me it also means that it is difficult to get lost in Milton Keynes as the roads are marked with H’s and V’s: Horizontal and Vertical roads. It’s why, when my friends from London laugh about the roundabouts, I always passionately explain the grid system and tell people that all you need to do is follow your H’s and V’s.
At the centre of the grid system is Central Milton Keynes – otherwise referred to as The Centre. While there is a growing residential element to The Centre, it is very much the commercial centre of the town. It houses big businesses such as Argos Head Office, Volkswagen Group UK Ltd, Coca cola Enterprise Ltd and Abbey, down to medium-sized businesses and a multiplicity of small businesses. In total there are almost 10,000 businesses across the City[i] . It is also the retail centre of Milton Keynes – home to two major adjoining shopping centres – Midsummer Place and the mile-long Centre MK. In response to the question of what shops can be found in the shopping centre, the answer almost has to be “What shops cannot be found in the Centre?”
The Centre also houses the Church of Christ the Cornerstone. Built in 1992, it is the UK’s first ecumenical city centre church. It serves as the home church to Christians from the various denominations inclusive of Anglican. Baptist, Catholic, Methodist and United Reform. All these denominations are represented in the Church worship and ministry.
I cannot mention the Church of the Cornerstone without also mentioning the Peace Pagoda at Willen. Though not in the Centre, it is another first and a major religious symbol. Built in 1980 by monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myohoji, it is the first Peace Pagoda to be built in the western hemisphere, and is understood to enshrine sacred relics of the Lord Buddha.
Outside of central Milton Keynes each square of the grid system encompasses a housing estate, industrial estate or combination of the two. There is a lot of greenery between the estates, with trees sheltering the houses from the main road.
This means that Milton Keynes is full of beautiful greenery, which is very well maintained by the Parks Trust. I have on many occasions gone walking and seen employees of the trust cleaning up the public areas or repairing property.
It is also home to a vast amount of wildlife, with woods and a number of parks.
Milton Keynes is also characterised by 13 lakes of varying sizes, each with its own unique features. The largest is Willen Lake, which is popular for watersports. Others include Caldecotte Lake, the Blue Lagoon at Bletchley, Furzton Lake, and the Tear Drop Lake.
I mention how easy it is to get from one area to the next. This is very true if you have a car. The grid system makes it a driver’s paradise as you can so easily get from one end of the city to the other within 10 to 15 minutes. If you don’t have a car it is a bit more complicated unless you cycle. There is a fair distance between locations. I used to go to a church which was a three-minute drive from my house, but about 20 minutes rapid walking. In a place like London where you have a good (though not always efficient) transport system it would be a non-issue but unfortunately, in Milton Keynes, if you don’t have a car and you don’t or can’t cycle you are reliant on public transport or taxis.
Sadly, the greatest weakness of Milton Keynes is our public transport system within the City as all we have is buses that do not run regularly. These shortfalls became apparent to me when, shortly after I moved here, I faced the unfortunate situation of having my car break down. With the dread of car repair bills hanging over my head, I wanted a way of moving around as cheaply as possible. I was disappointed to find that the buses only ran every half hour and left me with a 15-minute walk to get home. So I ended up travelling about by car. This was not cheap and with my impending car repair bill left me very squeamish.
[i] Invest Milton Keynes Facts & Figures 2008
Copyright 2008 Extract from Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective
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