diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 12, 2014

There are walks you could do but you won't. This is one of those. A 12 mile walk through Milton Keynes that goes nowhere near the central shopping district.

Wolverton → Bletchley

Before Milton Keynes, the north end of Buckinghamshire was mostly fields and villages with the Grand Union Canal winding through. And then the new town came, covering 34 square miles with low density housing and greenspace, of which the artificial waterway was now a part. It sweeps round from Wolverton via several residential neighbourhoods to the north and east of the city before exiting at Bletchley, and all of this with only one single lock at the southern end. I could describe the 12 mile walk in detail, from station to station, but instead here are 20 things you could see along the way. [map] [map]

1) Wolverton station: The halfway point on the London to Birmingham railway. Once this meant tea rooms where passengers got a cuppa while their trains refuelled, plus one of the largest maintenance works in Britain. Today's relocated station is absolutely nothing special.
2) The Train Mural: A black and white steam loco and carriages, 160 metres long, painted onto the wall facing the canal beside the Secret Garden by Bill Billings, co-creator of the concrete cows.
3) Grafton Street Aqueduct: Here the canal passes over V6, one of twelve 'vertical' roads forming MK's famous grid.
4) Bradwell station: If you divert off the canal, slightly, you can follow the route of the disused Wolverton to Newport Pagnell Railway, now a cycleway, and one very obvious ex-platform along the way.
5) Bradwell Windmill: As a reminder that Milton Keynes really was once very rural, it contains a 196-year-old windmill (currently smothered in scaffolding).
6) Funion Bargee: A bright lilac narrowboat owned by the Milton Keynes Play Association, bringing recreational opportunities to a towpath near you.
7) Great Linford Church: A 13th century church beside the canal. Some other bits of MK are even older.
8) Linford Wharf: The Newport Pagnell Canal used to leave the Grand Union here. It was only a mile and a quarter long, but was partially built over by a railway in 1864, and now only the winding hole remains.
9) Giffard Park I thought the two feet sticking out of a bivouac on the towpath belonged to a reclining angler... until I spotted two other feet sticking out, playfully. Some other kind of fishing, I suspect.
10) Moorings: A lot of narrowboats are tied up for the winter beside the towpath in MK, some belching woodsmoke, others with portable satellite dishes on the roof.

11) Willen Lake: You have to divert briefly away from the canal to see this east MK treat. The lake's in two parts, the northern half dominated by the Peace Pagoda, and the southern half currently overspilling onto the perimeter path, drowning the miniature railway and allowing swans to paddle through the adventure playground.
12) Gullivers Land: A small adventure park for little kids, between Campbell Park and Willen Lake, featuring Lilliput Land and 28 rides.
13) Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway: A long-planned-for canal, still on the drawing board after two centuries, which might one day leave the Grand Union beside Childs Way (H6).
14) Milton Keynes Village: Contrary to popular belief MK wasn't named after economist John Maynard Keynes, it was named after an existing village swallowed whole by the 1960s development.
15) Mud: It's a bit soggy underfoot along the towpath at the moment, but then you'd expect that when a month's worth of rain fell in the first week of January.
16) Bridges: There are at least 20 bridges over the canal on its sweep through MK, each individually numbered. Some are characterful, old and arched, while others support arterial roads and are broad and concrete-y.
17) Dog walkers: The towpath to the north of MK was busier than I expected, mostly with residents leading hounds. The towpath to the east, and especially the southeast, were rather less so.
18) Miles 7-12: To be fair, pushing on all the way to Fenny Stratford is probably overdoing it, and you could have made a break for it back at Campbell Park and aimed for the centre of town instead.
19) Fenny Stratford lock: Built as a 'temporary' measure in 1802, this lock has a drop of only a foot, and a swing bridge across the centre for pedestrian escape.
20) Bletchley: Better to divert here for a train home than wait up to an hour at Fenny Stratford's minor halt. Best hurry through the less than lovely town centre. And don't rest your muddy boots on the seats on the ride home.

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