Milton Keynes Central
MILTON KEYNES CENTRAL The train service to Milton Keynes station is so good that it has a vast catchment area stretching all the way to Daventry (see Daventry). It has some of the newest rolling stock, makes an effort with punctuality, and the trains run so frequently that you hardly need bother with the timetable. Parking, however, is fairly chaotic, with vehicles silting up the side roads rather than paying for the privilege of the multi-storey car park.
To enjoy Milton Keynes properly, you need to think American. The grid pattern of wide boulevards in the centre, with one of the largest covered shopping malls in the country (three miles of shopfronts and 230 stores), plus the sea of carparking, can make you feel as if the whole world has been turned into a supermarket. But the place is thoughtfully planned and very convenient, and the huge shopping area is about to undergo a £10m makeover. The 22,000-acre site, which includes Bletchley, Stony Stratford, Wolverton and 13 former villages, was conceived as a New Town in 1967 and was scheduled to contain a population of 250,000. It is expected to double in size over the next 20 years with 50,000 new homes.
Housing is arranged in segments, with a mix of starter homes, three- and four-bedroom houses and retirement flats in each one, ensuring a full range of age groups and incomes. There are a large number of commuters, but many people are employed locally too – major companies, including Abbey, Mercedes, Argos and BP, have moved here. The Open University and the University Centre Milton Keynes give it academic prowess, and the £19.6m Lottery-funded theatre and art gallery creates a cultural life. Because the town is so young, the population is young with it.
Milton Keynes prides itself on offering cheaper housing combined with a fast commute to couples who cannot afford to live in London but who want to maintain their jobs in the capital. English Partnerships is running a first-time buyers’ initiative in Milton Keynes, assisting with up to 50 per cent of the purchase price. Much emphasis in the design of new housing has been put on energy-saving. Not all the housing is new, however. There are still places where you can find old thatched cottages (and new thatched houses, too, for that matter).
The sports centres are as new and ambitious as you would expect. The Stantonbury Campus offers indoor and outdoor leisure on a large scale. For watersports there is Willen Lake, and winter sports enthusiasts have Xscape, the UK’s biggest indoor real snow ski slopes. The Great Ouse skirts the northern edge of the town, as do the Ouzel and the Grand Union Canal. There are also several man-made lakes providing habitats for wildlife. North of the city centre is Linford Wood, a remnant of an ancient forest now laced with footpaths, bridleways, picnic sites and two wildlife reserves.
Areas are considered upmarket or downmarket according to how closely together the houses are built, and how spacious they are. Perhaps one of the most desirable is Woughton-on-the-Green, where the plots are large, houses are traditionally built, and the cheapest three-bedroom semi would cost over £225,000. The Bancroft Park area is distinctive because the houses are built around a cleft in the landscape where an old ruin has been used to create a park. A three-bed detached house here would cost around £220,000. Willen is also popular because it has a lake and a sense of space. Many of the houses have been built by the owners themselves and a smart five-bedroom home might sell for around £500,000; a detached three-bedroom house for £260,000 to £300,000. In a typical mixed estate like Bradwell, a two-bedroom late Victorian cottage would cost £150,000; a two-bedroom new house slightly less.
One of the nicest villages is Weston Underwood, built in greyish Cotswold stone (it lies in the northern part of the same ridge of oolite that gives the Cotswolds its character) and dating mostly from the 17th and 18th century. Weston Underwood is entered through stone gates topped with pineapples. This designated conservation area remained in the ownership of the Throckmorton family until the 1920s, when it was sold. The green, overlooked by the house once occupied by the poet William Cowper, is decorated with trees and roses, and is the place to buy cream teas during August. The Cowpers Oak pub has opened a farm shop selling local produce.
A Georgian three-bedroom house in the centre of the village would cost around £350,000, rising to £500,000-plus for a larger property; an ex-council, three-bedroom, Thirties semi on the edge of the village would cost around £220,000. There are a few new houses, but villagers fight tooth-and-nail against development. Their cause is helped by the watermeadows around the Ouse, which make much of it unsuitable for building. Community spirit is strong, and is expressed through the fruit, vegetable and flower shows. There are walks through the woods at Salcey Forest. ‘Village people try to get to know new people, but the big problem is that many of them are mortgaged so heavily that they are both working and we don’t see a great deal of them,’ says one of the older inhabitants.
The local shopping centre is at Olney – popular because it is as traditional as Newport Pagnell (see below) but more rural. It has a weekly market and a farmers’ market once a month. Property prices tend to be 10 per cent higher than Milton Keynes. In the market square is the red-brick William Cowper museum, occupying another house in which the poet once lived. The town is famous for its pancake race, run every Shrove Tuesday from the market place to the church.
Ravenstone, three miles west, is as pretty, expensive and exclusive as Weston Underwood. The village green sprouts stone houses. Stoke Goldington is the biggest in this clutch of villages, with new housing stitched in between the old. Another handsome stone village is Emberton, with 170 acres of country park and lakes along the River Ouse. Houses in these villages sell so easily that the owners often dispose of them privately. This entire belt is very convenient for railway users, and only a short drive from the M1.
Five miles north of Milton Keynes is Castlethorpe. This is an attractive stone village peppered with modern houses, but it is affected by the railway line running through it. A two- to three-bedroom cottage might cost £160,000 to £190,000; a four-bedroom detached house around £300,000 to £350,000.
To the north-east of Milton Keynes is Newport Pagnell, on the Rivers Ouse and Lovat. It has changed over the years from a lace-making town to an industrial and commercial centre. But it has managed not to become forbidding, and modern buildings are sandwiched quietly between the old Georgian houses. The cinema has been turned into a shopping arcade. A two-bedroom house in a Victorian terrace in the centre of town will cost around £170,000. The most popular road is Lakes Lane, where the houses back on to the common. A three-bedroom semi here will cost £250,000 or more. There are also some huge six-bedroom houses that could fetch up to £400,000. Green Park is the most popular of the new estates. A modern, four-bedroom detached house with a double garage will up to £350,000.
People living in the villages to the north of Milton Keynes might use Wolverton station as an alternative to Milton Keynes Central.