Bedford via Fenny Stratford
The Marston Vale line is the only remaining section of the former Oxford to Cambridge line. It is only 16 miles long, but is extremely busy since it serves villages that lack good local bus services and is heavily used by children on the school-run to Bedford. Commuters can change at Bedford for either St Pancras International or King’s Cross Thameslink, or they can go to Bletchley and change for Euston, which is most people’s preferred choice. None of the stations along the line have car parks, nor are they manned. Information is tannoyed from Bletchley to the individual platforms, and tickets are bought from the guard on the train. Season tickets to Euston, St Pancras International are available from Bletchley or Bedford. There are plans to extend the line to Milton Keynes Central.
People living in the eastern suburbs of Milton Keynes tend to use the first two stations, Fenny Stratford and Bow Brickhill, rather than drive to Milton Keynes Central. Fenny Stratford is mainly Victorian, and you would have to pay over £160,000 for a three-bedroom house here. Bow Brickhill sprawls along a steep hillside reputed to have been a favourite haunt of Dick Turpin. Woodland has been cleared to make way for golf courses. It is an old village, with a beautician and a pub, The Wheatsheaf, but lies on a very busy road. Property is varied, from two-up-two-downs selling at around £190,000, to four-bedroom Sixties houses from £300,000.
Woburn Sands has its own distinct identity, with a small High Street for day-to-day needs, and wonderful walks within five minutes of the centre in the Duke of Bedford’s woodlands. There are a several boutiques, restaurants, a butcher, doctor’s surgery and medical centre, tennis courts, a cricket ground and a lower and middle school. In the new Parklands development, half a mile from the town centre, you could buy a three-bedroom semi from £235,000, or a four-bedroom detached house from £300,000. A four-bedroom Victorian villa in town could fetch up to £575,000. Local activities include football teams, bowls and village fairs. Aspley Heath (within reach of Woburn Sands station) is where people from Woburn Sands aspire to move, since it has spacious houses set in large gardens with good views. It is known locally as millionaires row but you might sneak into a four-bedroom cottage along here for £500,000.
Woburn itself (also within reach of Woburn Sands station) is a beautifully preserved Georgian town, best known for its proximity to Woburn Abbey and popular with golfers. It has a brasserie, several antiques shops and restaurants. Very few houses are freehold since the older they are the more likely they are to be tied to the estate. A two-bedroom period cottage in need of refurbishment could cost £270,000. The occasional smart, modern, four-bedroom house might come on the market for around £690,000; or you might find an ex-council, three-bedroom semi for around £250,000. Woburn gets cluttered in summer with tourists visiting the Abbey and its Wild Animal Kingdom. There is a monthly farmers’ market.
For a sedate, select and expensive village, you would look at Aspley Guise. Middle-class Victorians regarded it as an ‘inland Bournemouth’, but modern estate agents like to describe it as ‘the Darling Buds of May of Milton Keynes’. It is very traditional. People smile and say good morning to each other, and they bother to keep the village tidy. There is a hotel, and the railway station is tiny. People pay a lot to live here and then stay a long time. A two-bedroom Victorian semi would cost £200,000; a modern four-bedroom house from £400,000. The finest house in the village is Aspley House, believed to have been built by an assistant to Wren, or perhaps even by Wren himself.
Eversholt (within reach of Aspley Guise), on the other side of the Woburn Estate, is typical of the Duke of Bedford’s estate in that the rows of cottages have no front doors. It is said that the Duchess didn’t like to see people gossiping. A four- bedroom barn conversion would cost over £1m.
Ridgmont is a typical Bedfordshire estate village with cottages built in two styles. There are two-up-two-downs with leaded lights that might sell for £250,000, or three-bedroom detached cottages built in the distinctive red brick of the late 19th century for about £300,000. A large period four-bedroom house on a quiet lane could cost £475,000. The newly completed bypass has reduced through traffic by 80 per cent.
Lidlington is another estate village where the Duke of Bedford sought to muzzle the gossips by building houses without front doors. It has a general store and two pubs. Villagers have voiced strong opposition to a proposed eco town on farmland nearby. Property prices are similar to those in Millbrook, which is little more than an old hamlet built for farm workers, with a pub and a golf course. The wooded valley near the church is supposed to have inspired Bunyan’s Valley of the Shadow of Death in Pilgrim’s Progress. A two-bedroom cottage with a courtyard garden might be bought for £170,000; the odd four-bedroom modern house, built to plug the gaps, might fetch £300,000 or more.
Stewartby was built as a model village in the Twenties by the Stewart family, owners of the local brickworks, as a gesture of concern for their employees. The village was extended in the Thirties and Fifties, and a worked-out quarry was flooded to create a lake for watersports within a landscaped country park. The village is the proposed location for a vast freshwater aquarium to be built by the National Institute into the Research of Aquatic Habitats (NIRAH). A three-bedroom semi here would sell for around £210,000; a two-bedroom house for £165,000. Kempston Hardwick, a request stop next along the line, is given mainly to light industry and has very little housing.
At Bedford St Johns you have reached the southern suburb of Bedford and the nursery slopes of the local housing market. Here first-timers can start out with a three-bedroom Victorian terrace at over £120,000, or a semi from £150,000. Something newly-built with two bedrooms and a garage starts at £140,000, with three it rises to £170,000. For Bedford itself, see Bedford.