One of the things I’m loving about my time in Milton Keynes (and there genuinely are a lot – I’m just being lazy about writing them up) is its weird and quirky planning and construction.
There are so many interesting little factoids and trivia about MK that start to emerge when you glance at a map or history book (and I do that with alarming tenacity).
Since buying a bike recently (my first new and very own bike since I was about ten!), I’ve been absolutely loving getting out and about on it, as well as just using it to get to and from work. Amongst MK’s weird and wonderful transport systems is the fantastic network of Redways* – cycling (and pedestrian) paths which criss-cross the city and mean you can get from one point to almost any other without ever crossing a main road (and only rarely crossing minor roads).
* map link - PDF
The Redways have opened up a sort of virtual landscape to me, and they’ve enabled MK to make sense to me, where before everywhere kind of just looked the same. It still does, of course, but I’m starting to get my bearings and I’m enjoying being able to correspond a point on a map with a place I can visit.
But where this process gets a little bit more intriguing than your bog-standard ‘navigating by map’ is when you go to a location on a map which… just isn’t really there in real life.
Milton Keynes was planned so precisely and so carefully that, inevitably, sometimes things didn’t go to plan. This results in quirks and oddities on the scale of whole neighbourhoods being paved, roads built and street names assigned… And then they are just left, as if abandoned.
One such neighbourhood (one of several, actually) can be found surprisingly close to Campbell Park, the new city’s central recreation area. I stumbled on it by accident, following my nose along another ribbon of Redway.
Suddenly, across the road from the park I found myself surrounded by roads that were laid, along with pavements and kerbstones, and lines of trees. But behind the kerb were no houses – no buildings at all. Just wasteland leading to another copied-and-pasted tree-lined avenue.
It was actually quite eerie – and this was on a sunny Saturday afternoon, when a minute or so before I’d been whizzing past Campbell Park’s cricket ground. And yet, suddenly, here was windswept silence, with only a distant hum of traffic and the wind in the leaves.
And what I might even love most about this whole weird place is that on all the maps that cover the area, the roads are all named. Above you can see down the length of Taymouth Place. Nearby turn-offs lead to Smithsons Place, Reliance Lane and Limerick Lane.
But nobody lives at these addresses, and there are no road signs. And yet they exist on maps and, presumably, in some sort of planning database. There is much for me to explore and investigate, clearly.
As before, but in reverse, it took just a few turns of my pedals before I found myself cycling past flats and a busy road once more. Now that I’ve found this place by accident, I’m taking a more concerted effort to find more. I’ve seen a few that are easy to find, opposite huge supermarkets and similar. Then there are those almost stereotypical junctions with spurs to roads that never got built.
I need to be careful about the tools I use for this mission. Google Maps is pretty accurate, but using the satellite maps and Street View imagery often only tells half the story – or less. The ‘current’ satellite view of my workplace still shows a hockey stadium, for example. And there is an adjacent patch of land to the one I talk about above, which appears to be in the same condition according to Google, but has since been built upon.
So, it’s a mystery story with a few tools necessary – a handful of maps, my bicycle, and a curiosity to seek out some of MK’s more surprising hidden gems. I’ll let you know what else I find.