A circular stroll from Stony via Passenham, Deanshanger and Beachampton

Beyond the top left-hand corner of the alluring and perplexing grid of Milton Keynes, there lies a scattering of small villages, old coaching towns and farms surrounded by rolling fields. One of the real benefits of living near Milton Keynes, and the flip-side to the convenient transport and amenities, is its proximity to beautiful English countryside.

So it is that it only takes a few minutes’ walk – and, ideally, an OS map – to stumble off the grid, beyond the high street and into lush, green fields and a network of public footpaths both ancient and new.

Fields near Beachampton
An old grave stone at St Guthlac’s, Passenham

 

The pedestrian overpass near Deanshanger – a Milton Keynes public footpath

 

Blown-out skies over Calverton

 

Lisa navigating us home from Calverton

Exploring abandoned Milton Keynes by bike – WIF #1

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Carabosse Fire Gardens, Campbell Park

When I moved to Milton Keynes, I was (Milton) keen* to embrace the sorts of cultural events that were bound to pop up around the city.

* Sorry about that.

Having had the great fortune to live in a city like Manchester for the last four years, I’ve been privileged to be surrounded by interesting, diverse and exciting events seemingly constantly on the go. There was always something happening and, inevitably, I started to take that for granted and let a lot of it go ignored. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed and took part in my fair share, but it’s true to say I was spoiled for choice in Manchester.

So my move to Milton Keynes was always coupled with a small fear that I would lose out in that arena; I had this preconception that, as an ‘artificial’ new city, MK would lack the kind of cultural infrastructure for which Manchester is so celebrated.

Luckily there has been a good deal of stuff to grab my interest – some of which I’ve covered here already. The latest slice of culture in the city to catch my eye – actually it caught Lisa’s eye – was the Carabosse Fire Gardens at Campbell Park, part of the intriguing Milton Keynes International Festival.

Taking place last weekend, the installation was only there for a couple of nights, and thanks to the sudden good weather, it was very popular, with the £2 tickets all but selling out.

Lisa and I went down not really knowing what to expect – probably not the huge queues (which we fortunately bypassed due to pre-booking), and certainly not an installation as vast as what we found in the park.

Stretching as far as we could see in the dying light – around the recently-erected beacon – were thousands of tiny flickering lights: flames alongside paths, in trees, suspended from metal frames and fires being bellowed and stoked all around.

Although the popularity meant that some sections moved at snails’ pace, there were plenty of focal points to stop and take it all in.

And that was the best part of it really, the whole surreality of it all. The icing on the cake was the live music – from ethereal loop-ridden guitar music to plaintive and eerie saxophone occasionally accompanied by xylophone and soft singing from musicians in metallic constructions wearing hats and suits.

It all had a rather Gothic, steampunk feel to it. Amongst the twilight and the deeply natural feeling of skin warmed by flame on a long summer’s evening, I absolutely loved it.

It wasn’t without the inevitable slice of humanity who turned up pissed and probably weren’t in the best frame of mind to really enjoy it – but you can’t have anything. Taking the time to stop and take in the weird majesty of it all more than made up for that.

Anyway, it was brilliant and totally unexpected – and a huge success: reports say that more than 12,000 people attended over the course of the weekend. Hurrah for that, and hurrah for more like it in future.

As an aside, I made a little video while I was there – hopefully it’ll give you a better flavour of the event than my silly words:

http://vimeo.com/46242610

Station X – an exhibition at MK Gallery

Photo: Rachael Marshall

Milton Keynes on a Saturday afternoon can be incredibly disorientating and disconcerting. So it was with some luck that I happened to stumble into the MK Gallery – or more precisely, the neighbouring Project Space – and the new Station X exhibition.

I’m interested in the history of Bletchley Park – also known as Station X – and the blurb on the door piqued my interest.

Inside I found a collaboration between four artists, each from a different background, which aims to document the ‘visual and aural histories’ of  some of the Park’s derelict  buildings.

I went from the usual Saturday afternoon hubbub – of people coming and going from the theatre and shopping centre, and of the blustery April weather – into a small but self-contained area which instantly began stimulating my senses.

On the walls of the gallery are photographs taken inside the derelict huts by Rachael Marshall – oh, but what’s this? That one isn’t a photograph, it seems to be a physical bit of wall itself.  Maya Ramsay‘s work includes actual pieces of the walls and associated debris, carefully lifted off in one piece and pasted to the wall of the gallery.

All around me I could hear the work of sound artist Caroline Devine – cacophonous sounds of… birds, were they? And then they morphed into reverberating rhythms which I couldn’t quite place. At times they rose to a climax that I found almost disconcerting, before subsiding again to an ambient throb and thrum.

I watched a video piece at this point too, nicely displayed on an old CRT television, and where the video itself has been left to decay a little, as though watching on an old VHS tape or a badly-tuned station. But the picture was occasionally clear enough to see that we were being shown around more of the derelict buildings – a guided tour of urban exploration.

Together with Luke Williams, the four artists have combined to make a small but neatly formed whole which does very well to remove you from the busy urban bustle of Milton Keynes on a Saturday afternoon, placing you firmly inside the dimly lit and derelict buildings of Station X before they are due to be renovated.

The combination of the, at once familiar, yet other worldly, sounds and atmospheric photographs of dust, cobwebs and the odd decaying bird, along with the physical ‘casts’ of the walls themselves all give a very peculiar overall feeling.

I visited Bletchley Park recently, and was awed as much by the beauty of the main buildings as by the technological ingenuity contained within when it was needed most.

But while a visit to the Park itself reveals objects and buildings being restored and brought out on display – as they should be – the Station X exhibition at MK Gallery does a good job of capturing the areas not seen by the public, and the associated sounds and sights which have been left to decay and evolve alone.

With my interests in history and in archiving and preserving lost objects and environments – and particularly in field recordings and photography – I was very grateful to have stumbled on the exhibition.

Station X is on at MK Gallery Project Space (to the right of the theatre entrance courtyard) until 27 May. Entry is free. The Gallery is open every day except Monday.

http://www.mkgallery.org/information/

http://www.mkgallery.org/education/projectspace/station_x/

http://documentingstationx.wordpress.com/