Milton KeynesJust a small chunk of MK’s 200-mile cycle network with a mix of traffic-free towpaths, bridges and tunnels

Distance: 14 miles (22.5km)
Big hills: 0
Challenge: 2/5
Cafe stops: 3

Words: Ann Virco | Photos: Chris Catchpole

The redways in Milton Keynes are the most extensive network of cycle routes and footpaths anywhere in Britain. So why haven’t you heard of them, you may well ask. Well, probably the main reason is that, although Milton Keynes is generally referred to as a city, it is in fact still only a town, so not eligible to enter  ‘Best cycling city in the UK’. Were Milton Keynes to enter, I don’t think anywhere else could beat it.

So exactly how many miles is ‘extensive’? Well, that’s hard to put a figure on as Milton Keynes is continually evolving and expanding, as are our cycle paths, but it’s well in excess of 200 miles.

Milton Keynes came into being on January 23, 1967, encompassed 13 villages and three towns already in existence, and covers 40 square miles. As 20 per cent of Milton Keynes is kept as green space, it’s an ideal town for cycling. In fact Milton Keynes is often referred to as ‘the city in the country’.

As a resident of Milton Keynes I’m very proud of where I live, and especially proud of our redway cycle paths. When it came to choosing a route for this magazine it was hard to know which one of the many to go on, but in the end I plumped for the Millennium Circular Route, a varied and pretty route with lots to look at on the way round.

I’m joined on my ride by Chris who has come up from Cycling Active’s offices, armed with a camera and a new bike to test. For ease I’m starting the route at Willen Lake as it has all the facilities you could want on your return, especially if you have children. And it has the added bonus of only being a couple of minutes’ drive from Junction 14 of the M1.

On leaving Willen Lake we follow Route 51 and cycle along one of the many leisure routes past the new camping and caravanning site till we go up and over a canal bridge. This bridge crosses the Grand Union Canal, built in the early 1800s and which now winds its way through Milton Keynes. Once over the bridge, we have joined the Millennium Route and are on our way. This route is clearly marked all the way round so following it shouldn’t be a problem.

As we turn right after the bridge, we emerge at the permanent canal moorings at the bottom of Campbell Park. We need to make note of this, remember the pretty little pond with its wildfowl, because this is where we turn off the Millennium Route at the end of our ride.

Milton Keynes ride

By the canal

Following the well-marked route, we cross back over the canal, and follow the cycle path alongside until we pass Great Linford green and emerge into Great Linford High Street. No bustling shops here — but there is a lovely pub — the Nag’s Head — and, as we are on a cycle route, you’re more likely to meet a bike here than a car! After a very short ride along this road, we enter some iron gates leading to the beautiful Linford Manor Park. Here you will find the Manor House, 17th century almshouses and the quaint 14th century church of St Andrews.

Information boards alongside the cycle track will tell you all about the area, and there are plenty of grassy areas and picnic tables if you wish to stop. Chris takes some more photos, then it’s time to move on.

Leaving Linford Manor Park, Chris and I follow the cycle track up a gentle slope to emerge on ‘Railway Walk’. This five-mile stretch of cycle and footpath used to be the Wolverton to Newport Pagnell railway line until 1961 — another line cut by Dr Beeching. We only travel a short distance before turning left at the top of the slope. (Had anyone turned right before the railway was built, they would have got very wet as the railway followed the line of an old canal which ran to Newport Pagnell via a series of seven locks)

As we reach the end of the tree-lined railway walk we see a sign indicating we should cross over a quiet road and go straight on.
However, if you turned left here, before crossing the road, you would come to Bradwell Windmill. Built in 1805 and last used in 1876, this lovely old mill has just been restored; you can read all about its history on the information boards within its grounds.

Barges and bridges
Chris and I carry on over the road, and over another bridge, where, if you look to the right, you may be lucky enough to see a canal barge travelling parallel to you over the aqueduct. Once over the bridge, we keep an eye out for the Millennium route marker which points us down and into Loughton Valley Park. After the next bridge, we travel beside a pretty winding river that flows to our right.

As we cycle through Loughton Valley Park, we pass under a long wooden walkway. Once past this, you can turn sharp left and so visit the site of the Bancroft Roman Villa by riding over the walkway and over the river, where information boards again explain what you can see.
Retracing our steps, we rejoin the Millennium Route, and, with the river still on our right, past the famous concrete cows grazing on the opposite bank. (The day we visited the cows were still showing off their Halloween painting so their skeletons were visible!)

Milton Keynes ride

Bradwell Windmill

Shortly we reach one of the most peculiar tunnels you will ever cycle through. The railway company built a long thin tunnel here for the river to babble through, and now Milton Keynes has built a raised wooden cycle and footpath so we can avoid getting our feet wet. We emerge on the opposite bank of the river. Many people happily cycle through but, if you are nervous, you could get off and push.

At this point you can visit Bradwell Abbey by following the cycle track which goes straight on along the hedge line. As you reach the end of the hedge you will see Bradwell Abbey, which is well worth a visit. Afterwards, retrace your steps to the river.

With the river now on our left, we carry on until we come across another wooden bridge — but there’s no need to dismount here. Soon we emerge at Lodge Lake with its wildfowl and picnic tables. A lovely place to visit in the spring when there are ducklings and cygnets waiting with their proud parents for any picnic scraps to be thrown their way. And, if we are lucky, we might see one of the resident egrets or a kingfisher.
Still following the signs, we cycle along the lakeside until the sign directs us away from the lake and back along the river. Eventually we cross another road, and rejoining the river we turn sharp right over a white iron-railed bridge. This brings us out onto the green at Loughton Village, another attractive place for a picnic, and with information boards on the left giving the history of Loughton.

As we move on to the next part of Loughton Valley Park, we can see, through the trees, the steel and glass building of Central Milton Keynes Railway Station. (Anybody coming by train could join the route here by simply turning right on exiting the station and joining Route 51 which eventually merges with the Millennium Route.)

Bowled over
We now go past the Teardrop Lakes, and skirt the perimeter of Milton Keynes Bowl. The Bowl has hosted some great concerts including Bowie, Jackson and Springsteen. It’s also heavily used by one of the local cycle clubs: Team MK. One of whose members is Ian Stannard of Team
Sky. There might even be something going on as you pass.

Following the signs away from the Bowl, we pass over a dual carriageway and another minor road before we freewheel down a tree-lined cycle path. As we pass under a bridge we take a sharp left turn, then a right up a slope. In front of us is a long downhill stretch tempting us to go flat-out — but beware — it is crossed by various other cycle paths so caution is required.

After emerging from under yet another bridge and crossing a minor road, we go over another canal bridge and into the vast and airy green which gives the village of Woughton on the Green its name. Anybody in need of refreshment has only to carry on along the road into the main village where they will find the Swan at Woughton pub. Continuing on our route, look out for the knee-high wooden post with the Millennium Route sign, where we need to turn left.

Our cycle path eventually winds its way back onto a particularly pretty path next to the canal, lined with elegant poplar trees which give welcome shade on hot summer days.

Milton Keynes ride

National Cycle Network signs point the way

However all too soon we reach another canal bridge where we are instructed to turn left, then sharp right. In a few moments we will be back at the permanent moorings and wildfowl pond where we joined the Millennium Route.

On reaching the bridge with the Route 51 cycleway on, we need to turn right and follow the straight path down to Willen Lake and some welcome refreshment. However, if you’re not yet ready to go back, and you’re still feeling energetic, why not follow Route 51 up to the viewpoint, passing the many sculptures en route? On a clear day you can see for miles, and the pretty little villages of Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire stretch out before you.

All told, when you reach the car park at Willen you will have covered 14 easy miles. But, despite doing this ride more times than I can remember, it doesn’t feel like 14 miles. The variety of interesting places you pass always make it seem much shorter.

I have tried to remember if Chris and I had passed or been passed by a car on our way round. Certainly all the roads we crossed had no traffic. How many other towns can boast that? Yet we had barely scratched the surface of the redway cycle system with its endless routes, cleverly and seamlessly linked to Milton Keynes’ green spaces and parks.

Saying goodbye to Chris, and thanking him for his wonderful company, I make my way, by cycle path, to a friend’s house, before — yes, you guessed it — taking the redway home, traffic-free, to the other side of Milton Keynes.

STOP!

Pubs and grub
The Nag’s Head 30 High Street, Great Linford, Milton Keynes, 01908 607449
The Lakeside Brickhill Street, Willen Lake, Milton Keynes, 01908 235991
ONE 4 6 CAFÉ Brickhill Street, Willen Lake, Milton Keynes, 01908 241176

Bike shops
Phil Corley Cycles Unit 3, Stacey Bushes Trading Centre, Milton Keynes,     01908 311424
Trek Cycles Elder Gate, Milton Keynes 01908 671122

Places of interest
Bancroft Roman Villa
Bradwell Windmill
Bradwell Abbey
Details for all of these are available at
www.mkheritage.co.uk

Trains
Central Milton Keynes Station has several fast trains an hour — 35 minutes to and from London. There is also a frequent train service to Birmingham and Manchester

Road book

Milton Keynes ride

Millennium route

Start at Willen Lake south car park. Exit the car park next to Lakeside Inn onto Lake Shore cycle path. Follow route 51, NW, away from the lake towards and then over the canal bridge.

On reaching the opposite side of the bridge, turn right. Follow Millennium route until instructed to leave canal, towards Great Linford. Carry on to Railway Walk and Loughton Valley Park.

Leaving Loughton Valley Park, follow signs to MK Bowl, Leadenhall, then Woughton-on-the-Green. At small wooden marker post, leave green to eventually rejoin canal. At the bridge where we joined Millennium route, turn right onto route 51 back to Willen Lake.