MK: So Good they Abbreviate It - Tour displacement therapy - CycleBlaze

MK: So Good they Abbreviate It

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The couple of rain storms in week seemed to satisfy the weather gods, and the next weekend we were back to what the amazingly uncharacteristic blazing sunshine that has characterised nearly the whole period when virus has been rampant. 

The national joke is that this is "lockdown weather" - and as soon as things relax, the usual washouts will return. This aside, this is at least the fourth year of extreme weather we've seen:  two summers ago we got so little rain that the entire landscape, which as you can see is usually relentlessly green, turned brown - that it's hard not to ascribe it to wider climatic changes.

Anyway, what with the beautiful conditions and it being a national holiday (to mark 75 years since VE day), it was a great time for a ride. With the wind in East I decided to head back west again, for the hell of it seeing if I could get all the way to Milton Keynes and back. 

Milton Keynes, or MK to those in the know, is (also) a bit of a national joke. It's a new town, but lacks both the elegant execution of Letchworth or the edginess of places like Stevenage and Luton. It was built as a grid of perpendicular highways and city blocks, giving it a design quite alien to other towns in the country. It is absolutely riddled with roundabouts. 

and I mean *riddled*
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It's actually fairly prosperous and orderly, but is sufficiently far from London to seem a bit provincial: and this only exacerbates the sense of it being a bit dull and banal. As a result, Milton Keynes has become a popular (and rather lazy) punchline - I think if comedian came on stage and opened with "so, I was doing a gig in Milton Keynes" they really would get a laugh on that alone. For an idea of its local reputation, unexpectedly coming across this article in the New York Times (beginning "If a place was prepared for quarantine, it was Milton Keynes") genuinely had me and Caroline in giggles.

So I had a destination. First step was to get to Bedford via the usual route along the Ouse valley rail trail. 

Clear blue skies and a gentle tailwind, very nice conditions. This is a riding stables just outside the village, hence all the horses.
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The stables is set up around an old windmill, now lacking its sails, but converted into a small dwelling
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The sandy little track through Deepdale
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I realised I hadn't really posted any photos of Sandy, despite my frequently passing though it. A small town, it's not as many old or well-preserved buildings as Potton or many of the villages around, and has some extensive housing estates.
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Once the temperature rises about 15 degrees it's inevitable people start taking their clothes off. It's never the people anyone would want.
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The cycleway was the busiest I had seen it for several weeks, and there was a lot of careful passing of whole families out on bikes. Nevertheless I sped along, actually averaging 22kph with the wind behind me. While giving way during a slightly awkward war of politeness ("no you go first") I overheard another rider say "I liked his mirror, though". Sadly this was a bit of a bad omen. 

Part of the meadows around the Ouse have been devoted to flowers
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Bombhole lake near the flooded gravel pits around the Ouse. I can't find out why it's called this: I suspect it has more to do with dynamite gravel extraction than an actual bomb. Whatever the origin, the sign is an obvious target for modification and it always makes me smile.
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I think I've shown photos of these before, but they're just so strange. I'll be amazed if anyone can guess what they (were) for!
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The riverside route into Bedford was very agreeable today. Skillfully avoiding people who had already had one too many and were weaving all over the path, I sped towards Bedford.
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The weird on the Ouse, which is quite broad at this point. Can you spot the heron?
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Here it is, standing on one leg!
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Coming into the old centre of Bedford, with some really nice architecture...
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...and some not so nice.
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Leaving the river, I'd take a fairly direct route all the way across Bedford east-west. I would need to tangle with the always confusing and generally heavily-trafficked one-way system in the middle, and this would also take me through a good cross-section of the townscape.

As I've mentioned before, Bedford is a town of contrasts. The centre and riverside are really quite attractive and interesting, and looking increasingly prosperous and self-confident. But there are plenty of areas that are rather run-down and have something of an inner-city vibe, even a few hundred metres away. Then surrounding this is a wide ring of dull estates, followed by a wider one of increasingly prosperous suburbs before we get back to attractive villages again.

Main road going from the river to the station, the tightly packed-terraces are in something of a state of disrepair. The crazy traffic on this road doesn't help matters.
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Near the station is this cool place, the Polish house. I don't really know what it is: a cultural centre?
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Fortunately, part of the one-way system was closed, which greatly reduced the traffic. I could squeeze the bike around here and continue to the west.
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Eventually reaching the ring road on the other side of town
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From here, I could easily cross the Ouse to get to the village of Bromham, where I could pick up bridleways heading out through (what I now knew to be) very unpopulated country west of west Bedfordshire.

The bridge over the Ouse at Bromham turned out to be this amazing stone construction. Although it looks almost medieval, with its scalloped passing places, it's a bit more recent than that, with something of the current form in place since 1630, and lots of widening and modifications performed since then. As you can see, it's still very much taking traffic.
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Crossing the Ouse over into Bromham
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In Bromham, we're very much back into the quaint village zone
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Picking up the bridleways out of Bromham. It being the VE anniversary, there were quite a lot of flags around. Now, football excepted, it's generally considered pretty gauche to fly union flags (or worse, the England flag) from your house. Those who do it all the time are generally people to studiously avoid. So it's rather unusual to see even this sort of muted display. But the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in VE day (that's "victory in Europe" day, not "victory over Europe day" as some of our moronic domestic press dubbed it) is a bit exceptional.
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The right of way took me right through this fine house's garden - this isn't at all unusual. Normally you'd actually be quite within your rights to sit down and have a picnic here (though it'd be a little frowned upon).
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From Blunham I had a good 8km where I could keep working west over a network of increasingly obscure bridleways, only once crossing a lane. It was great to be away from the traffic and too many people and off-road again, and I happily bumped over the tracks. I was actually passing very close to my previous route, but didn't recognise the countryside at all until I'd stumbled right over the last path.

Nice rolling countryside continues all the way into Buckinghamshire
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Off we go
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In the distance, I can zoom in on the only settlement in sight, the tiny village of Stagsden
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Transiently crossing this lane, and then back to the off-road tracks
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Which got more and more obscure. At this point, I just followed the tractor marks.
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Eventually I spotted a sign. This patch of countryside really feels cut off from the rest of the county - it's more like being back in Poland than southern England.
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Eventually it started looking a bit more official. Our route heads through that farm ahead, I reckon
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After waving at a friendly farmer and some consulting of the GPS, turns out I reckoned wrong. The bridleway actually continues through this field of very long grass! Looks like I'm the first to come this way in some time...
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I like this tree
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Finally emerging on the road that will take us to the south and towards MK
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Turning to the south, the plan was to cross the main Newport Pagnell road and continue to the village of Astwood. From there I'd be able to pick up more green lanes, more major ones this time I hoped, that would follow the three-counties way and the Milton Keynes distinct boundary walk.

This very nice pub is all closed up, but they've got the bunting out
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Coming onto the MK boundary walk, welcomed by a little charm
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Sometimes it just followed the margins of the fields, but the surface was still good going, and it was wonderfully quiet
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Going through some intriguing woods
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I figured this wasn't a bad place to stop for lunch. To my amazement someone else did actually come riding down the track, but it wasn't what I'd call busy.
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Interesting half dead/half alive old oak, with crows
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Lovely
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The end of the trail got very obscure again, eventually leading around the back of the houses across this very rickety bridge
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I popped back out onto the road, where I had a bit of a dilemma of how to cross the last patch of land before the M1, beyond which Milton Keynes immediately begins. There was a bridleway, but annoyingly it seemed to just terminate in a dead end. So I opted for the somewhat less official route of taking the footpath instead. Since there were no walkers to annoy and it was wide and flat, this was fine.

I had an option at the end of the path to turn to the east and weave my way back towards Bedfordshire, or to continue towards the town. I thought I'd  hop over the M1 briefly just to get a flavour of MK itself. What a treat!

We can start to see the centre of Milton Keynes looming over the fields in the distance. The huge dome is actually an indoor ski centre complete with fake snow.
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The footpaths through the scraggly land before the M1. Whoever owns this unusually seems to have some problem with the rights of way, and has put up lots of "no access" signs, in one case right in front of (directly signed!) bridleway. Thankfully, it's easy to ignore such nonsense.
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Crossing the M1, almost always a traffic-clogged nightmare of a road by rather empty today. The M1, as the name suggests, was one of the first motorway-grade roads (interstate equivalent) built in the late '50s and connects London with the major cities of the North - primarily Leeds, where it joins the Great North road to Scotland.
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The beauty and majesty of Milton Keynes. This is not an unfair sample of the architecture.
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Having got what I came for, I turned around and re-gained the tracks across country. This enabled me to cut through to the backroads to Salford. I was rapidly passed by two extremely lycra clad and noisy-freehubbed road cyclists, who didn't acknowledge my greeting (none of these, sadly - me being passed, the lycra, or the self-importance - are unusual). To my amazement they then slowed and slowed, to the point where I was right behind them and taking care not to get too close. At a choice moment I swept passed and greeted them with a particularly cheery "hello!". A case of "All the gear and no idea"!

This strange thing...
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...seems to be some sort of tractor-wash
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The huge warehouses of the major distribution centre of Magna Park on the outskirts of MK
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After Hulcote, I could turn off the backroads and pick up the extensive official cycleway all the way up into the Marston Vale. This would be far less adventurous than the morning's ride, but would still keep me off the roads all the way back to Marston Moretaine. Nevertheless, it was fairly quiet, and there are a number of curiosities along the route.

The backroads led past an extensive farm that was a curious mixture of grand farmhouses and farm buildings converted to offices and light industry.
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I can certainly appreciate that running a business park is more profitable than farming
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And out onto the national cycleway towards the Marston Vale
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Cycleway sign with hilarious modification. I don't think whoever did this really understands horses. They're not big dogs - you can't follow behind them with a shovel!
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It's really quite hilly before we get to the Vale
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The route leads around this curious geography, covered in pipes. I've seen this from the MK road many times and wondered what it is...
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Zooming into the pipes, it occurred to me what it used to be. It must be a disused giant landfill, and the pipes are there to collect emitted methane. You can also see the hundreds of trees they've planted to recover the land.
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Little village of Brogborough in the distance
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The chimneys at Stewartby stand clearly out against the horizon
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Now this is a nice mystery. What was lost? I'm tempted to call them just to find out...
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Some evidence that it is methane they're capturing in all those pipes. Presumably this is to avoid ramblers blowing themselves sky-high with a misplaced flick of a cigarette.
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The official cycleway is both broad and well-surfaced as we dive through the woods at Marston Thrift. Nobody around, mind.
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I always like to see this kind of evidence of wholesome larking around
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I emerged onto the road in Rectory Wood, which I could follow to easily cross the main Bedford-MK road and head into Marston Moretaine. From here the plan was to head around the lake and nature park, but the other way this time, to reach Stewartby and from there follow the same route home by climbing back up onto the Greensand.

Nice owl!
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The most common problem with keeping horses seems to be clueless passersby feeding them random stuff. I'm sorry to say I found the exasperation on these signs more than a little funny ("very dangerous" :-D).
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Crossing the main Bedford-MK road, the A421
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Nice ... shell?
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Passing the outskirts of MM, I was surprised to come across this tribute to Captain Tom Moore. In the last few weeks he's become nationally famous for a charity drive to mark his 100th birthday, walking 100 laps of his (large) garden to raise money for the NHS. Originally aiming to raise £1000, he eventually pulled in £33 million. Really incredible stuff. I forgot he lived here!
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MM also has a spectacular, almost fortified church, the 14th century church of St. Mary. Legend has it that the church's detached tower is the work of the Devil, who was trying to steal it.
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Coming around Stewartby lake on the southern side this time, I passed the visitor centre which I'd missed before. Being really parched in the relentless heat, I skulked about looking for a tap I could re-fill my bottles from. I wasn't successful, but I was quite taken with the slightly eerie abandoned air around the centre.

Old pumping equipment at the visitor centre
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Normally this would be pretty lively with people hiring bikes
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Impressive carved totems
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Yep, you can go right up to the base of the turbine. The sign warns about approaching it in frosty weather: apparently one problem is falling icicles from the blades!
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View back over the lake
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I emerged back into now-familiar Stewartby, and rather warily made my way towards Haughton Conquest. Fortunately it was getting a bit cooler now and I didn't feel I was getting too dehydrated. Climbing up the rather steep hill, even with 70km behind me, didn't feel too bad either.

This time, I passed directly by the entrance to the old brickworks. You can just about make out "London Brick Company" on the strangely low-rise entrance.
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Back past the pretty church in Haughton C.
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You know a pubs a gastropub when it has a name like "The Knife and Cleaver". Charles Wells is a local Bedford brewer, though, and runs some good pubs, including the one in our village.
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View from the Greensand ridge back down into the Vale and the Stewartby chimneys
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To mix things up a little, rather than continuing straight back towards Biggleswade via Haynes as I had before, I thought I'd take a scenic detour via Chicksands woods and the John Bunyan way. I wasn't set on this, but when I got to the turn I figured I still had plenty of energy left, and swung off towards the south.

This little path connects the road with Chicksands wood, which is mostly open access
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Rather than follow the bridleway, this entrance to the wood enticed me in
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And it really was magical conditions (which the photo doesn't really do justice to). The light was low and golden and filtered through the leaves; the woods was utterly deserted. I crept along the narrow and root-strewn path and contemplated what a good place this would be wild camp in.
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I had a good 20 minutes or so bumping through the woods, and then became aware of voices coming down the track ahead of me. Now, it was very narrow, and I didn't want the embarrassment of trying to squeeze past, but I still can't entirely account for what I did next, which was to force myself and the bike through the prickly hawthorn hedge to get back to the bridleway along the edge of the wood. I blaming dehydration on this one.

Somewhat scratched up, I continued down towards the end of the wood at Appley corner. I covered a couple of km downhill, and it was only as I was pedaling up onto the start of the John Bunyan way when I put my hand up and realised - my mirror had fallen off. Obviously it had been hooked it my precipitate push through the hedge. I stood and dithered like an idiot for five minutes, wondering if I could be bothered to add 8km to the ride by going back and looking for it. I soon concluded that I could not, and I'd come back for it another day. At least I knew the exact location when I'd lost it.

"Breaking" through the hedge into the bridleway and the low sun
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Some nice routes around Chicksands wood
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The route is actually largely on these minor roads, but since they don't lead anywhere they're always very quiet
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Near Southill, I could once again cut up into the Shuttleworth estate and bring myself back on the familiar route back into Biggleswade, past the quarry and under the A1 via the giant drainage pipes.

Really golden light at this stage of the evening
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Now I don't know much about horses, but this is a superb specimin. He's huge: a Shire horse, I reckon.
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The horses mate, for scale
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A helicopter-cosy
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Crossing the sandy fields outside Biggleswade
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Through the drainage pipes
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This is quite cool: just across the Ivel outside Biggleswade is a big compound where the local fairground folk reside with all their attractions. Traditionally, they are all part of the Showman's guild.
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Then it was the familiar climb back up the hill to Potton with the setting sun.

Yeah, not bad
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The sentinel looks over Potton
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The roadworks are still going strong on my street. I like this worn authentic old avert for a "high class tailor".
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Today's ride: 102 km (63 miles)
Total: 1,207 km (750 miles)

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Mike AylingThanks for sharing another great ride, Jon

Cuzzy Mike
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1 month ago
Jon AylingTo Mike AylingCheers Mike!
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