On Saturday, I found myself in the vicinity of Stadium: MK in advance of the League One fixture between Milton Keynes Dons and Preston North End.
As we have discussed before, paying £20 to enter the arena is no more of an option than inviting Keith O’Brien to take control of a kindergarten, so I was left with an afternoon to twiddle my thumbs.
What to do? I could lose myself in a good book, take a walk in the park or take one of sit down to a box set of Most Haunted, but, instead, I decided to contemplate what Milton Keynes has to offer. The options were:
Stay in the pub
Three pints down by 2.30, the Red Lion in Fenny Stratford, an unpretentious boozer sat next to the Grand Union Canal’s shallowest lock, was beginning to resemble nirvana itself and, on a chilly afternoon, staying inside with a perfectly pulled pint of Lancaster Black or Courage seemed preferable to gazing upon Luke Chadwick’s visage.
Water depth of 30 centimetres means even the most drink addled punter should be safe on leaving the pub – safer anyway than one might feel entering the nearby Swan Hotel on Watling Street. Nor is the theme park style Enigma Tavern a particularly appealing option – named in honour of the World War II code breakers of Bletchley Park, you’d no doubt have more chance of cracking the German plans to invade Britain than you would finding any character in there.
Visit Bletchley Park
As the name of the Enigma Tavern suggests, Alan Turing and the aforementioned heroes beavered away at their stuff nearby and Robert Harris’s entertaining novel is another monument to a vital episode in the global conflict. You can visit Bletchley Park – the elegant original mansion stands amid a city of concrete – and even order a special Monopoly set based on the eggheads’ work; all of which is preferable to shivering with 8,000 other souls in a white elephant of a stadium wrongheadedly put forward for a World Cup bid.
Go to Ikea
It’s next door and far be it for me to suggest that shopping as an activity is to be enjoyed before football, but principle dictates a nice bit of role reversal. Nor is the city as a whole badly served for a mooch around its retail outlets. If you like chains, good versions of all those you would imagine are there to explore, while Bletchley town centre, on first glance deeply unprepossessing, has that kind of working class, multicultural simplicity that one increasingly pines for – although its is blighted by a Costa Coffee.
Yes – you heard me correctly. Hilly Milton Keynes is not, but looming over a cityscape that was once declared to be kept low rise only stands Xscape, also known as the Snowdome and a monumental indoor ski slope. Inside, one can also enjoy some patatas bravas at La Tasca, see a movie, ascend the climbing columns at Ellis Brigham and…err…visit a Harvester – but none of this matches being able to practise your parallel turns or snowploughs.
Visit the oldest grandstand in the world
Having left the Red Lion, one finds oneself roughly equidistant between Birmingham and Brentford on Britain’s longest manmade waterway, a gem of a thoroughfare that is home to wildlife of all kinds as well as bargee refugees from the hippie era. Four miles south, en route to Leighton Buzzard, one finds the Three Locks complex, adjoined by a decent pub. North, one can make one’s way to one of the region’s most historic communities in Wolverton – home of the oldest football stand in the UK, albeit one now used as an ornamental park feature.
So Milton Keynes and its constituent towns are far from bereft of ways of entertaining oneself on a Saturday. As it turns out, I was firmly ensconsed back in the Red Lion for the return of my PNE supporting pals from the fray, happy with a 1-1 draw after an air shot from Bailey Wright had given the home side the lead two minutes in. Do find your way here by all means, but avoid setting foot in the Winkeldome won’t you?