HUGE BLOG POST!!! I haven’t always loved Milton Keynes. In fact, up until 2005 I knew very little about it. So what happened between now and then? Well… A man. A man and two children. I moved here from Nottingham to be with my hubs as he did a job which he could only do in MK. And I did a job which I could do elsewhere. My first impression? Like many visitors it was the roundabouts. I like numbers (I don’t know why) so I used to count how many there were to his house in Tattenhoe (I think it was 14). Then when I relocated here I discovered not only did I love the grid system and take great joy in describing how to get somewhere, ‘it’s between the H3 and H4 on the V6’ (that’s Linford Wood car park by the way) but there was lots here to enjoy too. Then when we had children… BOOM! That’s when it all really started, the search for fun (ideally cheap) places to take them both in MK and the surrounding counties.
I started the Milton Keynes Kids facebook page in April 2015 and this website followed in the September. Why? Because I enjoy sharing ideas of places to take young children and think it’s great to celebrate the area in which you live. I now find myself a finalist in one of the country’s biggest parenting blog awards. If you enjoy my blog and fancy voting for me click on Mad Blog Awards and select Milton Keynes Kids in the family travel section – it’s decided on a public vote (I know, it’s a bit like I’m on Britain’s Got Talent, but not really) I do need all the help I can get though!
Anyway let’s crack on. Thursday 28th April 2016 is #LoveMK day. It’s organised by Destination MK and is all about promoting Milton Keynes as a leisure and business destination. You can win prizes throughout the day by using #LoveMK on twitter. All the info is on their website. To celebrate I’ve put together this blog post – 49 reasons to love Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes for the purposes of this blog is the borough of Milton Keynes. Hopefully you might find it useful as it includes some of our favourites as a couple and with children. Why 49 reasons to love MK? Milton Keynes is 49 years old this year. It’s going to make it much easier to write a similar article next year when it reaches the big 5-0.
- Milton Keynes Museum – we enjoy the fascinating hands-on interactive exhibits like the telephone gallery (so much fun for toddlers), the lovely volunteer guides, the cows are there now, and pay once and you now get in for the whole year.
- I could just do one entry for the fabulous lakes, parks and areas of woodland, but there are certain ones which deserve a mention on their own. Brooklands Park has a sand and water area, soft flooring and excellent equipment for babies and toddlers. What’s not to love.
- Willen Lake – We’re regular visitors to the lake to use the re-vamped play area, feed the ducks and go on the miniature train during the summer.
- Summerhayes Christmas Lights – Every year the residents of Summerhayes in Great Linford decorate their houses in spectacular fashion to raise money for Willen Hospice. In 2015 they collected over £8000. A video I shared on facebook reached more than 285,000 people across the world. If you didn’t see it you can now watch it on youtube.
5. Home of British codebreaking and a birthplace of modern information technology, Bletchley Park is a wonderful place to explore. Me and hubs visited pre-children and found the exhibitions fascinating. Under 12s go free.
6. Thrift Farm is one of the first farms I took my toddler to. It’s a cheap few hours out for young children with lots of animals and a fun play barn. The re-vamped café is lovely too. The farm aims to create future employment opportunities for people with learning difficulties and mental health problems which we like.
7. Emberton Country Park has an excellent play area which includes a big pirate ship, big slide and a floor trampoline. There’s also a sandpit with diggers and nice walks.
8. With just about all the high street stores you could need, the Centre MK is not only an excellent shopping destination but you can also walk for miles if you keep doing circuits.
9. We’re big badminton fans in my house so love having Badminton England here in MK. Because most of the players train at the National Badminton Centre it means they live here too, so we claim them as ours. Can’t wait for Rio… C’mon Chris and Gabby!
10. Woburn sands – The baby and toddler group is one of the friendliest we’ve ever been to; we like the story and rhyme time at the library; browsing the charity shops; Nonnas; and the Jalori.
11. All of the groups for young children. We’re spoilt for choice for structured play and music sessions. Over the last few years we’ve been to Cha Char Chimps, Toddler Time, Ragdollyannas, Baby Sensory, and Music Bugs. I’m sure there are many others we still haven’t found the time to try yet.
12. Linford Wood Art Trail is a fun way to take a walk through the woods. We enjoyed spotting all the wooden sculptures including E.T and Rupert the Bear. There are bluebells in the woods too at the moment.
13. The MKPA Scrapstore – If you have creative children, or work in a nursery, pre-school or school then do check out the scrapstore at the Milton Keynes Play Association, it’s an Aladdin’s Cave of incredible craft stuff. If you work for a company that has recyclable material that children might find useful then it’s worth a look too.
14. Xscape MK – There’s lots of restaurants and treat activities for older children there, but we enjoy popping in to use the soft play in the café area (it’s quite hidden!) and watching people skiing. My baby boy also has a big thing for the circle lights which change colour.
15. The H and V roads – All towns and cities should have a grid system. It’s easy when you’ve got your head around it.
16. Caldecotte Miniature Railway – As a mum of two little boys I’m growing to appreciate vehicles… diggers, buses, cars, backhoe loaders, refuse lorries… but mostly trains. You can go around the track on this lovely little one at Caldecotte Lake for £1.
17. There’s a magic garden in Milton Keynes. It’s just behind Two Mile Ash Park – see how many hidden fairy doors you can find.
18. It’s location. You want to go somewhere. You can generally get there in an hour from MK. Ok ok, I don’t mean everywhere. But all the good country parks in Northamptonshire, London, mine and hubs’ mums… you get the idea.
19. I don’t mind admitting I’m a bit of a geek. But a very specific kind of geek. A ‘Back to the Future’ geek. So of course on my list is Collectormania. It used to be at the Centre MK then moved to the Dons Stadium. It was at Collectormania that I got my hoverboard signed by several cast members. Apart from hubs, the children, cat, my laptop, phone, diaries, the hoverboard is the first thing I’d save in a fire.
20. Stony Stratford – the first place I ever lived in MK. Loved the high street. Happy memories.
21. Who loves Dinosaurs? We do! There’s now more than 30 animatronic ones at Gulliver’s Dinosaur and Farm Park. We sometimes go to Gulliver’s Land next door on Mother’s Day when mums go free or Father’s Day when dads go free.
22. Milton Keynes Hospital – I know everyone probably has a view on this one. But it’s where my two lovely boys were born. No I didn’t have the most straightforward of labours, particularly the first time around, but I received incredible care from the midwives there, and for that I’m extremely grateful.
23. It may take a good 2 hours to get to the nearest natural beach, but who needs to travel that far when you have parks like the one in Loughton. It has lots of sand, an excellent pirate ship and a good climbing frame.
24. I’m sure most people think of Intu MK and the Centre MK as the same shopping centre. They’re not. Intu is ‘the new bit’. We like it because of the lego shop, Debenhams, the toilets and earlier this year they had giant birdhouses there.
26. Newport Pagnell – we enjoy visiting the high street and perusing the charity shops, it’s home to the lovely Drop Off Café, and the residents of Kennington Close put on excellent Christmas lights to raise money for Willen Hospice.
27. Mums on facebook – If you want to connect with other mums then MK is the place to do it. There’s an excellent Mummies Meetings MK group where you can make friends, a Mumpreneurs MK group for support in business ventures and Mum to Mum MK where you can discuss everything! The group has also raised thousands of pounds for Henry Allen Trust. There’s also the brilliant parks in and around Milton Keynes group for more ideas of places to take the kids.
28. The Open Air Film Festival in Campbell Park is back again this August. We went several years ago and watched Some Like It Hot. Great fun! Although it did get chilly and with no food or seats it was quite uncomfortable sitting on the floor. I think we ended up walking to Nandos half way through.
29. If I asked my toddler what he enjoyed most about MK last year he’d probably answer the Bletchley Fire Station open day – he loved meeting the firefighters, sitting in the fire engine and buying a helmet. The last one broke so he can’t wait to go back on 3rd September to get a new one.
30. The woman on the fish counter in Asda in Bletchley – I know this is very specific. I don’t even know her name. But sometimes we do our food shop there (usually if I’m on the hunt for wonky vegetables – I still haven’t found any) and she is the most friendly, chatty, helpful member of staff I think I’ve ever met in a supermarket.
31. All kids pre-loved books at the Little Bookshop in Great Linford are no more than 50p, bargain! Children can sit down and read in there, have a snack and then buy duck food for the ducks on the pond in front of the shop.
32. After you’ve finished at the book shop you could then take a walk to the dragon park. It has a big slide and play equipment suitable for a variety of ages.
33. Want to see lots of cool animals? Then look out for open days at Wrigglies Pet Store in Old Stratford. At the last one they had snakes, owls and skunks.
34. I have to admit we love a trip to Ikea. Play area outside, crèche inside (although my two aren’t old enough to play there yet), free nappy to change the baby, good rewards when you scan your cards and receipt (last time we got a £5 voucher and a free stool – as you do), and a cheap cooked breakfast.
35. Downs Barn Park – yet to write it up for the blog but it has the biggest slide you’ve ever seen.
36. The libraries. Woburn Sands and Kingston especially. Toddler loves climbing on the big shapes at Kingston – I assume that’s what they’re for?!
38. Nadiya Hussain – the winner of Great British Bake Off now lives in MK. She’s brilliant. She tweets about MK too.
39. The Mezzanine café in John Lewis – no not the one on the 2nd floor, the one you get to by the lift at the front of the store – the best place to people watch in Centre MK. I used to take the baby boy there to feed him – very relaxing.
40. Soft play – I’m not the biggest fan of soft play at the weekends because they can get so busy on rainy days but on a quiet weekday I can cope! There are a number to choose from in MK – 360 Play re-opens on 30th April after a makeover, there’s also Safari MK, the Play gym at Kingston, Oopsa Daisy Soft Play, MK Springers and Arabian gym. Is that it? I think so.
41. Howe Park Wood Café – lovely café with books for the kids, comfy sofas, nice cake, walk in the woods, look at the frogs, morning out, done. A play area will be built there in the future.
42. Beaches – what? more beaches in MK? As previously mentioned a number of parks have them, but during the summer the indoor one at Centre MK and the one at Frosts in Woburn Sands are fab fun for toddlers.
43. MK1 shopping area – y’know the one near the Dons? It has Primark. The Next there is also much better for queues during the Boxing Day Sales – don’t tell anyone I told you that.
44. I love that we get so many of the touring shows come to Milton Keynes Theatre. One of my favourites was the Sound of Music. I bought a singing goat. Little boys love the singing goat. Hope to take them to see shows when they’re bigger.
45. Children’s Centres – facilities vary depending on which one serves your area but the centres offer support, groups and advice to parents. We’ve been to Saplings in Bletchley – they have a baby sensory room there which is free to book and use for people who live in the area.
46. Wolverton swimming pool – when I was working full-time prior to going on maternity leave again, my husband used to take Fridays off to look after our toddler. They really enjoyed the splash session and then having a picnic in the lovely Western Road recreation ground afterwards.
47. The Bowl – I saw Robbie Williams there. It was awesome.
48. The exhibitions and events in Middleton Hall – Ok so Collectormania’s not there anymore but we do enjoy the vintage fair, the car racing and other events.
49. Somewhere is as only as good as the people you spend time with, so for me my last reason is my family and friends and the fabulous people of MK..
I KNOW there’s lots of places and things that didn’t make my 49 reasons to love Milton Keynes… MK Dons, Bounce, SI5 Spy Missions, MK Gallery, Planet Ice, Pirate Golf may be among those that you’re thinking of. But what’s great is that as my children get older we’ll have lots more adventures together. So please do comment below and add yours or let me know if I’ve missed anything obvious. And if I could wave a magic wand, what would I add to make us Love MK even more? Probably a brilliant country park like Stanwick Lakes with climbing frames, sandpits, trails and a lovely visitors centre; a splash park like the one in Leighton Buzzard; a baby and toddler café like the Secret Garden in Hitchin and more restaurants with fun play areas like Maypole Farm in Kempston.
I'm Laura, mum of two boys - aged six and four. I started this website at the end of Sept 2015 whilst on maternity leave. I now work four days a week and do this blog late at night once the little boys are sleeping. It's won several awards over the last four years and I continue to run it for free and mostly focus on free, cheap, and good value days out. Do drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to contact me. Don't forget to follow all of our latest adventures on facebook, instagram and twitter and have a look at all of the videos of the places we visit on the Milton Keynes Kids YouTube Channel - subscribe to it for notifications every time I add a new place. And remember... you may been reading this post months after we visited, do check with the destination you're visiting for up to date opening times and prices. If you find this blog useful then please do comment on my posts and leave me a Facebook review - it makes doing this all the more worthwhile.