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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /

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E.M. in M.K.
Earth Mysteries in Milton Keynes

Bob Trubshaw

To anyone who has not spent any time in Milton Keynes it might seem the last place to look for earth mysteries. But the open farming land of Buckinghamshire has retained many ancient features. A few miles to the west of MK there is an iron age fort (152:725348), a pair of well-preserved Roman tumuli (732332), the Lone Tree pub (737332), the Dancer's Grave (765335) and Holywell Farm (775344) - just five varied places within the space of a short walk.

Restricting our interest to the area within the Milton Keynes development area there have been many survivals from the mesolithic period through the neolithic, bronze age, iron age, Roman, Saxon and medieval periods. The most interesting of these include no less than 15 moats; three motte and baileys, including Shenley Toot (828365); an iron age religious site at Caldecotte (894350); and a moot site on a mound known as Secklow (850393).

The Secklow meeting mound was excavated in 1978 prior to it being overlain with the development of central MK - the site is not far from the present library. As with many other features of the landscape destroyed by the development it has been commemorated in one of the street names - Secklow Gate. The route of the old Portway, which ran past the Secklow mound, has now been lost although, again, there is a modern road called the Portway.

Another place suggestive of a moot site is the field name Brinklow Hill (c.901372). Another old field name, Oak Grove, is situated just south of a site where a bronze age barrow, an iron age village and a Saxon settlement were found in close proximity (c.884385).

The old Watling Street passes through the south of the city, and the old town of Stony Stratford where there is an Eleanor Cross (790403).

Many other sites of interest are shown on a heritage map prepared by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation [1]. But the MKDC have not only made some effort to evaluate and excavate the archaeological features of the area, they have also created a few 'earth mysteries' of their own. As Jimmy Goddard has previously noted [2] the three parallel roads through the shopping centre are Silbury Boulevard, Avebury Boulevard and Midsummer Boulevard. And, although I have not been there to prove it, the midsummer sunrise should appear along Midsummer Boulevard, rising over the highest point in MK, the hill in Campbell Park known as the Belvedere. The terminus of this latter-day geomancy is a pond, with a powerful jet of water rising from the middle, surrounded by a circular hedge and paths leading off in the four cardinal directions.

This hill was formerly known as Black Hill (take note, all you readers of The Old Straight Track) and, although not documented, is a probable location for a beacon. The area around it is said to have been the site of a battle at the time of Queen Boudicca's rebellion. Two people who have occasion to walk through this area have, independently, found it to have a disconcerting 'atmosphere'.

Jimmy Goddard notes that Silbury Boulevard and Midsummer Boulevard are not quite parallel and suggests they converge at a three-lane-ends at Wood End (783337). My own map-work suggests a different three-lane-ends (767323), on the A421, which is an ancient trackway. In the other direction Silbury Boulevard aligns with North Crawley church (927447). Jimmy has also described two ley alignments which pass through the Open University campus and adjoining sites which cross at St Michael's church (886369) [3].

This church also aligns with Willen church (879413), a straight section of the A509, through two cross-roads near the previously mentioned Holywell Farm and Dancer's Grave, then appearing to terminate at the Norbury earthworks (712301).

Another possible alignment goes through the Open University campus, which has an oak clump at its centre (886372), the near-by St Michael's church (886369) and Milton Keynes village church (888392).

The original village of Milton Keynes has remained more-or-less unspoilt. Near the road junction outside the Swan Inn (890390) was an ancient elm and it is said that if the elm died no more male children would be born in the village [4]. In recent years the MKDC gardeners have done their best to assist its fight against Dutch Elm disease but when I visited early in 1990 this tree was no more. The church in Milton Keynes village is very fine, with some interesting gargoyles and other carvings, and an avenue of yew trees leading up to the church porch.

Not too far from Milton Keynes village, near the shores of Willen Lake, is another surprise - the world's largest maze, laid out near the Buddhist peace pagoda and monastery (c.875405). Its labyrinthine path is no less than two miles long and takes about half an hour to follow. At the centre is an oak sapling, to further strengthen its geomantic significance.

This short article can only highlight the more obvious features of EM interest in MK - there are many more sites which have survived within this area of intense development. I am grateful to my mother, Mrs Diana Trubshaw, for her help with this research.


1: Milton Keynes heritage, MKDC, 1983
2: 'The new straight track in Buckinghamshire', J. Goddard, in Touchstone, No.8, Jan 1986 and remarks in No.9, April 1986.
3: Campus lines, J. Goddard. Available from author at 25 Albert Road, Addlestone, Weybridge, KT15 2PX.
4: Milton Keynes village walk, MKDC, 1986

Originally published in Mercian Mysteries No.6 February 1991.

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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /

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Created April 1996; updated November 2008