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Armchair Exploration 4

Grand Union Canal BridgeThis bridge over the Grand Union canal at Woughton on the Green was for farm access, and sat in the middle of fields. It's now just yards from the (usually) busy A421.

Now I’ve been on a few officially sanctioned walks, I’ve realised there’s still scope for a bit of local exploration. Best of all, it gives me somewhere to go, a destination.

This is great.

You’ll find a walk is far more enjoyable if there’s an objective in mind, rather than just going out because you are bored and fed up. And while it’s possible to explore places just via the internet, nothing beats just going there and seeing for yourself.

But how do you start? By getting back in that armchair and doing some research on your area.

A good start is to look on the National Library of Scotland’s (NLS) map pages of the British Isles. Some maps, the largest scale sheets, date back to the end of the 19th Century. Others are from around 1950, but there’s lots more to choose from.

Fire up Google Maps, as well. Their Streetview is very useful. I talked about how to do this in more detail in Armchair Exploration 1.

 Many places have local history pages on their village websites, and some towns have dedicated history sites, like the excellent Winslow website.

What might you find? Clues, to the past.

White Spring blossomSpring blossom in Woughton Park, in an ancient hedgerow.

You see, in England, most of the modern buildings and roads you’ll find are built around, on top of, or shaped by, what went before. Old buildings have new purposes. Modern roads follow medieval lanes. Building plot boundaries match fields, so that ancient hedgerows often survive inside housing estates.

In the village of Padbury, the old railway station and part of the line is gone. The site is covered by houses, but Station Road is still there.

Next to it is Padbury Old End, which I didn’t realise was there before. I’ll take a trip out one day, when that’s possible again. The old Robin Hood and Red Lion pubs in Old End are now private houses; see if you can spot them.

In Winslow there are two old shop fronts with the same design, but on different roads. One is in Horn Street, at the top of The Walk, and according to Google Streetview, it’s now a restaurant. I’ll leave you to find the other one, but here’s a clue; it’s in the high Street.

Field with buttercupsWoughton on the Green, Spring.

In Milton Keynes, there are many old hedgerows still present. You can often spot them because they are at an angle to the street grid.

And if you find yourself on a path or redway in Milton Keynes with an old hedgerow on each side, there’s a good chance you are on what used to be one of the local lanes; there are many.

The redway that goes past the Peace Pagoda at Willen is the old road to Newport Pagnell. Another is in Woughton Park, where a lane once led down to the river Ouzel. 200 or more years ago there was a bridge over the river.

On the other side of the river the lane would have taken you past Walton church, now in the grounds of the Open University. You can see the route on the NLS 19th Century maps, or on Google Maps.

Old road and hedgesLooking back along the lane to Woughton on the Green, from the banks of the river Ouzel.

No reason to not take a walk out to look at just one small detail, like the crest on the London Road Bridge, in Buckingham; unnoticed by many.

London Road Bridge  BuckinghamOn the 1805 London road Bridge, in Buckingham.

You can also keep an eye out for benchmarks. There are thousands across the country, on churches and bridges, old schools and High Street buildings. Often unnoticed, they are something else to discover. I wrote more about them, here.

Trig point  Stony StratfordThis was an old milestone when the benchmark was carved into it, in around 1850.

Wild flowers are blooming now, as we move through Spring. Take a close look, maybe take a photo or two.

There are all sorts of things that are worth looking out for, and some are on quite modern buildings. Try looking up high, or down low. When you get home from your walk you can look it up while you have a reviving cup of tea. Just the job.

Some of the photos here were taken on an official walk, but all of them could have been.

Here are the previous posts in the series:

Armchair Exploration 1.

Armchair Exploration 2.

Armchair Exploration 3.

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