MK17: 14 beautiful villages to explore in the Buckinghamshire postcode
11:34 11 January 2017
Stretching from Aylesbury Vale and into Bedfordshire, this area tells the story of recent British history at the heart of our country. Sue Bromley takes us on a tour
It’s just a postcode, but those first two letters say so much more than the HP for Hemel Hempstead attached to High Wycombe and Aylesbury area addresses, or the SL for Slough that must go on post for the likes of Marlow, Bourne End and Gerrards Cross.
For centuries the villages and hamlets scattered across this rural area of tracks and lanes concentrated on agricultural, brick-making and serving the landed gentry.
Many of those leafy lanes – and the larger homes within them – would have a part to play in the darker arts of the Second World War, which we will come to. But if anyone thought life would return to the earlier 20th century idyll after the conflict, they were in for a not always welcome surprise. First came the M1 motorway, swiftly followed by Milton Keynes, the new town now turned city in all but name, in 1967.
While the big, lively neighbour celebrates turning 50, it’s worth noting that although time hasn’t exactly stood still in the MK17 villages many have avoided being swallowed up. Local pubs, mostly, still prosper, and there’s a real sense of community, with many villages having between 100 and 1,000 residents. Although many living in the hamlets nearest to Milton Keynes are keeping a watchful eye on future expansion plans.
This is an area rich in history right back to the time of the dinosaurs (bones have been found at various sites), through settlement by the Romans, medieval churches, the English Civil War and arrival of the railway.
It’s the type of sometimes invisible backdrop to daily life we should all treasure and here we must raise a glass of local ale to The Milton Keynes Heritage Association, an umbrella group for around 60 community organisations, including local historical societies, preservation trusts and heritage centres.
Whether it’s ancient history or the poignant stories from the two world wars, all is recorded and curated by local volunteers. For instance, while most people know the story of Bletchley and the code-breakers during the 2nd World War, much of the ‘black arts propaganda’ aimed at Germany was produced in villages close to Bletchley, like Whaddon and Aspley Guise. Many of the ‘sworn to secrecy’ Bletchley workers were billeted in villages like Bow Brickhill. Wavendon Tower, a large country house, was used as a recording studio for propaganda, later becoming the base for The Milton Keynes Development Corporation.
Nearby, RAF Little Horwood, converted from agricultural land, operated as both a training centre for combat pilots and ‘nickelling’, the name given to the dropping of propaganda leaflets on mainland Europe.
Whaddon Hall served as headquarters of Section VIII (Communications) of MI6, and was home to ‘Station X’, intercepting wireless transmissions and communicating with SIS agents on the European mainland.
On the south east border of MK, the village has retained its heart although part of the parish was excavated in the 1970s to form Caldecotte Lake, now one of MK’s popular spots for watersports and birdwaching. The village has a church with parts dating back to the 12th century.
This village sits south of Bletchley and includes The Three Horshoes, a pub with rooms and a cosy village welcome courtesy of 200 years old oak beams. Lunches are only served on Fridays, but good ‘pub grub’ evening meals are available Monday to Saturday, including steaks from the nearby butcher to go with local cask ales.
This is definitely one of the communities keeping an eye on MK’s growth and fighting to retain its own identity. The parish church, St Mary the Virgin, is Grade II listed and dates back to the 13th century. The Old Red Lion pub is exceptionally popular and there’s much praise for landlady Helen Ivory and head chef James Riach following its reopening after refurbishment last summer.
Great and Little Horwood
The main village sits in what was Royal hunting grounds from ancient times and was once a market town. One hunt you won’t have to do for long is finding a decent pint. The Crown, beside the village green, run by Sean and Sara Walsh, is a popular watering hole with tasty meals (children and dogs welcome), while a feast awaits at The Swan in Winslow Road, a great Bucks gastro pubs with winter warmers like wild mushroom soup with brandy.
Little Horwood’s St Nicholas church may have undergone Gothic-style restoration in Victorian times but 16th century wall paintings depicting the Seven Deadly Sins can be seen inside.
The village was once a stopping point for mail and passenger stagecoaches but now overlooks Milton Keynes. It’s close to Woburn golf course and The George pub there is now better known to many as La Collina Italian restaurant.
This village in Aylesbury Vale is near Winslow and was once a prominent market town with its own manor house. Sir Thomas Beecham lived at Mursley Hall, now the site of The Beechams Estate.
Nash is south of Milton Keynes and east of Buckingham and although it has a population of under 500 there’s a real community spirit here. For instance, before Christmas, The Pump, a pop-up micro-pub, opened in the village hall for a night.
This village near Bletchley once had a large brick-making factory. It’s home to St Faith Church, parts of which date back to the 12th century. You’ll find cruck-framed 15th century thatched houses here.
Sitting close to The Grand Union Canal, the village is one of a special ‘Few’, the 51 Thankful Villages of England and Wales which were identified in the 1930s by writer Arthur Mee as having lost no men during the Fist World War.
A lot of medieval village history probably disappeared here during the Civil War. Swanbourne, near Winslow, supported Parliament and was burnt by the Royalists in 1643. The Betsey Wynne pub may sound old, but it was actually built in 2006 after Tom Fremantle, a descendant of Betsey Wynne and of the Fremantle family who still own the Swanbourne Estate, decided walking back from hostelries in Winslow was too far!
Sitting on the River Ouse near Buckingham, this village has a church that has undergone various restorations but retained medieval features including its bell tower.
The Manor House here was bought by The Sisters ofJesus and Mary in 1917 and operates as a prestigious Catholic independent school for girls, so will celebrate its century in 2017.
Today this once Anglo Saxon village is best known for being home to The Stables, the music venue developed by the late Sir John Dankworth and his wife, Dame Cleo Laine.
The village was once surrounded by dense forest and Whaddon Chase is designated an area of ‘Special Landscape Interest’. St Mary’s Church has a Norman chancel and nave and 13th century stone font.
The village got its name in Victorian times when the first one, Hogsty End, fell out of favour. The new title was undoubtedly supported by schoolmaster Joseph Daniels, who had called his school ‘Woburn Sands Academy’. Woburn Sands became something of a health spa and tourist destination during that era – see what the right name can do!
• 17 delights to find in Buckinghamshire’s HP17 - Penny Gibbs puts a postcode packed with pretty villages and surprises under the Buckinghamshire Life magnifying glass for us