Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Milton Keynes, England

MILTON KEYNES Fri Nov 16, 2012 6:18pm IST

MILTON KEYNES (Reuters) - Britain is looking for up to 100 apprentice spies to emulate staff at Bletchley Park, the former code-breaking centre that was once the most secret place in Britain.

Bletchley is now a suburb of Milton Keynes, a compact young city an hour's drive northwest of London best known for the number of roundabouts on its grid road system and where - if you believe national media - life is the epitome of suburban tedium.

However, nowhere in Milton Keynes is more than a 10-minute drive from centuries-old villages with soaring church spires set in a gently rolling landscape that is still home to "spooks" in secluded settings down quiet country lanes.

Reuters correspondents help you make the most of your time in a surprisingly interesting place.

FRIDAY

6 p.m. - Visit Xscape, one of Europe's largest indoor ski slopes, for a quick refresher on your skiing or snowboarding skills ahead of the winter season.

7:30 p.m. - Theatre - Catch a production on a national tour.

Step outside afterwards into the Theatre District and find a bar for a late supper or a nightcap. Or perhaps travel a short distance to The Jaipur, an Indian restaurant on a grand scale.

SATURDAY

9 a.m. - Visit Olney, a well-heeled market town that is home to the Shrove Tuesday pancake race and where you can browse for curios and antiques.

10 a.m. - While there, visit the Cowper & Newton museum, celebrating one of the greatest letter writers in English (William Cowper) and a slave trade abolitionist who also wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace" (John Newton), respectively.

12 p.m. Go for lunch in a pub in one of the nearby picturesque villages such as The Lamb in Stoke Goldington or the Grade II listed Cowpers Oak in Weston Underwood, which revels in its status as a "great village pub" serving locally sourced traditional pub fare and ale from nearby Hopping Mad brewery.

1:30 p.m. - Drive to Salcey Forest where a wooden walkway takes you above the treetops of this former royal hunting forest, where some of the oak trees are hundreds of years old. There is also a family cycle route, horse riding trail with its own car park for horse boxes, an abundance of wildlife, cafe, ice-cream parlour, children's play area and a picnic spot.

3 p.m. - Now visit England's superhighways down the ages in one short trip to Stoke Bruerne, passing over the M1 motorway (20th century), under the West Coast railway line (19th century) to arrive at the Grand Union canal (18th century). Amble around, maybe help a barge negotiate a lock, then warm your feet by one of the fires in The Boat Inn with a pint of foaming ale.

4:30 p.m. - Get in some late afternoon shopping in Milton Keynes --you won't be alone.

7 p.m. - Dinner and drinks at The Stables. One of Britain's top venues for live music - be it jazz, blues, folk, or rock - is an intimate setting largely staffed by volunteers.

It will serve you supper as well as entertainment. The venue's modest size means, it is said, artists only ever play there twice - once on the way up, and once on the way down.

SUNDAY

10 a.m. - Visit Woburn Abbey and its safari park, one of Britain's grandest stately homes. The home of the Dukes of Bedford for 400 years these days also has lions, tigers and rhinos running around the back yard.

The house where the 15th Duke and his family resides is closed for the winter until March. When it reopens visitors can see some of the state rooms, such as the Blue Drawing Room - where the English tradition of afternoon tea is said to have originated in 1840 with a duchess who found the wait between luncheon and supper too long - paintings by Canaletto, silver, furniture, vaults and the crypt.

The Abbey also has a golf course, tea rooms, a deer park and an inn where guests can stay all year round.

1 p.m. - Lunch at Paris House, on the edge of the Woburn estate, for fine dining. Go to the village itself for a more modest repast.

3 p.m. - Bletchley Park - where Britain won World War Two. See the one of the Enigma Machines, including the rare "Abwehr G312", a highlight of a day at Bletchley Park.

Check out the tales of spies and strategic deception. You may even be the one to discover the map to genius mathematician Alan Turing's silver, supposedly buried in or near Bletchley Park.

Finally, see if you can persuade them to tell you where today's local spooks are based.

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