Milton Keynes is one of those places that I suspect generates a lot of preconceptions. Hardly surprising since the place was once synonymous with half a dozen concrete cows (which in all my visits I’ve never seen).

I was under the mistaken impression until recently that the town was named after the economists with conflicting philosophies; Milton Friedman and Lord Keynes, but as the name goes back a few centuries I’ve had to scrap that theory.

What is beyond doubt is that the straight line is king. They might be tree-lined and further softened by being called “boulevards” but the fact is that the roads run straight and parallel, the buildings are square and even green spaces have rectilinear tendencies.

With time to explore I might have embraced those angles, but with a tight schedule and the ever-present parking challenges that are also part of this town’s character I grabbed a few examples in the vicinity of my workplace but nothing of real value or impact.

Disappointing, but there was a surprise still to come. Just before joining the motorway that would lead my back to my northern homeland I spotted an alien structure standing in an area of parkland. It was a pagoda.

Now I’ve seen pagodas before (and photographed one earlier this year) but this one was different. No tiers of oriental canopies here, just one. What’s more there was a large white dome beneath it that reminded me of a different religious structure altogether, or rather two.

Temple de swayambunath-nepal
Temple de swayambunath-nepal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was lucky enough to celebrate my 40th year by cycling across Nepal, and in my time in Kathmandu visited two of the Buddhist faith’s oldest religious sites; Swayambunath (The Monkey Temple) and Bodnath where refugee monks from Tibet continue to worship. Sadly in those days my interest in two wheels exceeded my interest in developing photographic skills so I returned without images of these great monuments so forgive me for resorting to wiki at this point.

Bodnath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Bodnath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These white hemispherical structures house holy relics and are known as Stupa, and this was what I recognised at the MK pagoda.

Was this some sort of hybrid?  No, not really.  Look at the structures above the dome and you will see a series of tapering circles or steps (which in Buddhist symbolism represent fire).  Now that’s more pagoda like.

The truth is that the Stupa was the original Buddhist religious structure in India and Nepal where the religion first took hold, but as it spread further east to China and Japan, the dome (which represented water) became less prominent and disappeared whist the structure above became more developed and ornate.  The Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda provided me with the missing link that enabled me to see this architectural evolution.

It made for some interesting pictures too.

Peace Pagoda, Milton Keynes
Peace Pagoda, Milton Keynes

Cue Tradesmen

One thing that I noticed in Havana that I attributed to the lack of a capitalist mindset was the number of visitor attractions that were completely off-limits because there was some work underway at the site (new paving, exterior cleaning and restoration, preparations for a rally). “It would never happen if local management valued cashflow and revenue” I thought to myself time and again.

Visiting Kew Gardens for the first time this weekend I was reminded of my Cuban experience. I’m not a gardener and so the finer details of the range of flora there past me by, and I didn’t bring a macro lens to go in search of them. I went expecting to be impressed by objects on a larger scale; The Princess of Wales Conservatory sinking into the ground around it; The Palm House, an outstanding feat of Victorian engineering; The Pagoda, an 18th Century expression of fascination with the Orient, and The Temperate House, the worlds largest surviving Victorian glasshouse.

The Princess of Wales Conservatory, Kew
The Princess of Wales Conservatory, Kew

Perhaps I expected too much, or perhaps the self-imposed time constraint of knowing I had to allow time for a long drive home afterwards, but I wasn’t hugely impressed.   Yes it has colour and texture aplenty, with a little wildlife for good measure, but then so does the Botanic Garden at Durham and in a much more compact setting.

Yes it has some history (George III was kept away from the public eye during his “madness” and was virtually exiled to Kew.  His palace has now gone, but that of his wife and daughters remains, together with their kitchen garden), but so does every National Trust property that I visit.

APW_2009-EditIt has a magnificent Palm House, whose exterior is stunning, but whose interior…?  Sunderland Winter Gardens anyone?

So I was relying on the showstoppers to save the day.  Except that the Temperate House is closed for renovation, and just like the Havana Capitol no access to the interior was allowed and any exterior shots had to be taken over a fence!  At least they preserved a little colour outside.

So to The Pagoda.  Oh dear.  The sad old thing is in desperate need of some TLC.  It is apparently about to undergo a two-year restoration project which will bring back its vibrant colours and gilt dragons.  I have a shocking sense of timing it seems.

Thank heavens for the Palm House.

The Palm House, Kew
The Palm House, Kew