Puzzle over the enigma of Station X on this urban walk around Bletchley.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 1hr 45min
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Roads, park and field paths, canal tow path and riverside walk, 2 stiles
Landscape Mixture of suburban streets and farmland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 192 Buckingham & Milton Keynes
Start/finish SP 868337
Dog friendliness Under control in Blue Lagoon Park, along Broad Walk and by canal. Dogs are not permitted in grounds of Bletchley Park (except assistance dogs).
Parking Bletchley Station and approach road
Public toilets Bletchley Station
Notes Access to Bletchley Park is via paid entry
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 From the station car park cross the road and take the path to Bletchley Park. On leaving the former Station X walk along Wilton Avenue and left into Church Green Road. Bear left at the junction with Buckingham Road and make your way towards Central Bletchley. Turn right into Water Eaton Road, pass beneath the Bletchley-to-Oxford railway line, and bear right at the footpath sign, just before the next railway bridge.
2 Pass a pond, Pulmans Swannery, on the right and follow the fenced path to a stile. Continue to a fork, keep right and follow a track in an anti-clockwise direction round the edge of the lake. Avoid a ford and a footbridge and continue on the lakeside path. At the south west corner of the lake, look for some steps and a footbridge on the right. Turn left immediately beyond them and follow a path parallel to power lines. Bear left at a grassy track and follow it towards the railway line. Turn right immediately before a stile and keep to the right of a house. Swing left at a fence to reach a stile, and then walk ahead with the railway line on your left.
3 Pass through a tunnel of trees and alongside farmland and, when you reach the drive to Slad Farm, exit to the road. Bear left, cross the railway bridge and turn immediately right at a gate. Follow the path for a short distance to a field corner and swing left to join a bridleway. Keep the houses of Bletchley on your left, beyond the trees and hedgerow. On reaching the road, between two roundabouts, cross over to the canal bridge and swing left to follow the Broad Walk. At a sign for the Riverside Walk, turn right and then swing left after about 75yds (69m).
4 Keep the river a short distance away to the right. Draw level with a farm over to the right, cross a footbridge over a pond and turn left. Head for The Watermill and Mill Farm, avoiding the car park for Waterhall Park. Cross the bridge over the Grand Union Canal and keep right. Ahead now are several thatched and timber-framed cottages. Turn left in front of them and keep right at the main road junction, heading towards the Plough inn. Cross the road at the roundabout, following the sign for the station. Continue ahead through a residential area, pass beneath the two railway bridges seen near the start of the walk, go straight over at the junction and back to the station car park.
Bletchley Park. The name may sound ordinary enough but what took place here during the dark days of the Second World War is quite remarkable. This was the home of Station X - where more than 10,000 people worked in total secrecy in a small, nondescript town at the heart of the English shires.
It was here that mathematicians, linguists, crossword enthusiasts and Oxbridge scholars battled for hours on end, in wooden huts and brick-built blocks, to break the seemingly unbreakable. Their role was to study the German military cipher machine, 'Enigma', and devise a programme to enable the Allies to decode the Nazis' secret radio messages, which often provided clues as to the enemy's next course of action. At times the code-breakers' task seemed impossible - after all, the odds against success were phenomenal. But they did succeed, shortening the war against Germany by as much as two years.
One of the key figures in the story of Bletchley Park was Alan Turing, a mathematical genius considered to be one of the pioneering fathers of the modern computer. It was he who invented the 'Bombe', an electro-mechanical machine of clattering code wheels intended to significantly reduce the time needed to break the daily-changing Enigma keys.
But why Bletchley Park? What was it about this Victorian mansion, built by a city financier, that made the men from British Intelligence choose it as their top secret Station X? Midway between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and just a few minutes' walk from a mainline railway station with regular services to London and many other parts of the country, it seemed a perfect venue for the Government Code and Cypher School, which until then had been based at the Foreign Office. As the threat of war loomed, Bletchley Park was poised to become the key communications centre in the history of modern warfare.
In August 1939, code breakers arrived at Bletchley Park in large numbers. Their work had begun. They posed as members of 'Captain Ridley's shooting party' so as not to arouse suspicion in the area. Ridley was the man in charge of the school's move to Bletchley. For the next 40 years, no one outside Bletchley Park knew exactly what went on here, and so impeccable was the code breakers' professionalism that the Germans never even realised Enigma had been broken. Churchill called the staff at Bletchley Park his 'geese that laid the golden eggs but never cackled'.
The Grand Union Canal is perfect for exploring on foot. The tow path provides excellent views of this historic waterway, originally known as the Grand Junction Canal. Its construction took place between 1793 and 1800, resulting in many changes to the landscape, but, more importantly, it provided work and business opportunities for local people.
After the war the intelligence services continued to use part of the park as a training centre and the site was also used as a training college for teachers, post office workers and air traffic controllers. It was decommissioned in 1987 and in 1992 the Bletchley Park Trust was born to preserve the historic site. There's lots to see here so allow plenty of time for your visit. Props from the film Enigma (2001) are on display, the museum illustrates many Second World War activities and you can follow the Cryptology Trail, learning how messages were intercepted and delivered to Bletchley Park. Also on display is a replica of Colossus, the world's first programmable electronic computer.
The Plough Inn, on the closing stages of the walk, is handy for a pint, a hot meal or a snack. Near the start are the Eight Belles and the George, offering all-day breakfasts, jacket potatoes, toasties, fresh baguettes, lasagne and scampi. There are picnic tables between the river and the canal and at Waterhall Park.