The smallest of what are known as the 'Shire' counties. Bedfordshire has no
cities but can boast the fine market towns of Bedford, Luton, Dunstable and Leighton
Bedfordshire is predominantly a rural county to the north and is more
densely populated to the south where the M1 motorway cuts through the
county from Buckinghamshire in the West to Hertfordshire in the South.
The colourful Edwardian diamond magnate Sir
Julius Wernher decided to have Robert Adam's classical 18th century stone
mansion remodelled in 1903 to suit his own extravagant tastes. His
collection of art treasures include Faberge jewels, imperial robes worn by
the Russian Tsars and paintings by Titian and Rembrandt.
Luton is Bedfordshire's largest town, a
thriving centre of the light industry and famous for its international
airport. In the past, however, it was famed for the making of pillow lace
and the elegant straw plaited hats worn by ladies to protect their
complexions from the sun. Exhibits in the Wardown Museum illustrate the
history of this crass from a bygone era. Luton along with Dunstable is
also well known for being a important part of the British motor industry.
A footpath winds from sharpenhoe, a tiny
village nestling at the foot of a steep hill, to a lovely area of high
woodland known as the Clappers, owned by the National Trust. The views
from the top explain why John
Bunyan chose this for the 'Delectable Mountain' of his Pilgrim's
Sheltered by low hills, Ampthill presents a
charming mixture of thatched cottages, Georgian houses, old coaching inns
and a parish church set in a pretty square. Ampthill Park, is famous for
the ancient oak trees in its grounds. Catherine of Aragon, first wife of
Henry VIII, was dismissed to Ampthill when the king decided to divorce
The 17th century mansion that was once home
of the Countess of Pembroke, sister of Sir Philip Sidney, fell into ruins
nearly 200 years ago. This is thought to have been a 'House Beautiful' of
Pilgrim's Progress, the book that John
Bunyan wrote while a prisoner in Bedford jail. The hill on which the
jail stands is his 'Hill of Difficulty'.
The village of Woburn has a number of
attractive buildings dating from the Post coach era, and is filled with
antique shops and boutiques catering for thousands of visitors drawn to
Woburn Abbey, seat of the Dukes of Bedford This most flamboyant of all
Britain's stately homes is famous for its wild animal kingdom. Herds of
rare species of deer and other exotic animals are housed in the beautiful
3000 acre park and there are many other attractions to suit the whole
family. The Abbey itself is a spacious 18th century mansion designed by
Henry Holland and contains a notable collection of paintings by Canaletto,
and Van Dyck.
A graceful five sided market cross with two
tiers of arches holding carved figures, erected in 1400, stands at the
centre of the market town. One of the attractive old buildings nearby, the
Wilkes almhouses, is the scene of curious ceremony which takes place
annually in May: while portions of the founders will are read aloud, a
choirboy stands on his head. As Leighton Buzzard has now joined to
Linslade on the opposite bank of the Ouzel, the town is sometimes called
Leighton-Linslade. From Pages Park station, the Leighton Buzzard Railway,
converted from industrial track, operate steam trains through nearly four
miles of lovely wooded countryside.
Rising dramatically from the surrounding
farmland, Dunstable Downs, a steep scarp of the Chiltern Hills, is an
ideal centre for gliding. Part of the Downs, an area of woods and common
land where many species of wild flowers grow, belongs to the National
Trust. Two ancient highways cross the hills, the great Roman road of
Watling Street and Icknield
Way, a much older prehistoric track that may have been named after the
tribe of the Iceni, whose queen Boudicca was eventually defeated by the
Romans. Five Knolls, just outside Dunstable is a group of round barrows
were several Bronze Age skeletons, knives and weapons have been excavated.
near Dunstable, belonging to the London Zoological Society. Now home to a wild
animal park, which was opened in 1931 and caters each year to
thousands of visitors from far and wide, houses over 2000
animals which roam the large paddocks of the 600 acre park set in the
beautiful Chiltern countryside.
Sandy, the home of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, hosts a
104 acre nature reserve.
Bushmead Priory, Colmworth, Bedford.
Ceil Higgins Art Gallery, Castle Close, Bedford.
De grey Mausoleum, Flitton, Bedford.
Swiss Garden, Biggleswade Road, Old Warden.
Wrest Park Gardens, Silsoe, Luton.