Written by Charlotte Gorringe | www.explorebedford.co.uk
Summer in Bedford is already looking quite different to the one that we had planned.
The River Festival (if you haven’t been before, it’s the UK’s second largest free festival after Notting Hill Carnival and a spectacular weekend of fun on and off the river) has been rescheduled to 2021, and we are awaiting a new date for the Kite and Motoring Festival which attracted 30,000 to the town last year.
In the meantime, Bedford has many beautiful parks and open spaces which we are more thankful for than ever, so whatever the summer throws at us, we can enjoy the flowers along the embankment or heron spotting along the Great River Ouse.
Historic Bedford can be explored on foot starting at Castle Mound, where part of the motte remains and is a reminder of the castle built around 1100 by Henry I and besieged by Henry VIII in 1224. A short walk to the top of the mound gives a lovely view of the Great River Ouse. Adjacent is the Higgins Museum, home to a world-class art collection of art and decorative arts and history of the town – housed in the former brewery of the 19th century.
From here you can cross to the Bunyan Meeting Church built in 1850 which stands on the site of John Bunyan’s original church where he was minister from 1671 – 1688 – look out for evocative scenes from The Pilgrim’s Progress created in the stained-glass windows.
Across the way on Albany Road is another important site in Bedford’s religious history; The Panacea Society, a religious group founded by Mabel Baltrop in 1919 who claimed she was the ‘daughter of god’ and the site to be the original Garden of Eden.
Bedford’s Foster Hill Road Cemetery and grade 2 listed Victorian chapel offers a slow amble through the local wildlife which includes birds, butterflies, birds of prey and bat colonies. Perched on a hill it gives spectacular views over the town, right over to Cardington Hangers that sit to the south of the town.
Sitting adjacent is Bedford Park, landscaped in the Victorian era and featuring a small lake, it is wonderful at any time of day for a promenade or bike ride.
The Great Outdoors
North of the town are Mowsbury Park and Putnoe Woods, a designated nature reserve and ancient woodland. Russell Park sits north of the river with trees to climb and playing fields to run on, over towards Kempston sits Addison Howard Park.
The Great River Ouse and the Victorian Embankment are ever popular whether you explore on foot, bike or on the water. You can move from the tree-lined pavements and across the waterway at various bridges. As you walk east from the town centre and the iconic town bridge, you will be sure to walk amongst Bedford’s swans.
The traditional bandstand is still enjoyed in its traditional glory for the summer in Bedford months – the backwater where John Bunyan was baptised in 1653 (now renamed the Etienne Stott white water arena after the Bedfordian won in the Olympics 2012) and Longholme Boating Lake.
This route forms part of National Cycle Route 51 that in its entirety runs from Colchester to Oxford. Bedford is a key junction of the route as it runs east to west from Cambridge to Milton Keynes, and if you follow further east it is a short stroll to meet Priory Country Park.
There are various routes to explore during summer in Bedford so you can very quickly get off the beaten track, explore waterways and lush meadows, whilst looking out for bird hides en route. It is great to explore with children, tasking them with forest school activities as you explore around the lake and its 360 hectares of park. If you continue from Priory through the gentle undulating countryside you will reach Sandy with a RSPB Nature Reserve. On the way it is worth looking for the National Trust owned Willington Dovecote.
Equally worth exploring is the western spur of Route 51 from the town centre. Beginning at Sovereign’s Quay, from here follow the river and pass the impressive Guru Nanak Gurdwara Sikh temple before reaching Great Denham.
Alternatively, picturesque Cycle Route 5 starts in Bedford and traverses past Bromham Mill and out towards Oakley before circling back through Stevington. With pretty limestone villages and views of the Ouse it is a delightful 16 miles.
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