Bedfordshire (abbreviated Beds) is a historic county in the east of England. The county’s crammed with wonderful countryside – including the Downs, Chiltern Hills, Greensand Ridge, and Marston Vale – and delightful settlements. Woburn and Harrold were named by The Sunday Times as among Britain’s best villages to live in. And there’s a plethora of beautiful cottages and impressive stately homes, such as Knebworth House.
Bedfordshire is bordered by Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. Over half of its population live in the two largest built-up areas: the county town of Bedford and commuter-friendly Luton, which has its own airport. The Greensand Ridge is a prominent escarpment bisecting the county.
The county’s name was first recorded in 1011 as ‘Bedanfordscir’ – meaning ‘Beda's ford’ (river crossing). The Church of England was born at The Priory Church of St Peter in Dunstable; and John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, hails from the area. Catherine of Aragon was incarcerated in Ampthill and bandleader Glenn Miller broadcasted from Bedford Corn Exchange during the Second World War; Winston Churchill gave an inspiring speech at Luton Hoo.
The traditional nickname for people from Bedfordshire is ‘Clangers’ – derived from a local dish comprising pastry filled with meat in one end and jam in the other.
Roads: There’s the A1 London to Edinburgh road (the Great North Road); and the A5 London to Holyhead road. The M1 London-to-Leeds motorway is also accessible. Other major roads include the A428 and A6.
Rail: Fast trains from Bedford reach London in 40 minutes; trains from Luton or Leighton Buzzard take 30 minutes.The main national train operators are: The West Coast Main Line; London Midland; The East Coast Main Line; East Midlands Trains; and Thameslink.There are also rural services running.
Air: London Luton Airport flies to many British, European, Middle Eastern and North African destinations, operated largely but not exclusively by low-cost airlines.
Taxi: Bedfordshire is served by numerous taxi companies. Luton reportedly has the most taxicabs per head in the UK.
Water: The River Great Ouse links Bedfordshire to the Fenland waterways. There are plans to construct a canal linking it to the Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes.
Cycle/Foot: Bedfordshire benefits from many quality links for cyclists and pedestrians. Local paths lead to conurbations and leisure areas alike.
Country Life identified the best towns and villages in Bedfordshire for commuters into London. The Georgian-styled village of Woburn “retains its charm," the magazine claimed, "but you can’t avoid the fact that it’s a busy area". The Sunday Times also named Woburn as one of the 10 most desirable places to live in the east of England; and called Harrold "a true hidden gem" (noting that Paul McCartney once played ‘Hey Jude’ at the local Oakley Arms pub). Country Life also identified Wingrave, Aspley Guise, and Stewkley as areas with potential.
The county’s villages are popular. Oakley has upmarket detached properties plus thatched houses cut from local stone. Ickwell possesses all the features of traditional village life. Studham sits on the edge of the Chiltern Hills boasting a Green Flag common. Houses in Bromham can be pricey but include comfortable detached and semi-detached homes.
Properties in Bedford range from large detached houses on Biddenham Turn, Newnham Avenue and Kimbolton Road to modest terraced properties on Rothesay Avenue. You can also find one and two-bedroom flats in converted Victorian houses. In Luton, houses with Victorian features as well as 1920s/1930s houses are common. The former Roman settlement of Sandy also offers good travel connections. New housing estates, such as one at Great Denham, are also cropping up, offering apartments as well as more substantial family homes.
The Harpur Centre in Bedford market town is open week-long with 36 stores trading over two levels. It hosts national favourites – including Boots, WHSmiths, Argos alongside Toni & Guy and Supercuts salons, Ann Summers, phone stores and Bedfordshire’s only Primark. There’s also a market square and The Interchange Retail Park is a short drive away. The Mall Luton (which people still call ‘The Arndale’) is another large central shopping centre while nearby Dunstable Market offers local produce.
For more esoteric experiences try Jordans Mill tucked away on the rural banks of the River Ivel near Biggleswade. Discover the Flour Mill, Riverside Café, The Mill Store, and the wild flower gardens. The Olde Watermill Antiques Centre & Millers Place is a Dickensian shopping village in Barton le Clay. It dates back to The Doomsday Book – and offers unique shops, including antiques dealers, handcrafted and bespoke products – that line its cobbled streets and alleyways. Old Warden Vineyard, meanwhile, produces local wine.
Sport: Playing at Kenilworth Road, Luton Town is the county's most successful football team. Numerous rugby clubs include Ampthill and teams in Bedford and Luton. The Bedfordshire Blue Raiders play American Football. Bedfordshire County Cricket Club occupy Wardown Park (England's Test captain, Alastair Cook, attended Bedford Modern School). Rowing is big here; there's also Bedford's Viking Kayak Club. Leighton Buzzard Hockey Club have men's and ladies' teams. Luton has two pool leagues. There’s numerous golf courses and Millbrook Proving Ground has 43 miles of varied test tracks.
Family: Mead Open Farm is a children’s farm offering Go-Karts, Crazy Golf, Shaggy’s PlayWorld and Topsy Turvy Towers adventure playground. At Woburn Safari Park wildlife roam 300 acres of parkland alongside the Swan Boats, Mammoth Play Ark, Tiny Tots Bouncy Castle and Great Woburn Railway. ZSL Whipsnade Zoo near Dunstable is devoted to animal conservation; it has cut an enormous lion shape into the chalk hillside. Twinwoods Adventure offers indoor skydiving, surfing, shooting, climbing, archery and a racing simulator.
Cultural: John Bunyan Museum & Library captures life in 17th-century Bedford Prison (which incarcerated the tinker, soldier, dissenter, Christian, and writer). The Shuttleworth Collection is an aeronautical and automotive museum at Old Warden Aerodrome – and considered one of the world’s best. Woburn Abbey, Wrest Park and Luton Hoo are notable country houses and estates.
Outdoors: The 40-mile Greensand Ridge Walk traverses the county. For cyclists, a parallel route is also available: Greensand Cycle Way. The Dunstable Downs are part of the Chiltern Hills – and home to the county’s highest point. The Swiss Garden at Shuttleworth uses earthworks, shrubbery, trees, paths, little lakes and follies to create a horticultural fairyland. The Priory County Park offers educational activities for children; its lakes are suited to fishing and water sports.
Events: The Bedford Corn Exchange hosts over 800 events annually, from concerts to comedians. Carnival and Mela in Luton is Europe’s largest one-day event. Bedford’s Yearly Riverside Festival is augmented by Bedford Regatta, the Bedford Kayak Marathon while the Cardington Artificial Slalom Course is home to the National Inter Clubs Slalom Finals. St Paul's Church in Bedford holds a ministry of welcome to thousands of visitors and pilgrims each year; it’s also a central venue for concerts, recitals and exhibitions