Bedford is in many ways a traditional English market town situated on the banks of the River Ouse and centred on a medieval castle and the 13th-Century parish church of St Paul. Over the past century, however, it has undergone a great many changes. Its situation within the ever-expanding London Commuter Belt has meant increasing prosperity for the town and consequently a large number of more modern buildings and structures can be seen, including the iconic Butterfly Bridge opened by Prince Charles in 1998. Another distinctive feature is its large Italian community which has meant that there are a large number of Italian restaurants, bars, and delis around the town for the foodie tourist to explore. Other attractions are listed below.
Bedford Castle Mound
Bedford Castle was once a motte and bailey castle built by the Norman King Henry I and which plaid a major part in the events historians call The Anarchy and the First Barons’ War as well as being refortified for the later English Civil War. Today only the base of the motte remains but the area is home to a recently constructed archaeological park, a lime kiln vault and a number of restaurants.
The Embankment is a pedestrian walk, about a mile long, following the banks of the River Ouse through the centre of the town and bordered by a tree-lined public park. The gardens are very pretty and provide a pleasant way to view many of the main sites of the town including the Butterfly Bridge mentioned above and the ancient Bedford Bridge. The town’s War Memorial, designed by notable sculptor Charles Sergeant Jagger, is also located in these gardens and is well worth a look. At the end of your walk the larger-than-life mock-tudor Embankment pub is there for refreshments.
St Paul’s Church
St Paul’s is a medieval church with an illustrious history having seen preaching by John Bunyan (author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”) and Charles Wesley (founder of the Methodist movement). Many parts of the Church are medieval although it has also undergone extensive restoration in the last few years including the addition of a colourful rood screen designed by George Frederick Bodley and a new altar and altar rails. The Church also features a number of stained glass windows.
Bedford Park is a Victorian era urban park containing traditional English features such as a cricket pavilion and bandstand. Within the park the Robinson Pool is open for outdoor swimming as well as two children’s playgrounds and a café open in summer. The park is large in size and contains many wild trees and other plants as well as tennis and basketball courts and a football field.
Visit the Ark
A quirky tourist attraction for those with a sense of humour. A fact few people know about Bedford is that it is home to the Panacea Society, a group who follow the prophecies of an 18th-Century lady named Joanna Southcott. This group maintains a very ordinary looking home at the end of the terraced Albany Road which is nevertheless intended as a dwelling house for the Messiah at the time of the Second Coming.