The county of Bedfordshire begins near the town of Biggleswade. A little way west, on the edge of the village of Old Warden, an old aerodrome houses the world-famous Shuttleworth Collection of veteran and vintage aircraft (many still regularly flying) and motor vehicles.
Nearby is a remarkable example of Victorian landscape architecture: the Swiss Garden, an enchanting blend of ornamental gardening with picturesque architecture.
Further west, take a detour to the bird sanctuary of Sandy Lodge before you drive on to Bedford, the county town. Most of Bedford is modern and industrial, but this is ameliorated by a large number of parks. Pride of the town is the Bunyan Meeting House and Museum, where John Bunyan gave his nonconformist sermons, which he paid for with 12 years in jail. Here he wrote most of his classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Luton and Dunstable
Luton is a bustling industrial town, once famous for its straw hat factories, set in a surprisingly rural landscape. Luton has for centuries been a center for the carriage-builder’s craft; the town’s museums include the Mossman Collection of over 70 original and replica horse-drawn vehicles. Today, fittingly, it has the Vauxhall factory. Worth visiting is the Gothic church of St. Mary with its stone font and baldachin, and its Wenlock chapel (1461).
Southeast of the town is Luton Hoo, a grandiose country home designed by Sir Robert Adam in 1767, but not completed until the late 19th century, when it was owned by the Wernher family. It contains a priceless collection of paintings (including works by Rembrandt, Constable, Memling and Titian), tapestries, jewellery (some by Faberge), furniture, and porcelain. The marvelous park and gardens, which on their own are worth a visit, are the work of “Capability” Brown.
West of Luton is the town of Dunstable with its Priory Church of St. Peter and Paul, which has a Norman nave. It was here that the divorce of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon was pronounced in 1533.
The B489 climbs out of the town up a high chalk ridge onto Dunstable Downs, the northern lip of the chalk hills which edge the London basin. At its highest point (also the highest point in the Home Counties) is Ivinghoe Beacon (900 feet/ 276 m). Locals claim you can see seven counties from here on a clear day. The whole of Dunstable Downs is designated as a country park with picnic areas, and many pleasant walks. Not far away, marked by an enormous lion cut into the chalk, are the 500 acres (200 ha) of the Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, home to some 2,500 species of rare or endangered animals, birds and reptiles.
Northwest of Dunstable is Woburn Abbey (18th century) with the Woburn Safari Park. On the site of the Cistercian abbey the Duke of Bedford built his seat. The interior of the house was furnished by Henry Holland and is packed with a costly collection of French furniture, porcelain and paintings (van Dyck, Holbein, Rembrandt, Gainsborough). Most people, however, come to see the Safari Park,where African big game and smaller animals of all kinds roam freely. The park also has excellent facilities and amusements for children.