The Greener Side of Bedford
A day out in our county town may not sound like the most obvious thing for a countryside charity to suggest but there are some amazing places to explore where you can connect with nature.
There are a surprising number of different kinds of places and habitats to explore.
Lakes and meadows
Priory Country Park was created from over 206 acres of wasteland and old gravel pits, taking its name from the Augustinian Priory that once stood on the site. The lakes, reedbeds, meadows and woodland are partially enclosed within a bend in the River Great Ouse. It’s a lovely spot for a walk and there are regular guided bird walks as well as hides. There is also a cafe with outdoor seating and play areas for children. Download trail leaflets here.
By the river
From Priory you can stroll into town along the river Great Ouse, The Embankment is flanked by green spaces including Russell Park. If you’re lucky you might spot an otter near the Longholme Boating Lake.
In Bedford itself pop into the Panacea Museum and soak up the peaceful atmosphere of their secluded garden, there’s a tea shop for those in need of some refreshments.
If instead you continue along the river through town you’ll reach Queen’s Park Community Orchard which is a legacy of Faith Woodlands Communities. The former project aimed to help people from all backgrounds to enjoy and learn more about nature and the countryside. Now the project emphasises the positive benefits of shared engagement through the community’s own orchard, to enhance the well-being and cohesion of all who live and work within the diverse community of the Queens Park area of Bedford. QPCO was Highly Commended in the Greening Urban Spaces category of the CPRE Bedfordshire Living Countryside Awards in 2018.
Parks and trees
On the western edge of Bedford lies Bedford Park – a Grade Two listed English Heritage Victorian park. Created in 1888 it is the largest urban park in Bedford and contains a lake, multiple play areas and sports facilities. Behind the park is Foster Hill Road Cemetery which was was Highly Commended in the Biodiversity and Landscape Improvement category of the CPRE Bedfordshire Living Countryside Awards in 2018. Bedford Cemetery has been described as “one of the most historic, scenic and peaceful places ever to be in.” It has been argued that the combination of the Cemetery and the Park represents one of the finest urban treescapes in Britain. Overall, it comprises 55 acres of beautiful, unspoilt green landscape that is open for everyone to enjoy, just a short distance from the town centre. A dedicated group of volunteers work hard tending the cemetery and orchard as well as organising walks around the site.
Hillfort and woodland
Continuing round to the north you’ll find Mowsbury Hillfort and Putnoe Woods. Mowsbury Hillfort won a CPRE Mark in the 2016 Biodiversity and Landscape Improvement category of our Living Countryside Awards. This is an impressive four hectare county wildlife site and a scheduled monument containing an Iron Age hillfort and a medieval moated site overlooking the northern suburbs of Bedford. A highly motivated group of volunteers have been working in this sensitive location for several years, balancing the ambition to make it better known and appreciated against the need to protect its unspoilt environment. The site encompasses a wide variety of habitats, including grassland, traditional orchards, deciduous woodland and a series of ponds. The volunteers are turning back years of neglect without destroying the natural ambience of this little-known gem and provide nature walks and information for the benefit of residents and visiting schools as part of their Friends’ vision plan.
Putnoe Wood was commended in the same category. This ancient woodland was first mentioned in the Domesday Book and was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1994. A Friends group formed in 2011 works with Bedford Borough Council to maintain and improve the site, which is primarily composed of oak, ash and maple with some coppiced hazel plots. A rich carpet of spring flowers such as snowdrops, bluebells, primroses, celandine, violets and wood anemones make it a much loved local attraction and bird lovers can expect to see owls, sparrow hawks, woodpeckers, blackcap and warblers nesting or visiting during the year. (This is the woodland that featured in our first blog post of 2020 – Celebrating The Everyday.)