Autumn Colours on a Walk in the Centre of Bedford
Every now and again I realise that as much as I love travelling around the world, I should not neglect places closer to home. Autumn is a fabulous time for walking in the countryside with the amazing colours you get at this time of year. However, this is actually a walk in the centre of the town of Bedford. Not out in the countryside but along the banks of the River Ouse. Nonetheless, this Bedford Walk provides plenty of autumn colours.
Of course, I already knew that there were some stunning places to visit in the UK. I’m building up a collection of blog articles on places to go and things to see while in the United Kingdom. We love walking around cities, towns, villages and also in the countryside. There’s always something to see and it’s a good way to get some fresh air while enjoying somewhere new. In fact, I live not far from Bedford so it’s not really discovering somewhere new although it does give you a different perspective when you take the time to absorb your surroundings more slowly rather than just rushing through.
Firstly, a little orientation. The county town of Bedfordshire, Bedford is located in the northern part of the country. It sits on the Great River Ouse and the town was founded at a ford on the river, hence the name. Today, the area alongside the river is known as the embankment and it is a very pleasant area for a walk.
If you are coming from out of town, there is plenty of parking available at fairly reasonable rates. In fact, on quieter days you will be able to find a parking spot alongside the embankment itself. Pay at one of the meters. Alternatively, park at one of the multi-storey car parks in the town centre then it’s a short walk to the river. You’re never far from the river in Bedford.
My main focus for this Bedford walk is the seasonal spectacle of autumn colours on the trees as I think it makes this area particularly attractive at this time of year. However, Bedford has its share of historic buildings and some of them are visible as you stroll along the River Ouse.
The Shire Hall
For instance, the Shire Hall which is shown in the picture above. This grade II listed building now contains Bedford Magistrates and County Courts. It was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and erected in 1881. The dark red Shire Hall is built in a gothic style. It’s quite impressive from the riverside but if you have the time it’s worth wandering around to the view the front facade.
The Bedford River Walk
Start your walk from wherever you like along the river path. You can walk along both sides of the River Ouse so it makes and ideal looped walk from any starting point. Cross over on any of the bridges depending on how long you want your Bedford walk to be. The walk is accessible for buggies or wheelchairs and like most of Bedfordshire, is quite flat.
It’s not a walk to get lost on. Just follow the river. You won’t find it a boring walk though as there’s plenty of things to keep your attention. Things like this wooden boardwalk which break up the landscape as well as offering dry passage across the inlet.
Autumn Colours on our Bedford Walk
One of the things that stood out to me when we took this walk recently was the varied colours you can see at this time of year. I’ve talked a lot about the Japanese Cherry Blossom season in my recent posts about our trip to Japan. I do love to see these natural seasonal sights. But in fact, you don’t need to travel halfway around the world to experience natural beauty.
As can be seen in the photos above, you can find beautiful autumn colours much closer to home. And, of course, most native British trees are deciduous so they provide a stunning show at this time of year.
Locks on the River
The River Great Ouse flows all the way from Bedford to the Wash at King’s Lynn. You will see pleasure boats on parts of it although I’ve not seen many in this area in Bedford. We do see lots of rowing boats though. Bedford Rowing Club is based here and some of the local schools also have teams that practice on the river. We even have an annual river festival and occasional boat races.
However, the river is navigable by boats and as you walk along the river bank you will come to this small lock. This allows boats to cross into and out of the waterway without having to negotiate the weir. I’ve never seen it in action so that’s a good reason to spend more time walking here in the hope of catching a boat using the lock.
Talking about the weir, as can be seen in the photo above, it’s not something you’d want to travel down by boat. Well, not normally anyway. In fact, this part of the river is dedicated to one of Bedford’s more famous residents, Etienne Stot. At the 2012 Olympic Games, along with his partner, Tim Bailey, Etienne won gold in the C2 canoe slalom. He trained with the Viking Kayak Club in Bedford.
This part of the river now has permanent slalom uprights and if you look at the photo below you can see how fast the water travels here.
Nobody was using it today but it is still in regular use. It’s a great legacy of the 2012 Olympics and it’s cool that Bedford was part of that great British success story.
There are several bridges which cross the River Ouse along the embankment which makes it easy to take a circular walk of varying lengths. Along this stretch of the river which sits between two road bridges, you’ll see the Butterfly Bridge.
When you look at it from the right angle, it’s quite obvious why it’s called the Butterfly bridge. The design, by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, was chosen as part of a RIBA competition in 1995. When announcing the winner the RIBA panel described it as “an extremely subtle and elegant design”. I agree. It makes a striking feature and yet still seems to sit in harmony with its surroundings.
While the Butterfly Bridge has been hailed as an architectural success, the new pedestrian bridge across the river (as seen below) has received less favourable reviews. Although a bridge was very welcome in this area, it wasn’t quite what everyone was expecting. When the bridge arrived on site in 2016, local media reported stunned residents who were not at all happy and said it looked nothing like the original designs. You can read all about the commotion here on the ITV News webpage.
It’s not a great work of art but it isn’t exactly an eyesore either in my opinion. Regardless, it is very handy as it links the town centre with the college on the other side of the river. It’s also much easier to use as a pedestrian than one of the nearby road bridges.
I couldn’t write about a Bedford walk along the river without mentioning the local wildlife. Of course, there’s nothing very exotic to see here. We’re thankfully free of man-eating crocodiles or the like in Bedfordshire. However, we do have some wildlife on the river.
As well as ducks and geese on the river we also have quite a few swans on the River Ouse. Swans are such majestic creatures, aren’t they? Although, don’t get too close because they can get quite aggressive when provoked.
Did you know that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has prerogative over all swans in England and Wales? You can read all about this tradition with swans on the RSPB website. It’s an offence to kill a swan and anyone who does can be prosecuted. Quite right too. Who would want to kill such a magnificent creature?
This Victorian bandstand sits in the middle of the tree-lined promenade on Bedford Embankment. I think it looks lovely surrounded by fallen autumn leaves. But if you’re in the area in the summer then be sure to look out for one of the outdoor concerts which take place here. So very English although I’ve seen similar pavilions in other countries too. However, it always makes me think of home.
St Paul’s Church
As you walk towards the town centre along the river, you will see St Paul’s church in the background. There has been a church of sorts on the site since 1066 although the current building dates from the early 13th century. The impressive spire is somewhat newer than that though, probably mid 19th century. More recently, the church is notable as the place where the BBC broadcast its daily religious program during World War II. If you venture into the church look down at the floor as you enter to see the commemorative inscription.
As you walk along the river bank on your Bedford Walk you will see the site of the castle marked by the mound. Originally, it was a large Medieval Castle, but little of it remains today. What you can see today is part of the Motte since this was a Motte and Bailey construction. The castle was actually ordered to be destroyed by Henry III after a long siege in 1224 so it’s rather remarkable that any of it remains.
If you walk around the lower mound you will find a set of steps that will take you up onto the mound. There is not a great deal to see but it’s kind of cool to stand on such a historical site.
Doorway to a Secret Chamber
Walk further around the base of the mound and you’ll find this rather interesting chamber.
I must admit that I thought it was a dungeon when I first saw it. However, it’s actually a storage vault, used to keep things in the cool and dark. It still looks rather eerie to me!