12 Muddy-approved attractions in Bedfordshire
From the big-beast tourist destinations to our cool insider alternatives, read on for our pick of 12 unmissable attractions in the county
Headliner: Woburn Abbey & Gardens
This grand Palladian house has a rich 500-year history and is still a family home to the Duke and Duchess of Bedford today – lucky them! There is major renovation happening in the house and gardens until Spring 2022, so while you’re waiting head for Wrest Park (below).
The real gem of this grand Bedfordshire estate (although the statuesque 19th century house is also pretty epic) are the grounds and gardens – all 92 acres of them. Design enthusiasts will revel in the beautiful terraces, French inspired formal gardens, the Chinese temple and tableau and the italianate geometry of the bedding displays. There’s a lot going on. Oh, there are more woodland tracks than you can shake a stick/tennis ball at.
In-the-know-intel: Houghton House, Ampthill
A shell of a 17th-century mansion with stunning views across Ampthill and beyond, this once handsome red brick building, now protected by English Heritage, was reputedly the inspiration for the ‘House Beautiful’ in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Built in the early 1600s for Mary, Dowager Countess of Pembroke, it’s a mixture of Jacobean and Classical styles. Make sure you take time to admire the two Italianate loggias that survive, possibly the work of Inigo Jones.
Headliner: Paris House
Talk about a house taking your fancy. This charming Tudor-style building was built in Paris in 1878, spotted by the then Duke of Bedford and shipped piece by piece to his estate in Woburn Park at the end of the 19th century! It’s now a luxury restaurant with 3 AA Rosettes run by Michelin chef Phil Fanning and his wife, Claire, who is no stranger to top notch establishments, having worked for Heston Blumenthal and Tom Kerridge.
After one day in the Flitwick Manor kitchen, aged just 15, Eileen’s Head Chef Steve Barringer knew he was destined for the kitchen. After a few more years at Flitwick and a stint at Rushton Hall in Northamptonshire, Steve worked his way to the final of Masterchef: The Professionals, before opening Eileen’s. Ampthill is lucky to have him – make sure not to miss this fab local eatery.
Headliner : Whipsnade Zoo
Lions, tigers, bears, sea lions, zebras, penguins and – well you get the picture – are on show at the wonderful Whipsnade Zoo. The out of town cousin to London Zoo, it is in fact the biggest zoo in the UK. Tip: put on comfy walking shoes! Aside from the animals there’s a miniature train, huge playground, regular bird and sea life shows and it’s all done with quite some flair. Book and go.
In-the-know-intel: Woburn Safari Park
It’s seems rather unlikely that one would stumble upon an all-singing all-dancing safari park just outside historic, elegant Woburn, but here it is. This Bedfordshire wonder offers both the Road and Foot Safaris (I know which one I’d prefer!). And, as a gorgeous bonus, one of the park’s lionesses has recently given birth to five adorable cubs – make sure you book in and check out this super-cute mini-pride.
Headliner: Turvey House
Fancy a local history lesson? This one starts and finishes in the pretty and historic village of Turvey. You head through Turvey Abbey Park (the grounds of the 17th-century Abbey), over Turvey Bridge and you can sneak a peak of Turvey House – a privately owned Grade I-listed 18th-century manor house that’s normally closed to the public.
In-the-know-intel: Rushmere Country Park
Known as the gateway to Greensand Ridge, there are 400 acres of woodland, heathland, meadows and parkland to explore here. What’s more, there’s a fab natural sculpture trail with carved creatures, giant chairs and secret fairy doors, as well as a huge gateway to ‘where the wild things are’ to fuel little imaginations (and keep little legs moving along!). You might also be lucky enough to spot the odd green woodpecker or heron.
ARTS & CULTURE
Headliner: MK Gallery
A couple of miles from the Bedfordshire border (so we’re claiming it!) this stunning gallery displays insanely cool works from contemporary international pieces to Old Masters across five spaces. For example, the current show, MK Calling, (now extended until 1 November) features work from over 130 contemporary artists, both established and up-and-coming, with one third of the pieces produced by local talent.
In-the-know-intel: The Higgins
The Higgins is an art gallery, museum and community space housed in a gorgeous brewery building in central Bedford. It is in fact three institutions: Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford Museum and Bedford Gallery are all now housed under one roof. Expect nationally important exhibitions alongside local history and art works. And don’t forget to check out what’s on – with Sketch Fridays and Ceramics challenges among the unusual events on offer.
Headliner: Mead Open Farm
A children’s farm and playcentre near Leighton Buzzard, there’s a frankly dizzying array of things to do here for the under 12s, from go-karting and crazy golf to playing in the outdoor adventure playground. Animals are the main attraction though with plenty of feeding, petting and experiential opportunities such as bottle feeding lambs and stroking the rabbits.
In-the-know intel: Leighton Buzzard Railway
Kids will love this traditonal narrow gauge railway experience. This is the last surviving railway of its type in Britain, train fans, and runs its handsome blue and red chuggers along a three-mile line up to five times a week from March to October, with Santa Specials in December. All aboard!