The ‘Needs to Know’
Distance: 5.4 miles (8.7km)
Time to walk: Just over a couple of hours, but you can also detour into the town centre & gallery & museum
Difficulty: Mainly on hard paths, although there are a couple of short stretches that could get muddy. It’s a very flat walk
Parking: We parked in the side streets of Bedford & walked through the town to our start point, The Swan Hotel
Public toilets: Pubs & hotels, plus some at the Visitor Centre in Priory Country Park
Map of the route: None, but the instructions are easy to follow
Bedford really knows how to make the most of it’s asset…the River Great Ouse which runs through the centre of town
This walk combines busy spots with rowers, walkers & cyclists to areas of calm with Kingfishers & Swans. We first did this walk on a Sunday morning after staying over at The Swan Hotel a few weeks ago. It’s that sort of walk ie. walk off a breakfast before lunch or an afternoon stroll. It’s also a walk that will be interesting at different times of the year as, with all riverside walks, something’s always changing
Right…enough scene setting…
1. You could start this walk at several different places along the route. Because we’d stayed at The Swan Hotel that’s where we start
The staircase in the hotel was taken from Houghton House thought to be ‘The House Beautiful’ in Pilgrim’s Progress. The Pilgrim’s Progress is the second most popular book in the English language next to The Bible. The author, John Bunyan was imprisoned in Bedford prison which is a real mix of old & new buildings
Head away from the hotel & cross over the Town Bridge & down the path on the North side of the river
2. The path now continues beside the river down Charter Walk
…not many rowers around to day, but at weekends Bedford’s river is a mass of them
3. We continue past the Star Rowing Club…
…& approaching County Bridge we take the right fork & head up & then cross the bridge
…& then back down the other side & along the other bank back towards the town
4. Soon we come towards the Town Bridge again…good job the dogs weren’t around..
5. Pass over the road & down the right hand side next to the Mercury Hotel to pick up the path again…
On the right pass one of the main rowing clubs, Bedford Rowing Club. Have a look at the link as it’ll really give you a flavour of this town
6. Cross the bridge below onto the first island…
…where, on the right’s King’s Ditch (there’s some nice apartments along here over the ditch)
Pass over the next bridge to the next island…
…before another one which leads to Duckmill Sluice & Weir, which if you visit at weekends is well worth spending a few minutes standing & watching the action.
Have a look at the link above. This is the home of the Vikings Kayak Club. They open the sluice at weekends to create white water
7. Cross over this bridge onto the next island where the bandstand is & then we take the right hand path & bridge over to the south side.
….& now it’s a case of following the path on this side…
8. Further along here we started stalking a heron (no long lens though unfortunately). If you look closely though you can see his head poking out (we were 6 feet away)…
…& then off he went…
…before turning left over the next footbridge…
…& then right & follow the footpath over a disused railway line into a grass field
10. Our path now heads diagonally towards 10 o’clock towards the next footbridge…
…which is known as Gudgeons Meadow Footbridge.
11. The path now cuts alongside a lake where we saw a Kingfisher & then turns right up a hill to another bridge with the marina on the left. Here we encountered a problem…
The Marina Bridge is currently being repaired. Having done this walk before we’ll carry on as if it was possible & use pictures courtesy of Walkingworld
12. After crossing the bridge continue to a t-junction with a lifebuoy.
Continue along the riverbank into the outskirts of Priory Park. It will now bear left & on the opposite bank are chalets & moorings.
13. Cross another footbridge & continue across meadowland to the canoe slalom. This was the first artificial course in the UK. About 200m before the canoe slalom look for a gap in the trees leading to a footbridge towards the lake. If you’ve had a look at the slalom simply retrace your steps
14. Cross the footbridge into Priory Park itself, where we bear right & follow the edge of the lake (on our left) to its North Eastern corner. Now we continue on the path around the edge of the lake where we pick up our own guide again.
15. It’s worth having a look at the information centre which has a Blue Peter connection & also gives good information on the wildlife etc. There’s also some toilets if you need to go!
Valerie Singleton was one of the first presenters joining 4 months after Blue Peter started
16. Time now for us to head out of the park on the road to the main entrance. After passing through the gate we turn immediately left onto the hard footpath that was the disused railway line…
…which we follow for about 300m when we turn right over the bridge to the other side of the river
17. Turn left & follow the hard path besides the river past the weir…
…& a fitness club (where we met Charlie the dog…)
…& eventually pass through the subway below
18. After passing through the subway we turn left over the bridge which leads us back into the riverside park.
Now keeping the river on your right enjoy the stroll…
The lake on our left is known as Longholme Lake &, if you come in the summer, it’ll be full of peddle-boats.
19. Ahead now we get our first glimpse of Butterfly Bridge…
…&, as we get nearer to it, the name becomes obvious
Butterfly Bridge was opened by Prince Charles in 1998 as a result of a competition to design a new bridge across the river
20. Now further along the river we can see the most famous of the bridges on this stretch, the Bedford Suspension Bridge
Also on the left here is one of the largest rowing clubs.
The photograph below shows just through one door. There are several others, all with numerous boats
21. Continue onto Boatslide Bridge & stop & have a look at the contraption on your right
This is the site of the original Bedford Boat Slide which was built during the Victorian period & used as a link between the upper & lower rivers. People would disembark at the top before the boat was slid down to the lower level.
It wasn’t used for many years & became overgrown & fell into disrepair. However in 2011 permission was granted to build a hydro-electric facility to provide green energy to the Embankment.
The two Archimedes Screw generators are one of the most environmentally friendly, allowing fish & others creatures to pass through safely
22. Continuing along the path we now approach the Suspension Bridge
The bridge is a Grade II listed structure, dating back to 1888 & designed by John Webster. Made from iron it has a 100ft span.
23. Right…let’s pass over the bridge – careful as it’s quite steep
…& turn left along the riverside back towards our starting point
24. The gardens along here are well worth a visit in the spring. Keep on past the war memorial
…& cross over the road if you want to visit the gallery & museum (follow the signs)
25. Ahead of us now is The Swan Hotel where we started this walk. However, before we finish it’s worth having a look at the mound on the right which is known as Castle Mound which is the site of a large castle built by Henry I around 1100.
So that’s our walk around the riverside of Bedford complete…like we said a really good weekend family stroll. There’s always something going on by the river & it’s well worth visiting for the Regatta & Riverside Festival.
As a footnote we also walked up into the town centre. It was the day after Nelson Mandela had died & there’s a statue that he unveiled when he visited Bedford in 2000. It’s of his friend & fellow activist Trevor Huddlestone who was born in Bedford. The pictures are below and the link to Mandela’s visit is here