Dunstable Downs, Bedfordshire
Updated: Sep 4, 2021
Location: Dunstable Downs National Trust, Chiltern Hills
Nearest town: Dunstable, Bedfordshire
Peak: 243 metres above sea level
Date climbed: 15 August 2021
Our mission to summit all 48 ceremonial counties in England was devised during the first Covid-19 lockdown. On a hot, sunny weekend stuck at home in April 2020, we found ourselves reminiscing on an equally spectacular weekend the previous spring, one when walks longer than 60 minutes and from somewhere other than your own front step were allowed.
We spent Easter 2019 near the Malvern Hills, and, on one particularly sweltering day, tackled the mighty Worcester Beacon (which you can read about here). A year later, itching to get out and explore more of this country, we realised that with one high point under our belts (Worcestershire), why not attempt the other 47…?
So, it was fitting that one whole year later, when ten days of isolation were forced upon us due to Kieran catching Covid, it was the quest for more high points that kept us going - rather than the things normal people dreamed when isolating such as pubs, restaurants and theatres.
And, on the eleventh day, that’s exactly what we did. Out of isolation, we set off for county high point number 17: Bedfordshire.
We realised we knew surprisingly little about Bedfordshire and had consigned it to the list of counties you pass through in order to reach other counties that are more frequently chosen as the final destination for a trip (the fact we were literally passing through it on our way further north reinforced this belief).
We knew there is the charming market town of Bedford that straddles the River Great Ouse, and there is Luton, home to the indefensibly named London Luton Airport and regularly voted one of the worst towns to live in in the UK. We knew little else.
Often throughout this adventure that has proven to be a blessing in disguise, as the high point emerges as a previously unknown jewel in the county's crown. And happily that occurred once again as we arrived at Dunstable Downs. Located in the south-western corner of the county, Dunstable Downs lies close to the eastern edge of the chalky uplands known as the Chiltern Hills. These hills provide a long natural barrier between London and the rest of the country to the north-west. They are also home to two more county high points, and a bonus former county high point, though all of which are still yet to be climbed*.
The land is owned and managed by the National Trust and with easy access, ample parking and the hallowed National Trust cafe and toilets on site, it was one of the most popular high points we had been to.
The escarpment drops away to the north and provides sweeping panoramic views of varied flat farmland - the vantage point providing the perfect location for a Napoleonic era telegraph station and, more recently, a Jubilee Beacon. Luton and its suburbs sit directly to the right, but this view is obscured by bushes (possibly on purpose...).
Kites, Picnic, Gliders.
It was on the escarpment that we plonked ourselves down and ate our picnic, and we quickly realised it overlooked a very active gliding club. We spent the next hour watching planes take off dragging gliders behind them, which were then let go to circle several times overhead before landing gracefully in the field below us.
Being such a flat county means Bedfordshire's high point is very exposed, and therefore very windy. Avid kite fliers from miles around clearly got the memo - there were dozens!
*With 3 (+1 bonus) high points, the Chiltern Hills ranks third on a list denoting which AONB/National Park hosts the most high points. Nearby North Wessex Downs AONB comes in second by hosting four neighbouring county's high points - but it's the mighty Peak District National Park that takes top spot with six(!) county high points found within the park's expansive boundaries.