The smallest of the ‘Shire' counties, Bedfordshire can be divided into north and south; the distinction between the two is quite evident with the northern section being devoted mainly to agriculture while the southern region is mostly given over to industry. The lovely market town of Bedford typifies the northern portion and the busy and lively town of Luton is very typical of the south. Other delightful market towns that the county can boast are Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard. Bedfordshire was first recorded in 1011 as Bedonfordsoir; it is of Anglo-Saxon derivation Beda's Ford, meaning ‘river crossing'.
The county stretches across the wide plain of the River Ouse and on to the rangy Chiltern Hills. The lay of the land rises and falls in a series of gentle hills and valleys running from the flatness of the rich clay plains given over to wheat production in the north, through a belt of sandy hills stretching from Woburn to Sandy, on to a higher ridge of chalky downs in the south where the highest point of 801ft is reached.
Amongst Bedfordshire's many attractions are Whipsnade Park Zoo near Dunstable, Woburn Abbey home of the Duke of Bedford, and Woburn Safari Park a vast adventure playground. Old Warden Aerodrome is well worth a visit to see the Shuttleworth Collection of forty vintage and rare aeroplanes, housed in enormous hangars on the fringe of Old Worden Park. Nature lovers will delight in the famous RSPB Nature Reserve and gardens at Sandy, while a visit to the exquisite Swiss Garden is a must.
Take a trip to Elstow village in the north of the county, birthplace of the great non-conformist writer John Bunyan, and call into Elstow Moot Hall and Green. Look out for the enchanting Bunyan's Mead cottages and Elstow Abbey, then take a guided tour of the many places associated with this great literary figure, which are a fine history lesson in themselves. Walkers are spoilt for choice and will find Bedfordshire an absolute paradise; cyclists too are well catered for with many cycle routes criss-crossing the county.