Today was probably not the best day to choose for a Place Check, but I need to start sometime and so I did. Yeah, it was dull, it was overcast and I got wet, but I had the chance to see a place from a slightly different angle. I took my time. I sat around and looked. I listened. I chatted with a couple of folk. It was good.
Imagine that you could choose which way to approach Bedford Town Centre, which way would you choose?
Down the A6, into Tavistock Street, then into the Broadway?
Or down Ampthill Road, into the one way past Borough Hall, Bedford College and over the Town Bridge?
Maybe down past the railway station, into Midland Road and on towards the Bus Station?
No. I think I’d come up the Embankment towards the Town Bridge. Much better approach. So that’s what I did. I walked slowly up the Embankment towards the town. Living locally that wasn’t a problem. But suppose I’d arrived in Bedford by car. Where would I park so that I could enjoy that walk, whilst making my way to town for some serious shopping?
Not easy to answer that one. It set me thinking that it might be a good idea to demolish Aspects, extend the Priory Country Park and incorporate some town centre car parking. Visiting shoppers can make a day of it, especially at the weekend. Country Park, Embankment and shopping. It’s a thought. Ok I know it’s money, but I’m not thinking about that yet, in fact I don’t have to.
We’re all used to the phrase, “The Jewel in Bedford’s Crown”. Can somebody explain to me what that means? I’ve just spent a good amount of time looking at “The Jewel in the Crown” and I’m not sure that when people use that phrase they really know what they’re talking about. It’s lazy. But more importantly, I think it’s used as a way of preventing change. We have this beautiful thing, why do we need to change it?
This might help you think about it.
I started my walk by crossing the little “pack” bridge at the Aspects end of the Embankment, deciding to walk up the middle first. My overriding impression here was the deafening noise of the traffic crossing the road bridge nearby. No sense of solitude, peace or quiet, just the noise of traffic. Is that the sound of Bedford?
There is no doubt you are entering a special place. The Embankment was fashioned in the Victorian era I believe, as a place of leisure and activity for the town folk of Bedford. It’s green. It has plenty of trees and plenty of space. There are places to linger, to take in the bird life. The bottom end of the boating lake is weed covered but signs tell you that attempts are being made to deal with the problem.
The land/water scape is a mixture of natural and man made, but they blend together well.
This is where I met up with an old fella who had obviously spent time fishing here in years past. He was less than complementary about how the lake and river had been managed. I have no way of knowing whether what he was saying was true, so I’ll not include it. The lake has wooden staging to cater for anglers, although I doubt the weed is a feature they want to see. There was no information to indicate what bird life, fish or wildlife live in and around the lake or river at this point. In fact I didn’t see any references to the wildlife to be found in the habitat, anywhere on my walk, apart from signs on the other side of the river telling us not to feed the geese.
As I reached the boathouse and the new Archimede’s screw, the rowers became more prevalent. In fact their dominance of the waterway is a serious issue. A report published in August 2011, Bedford Waterspace: Economic Impact and Opportunities Study, begins to explore how the river might begin to benefit the local economy, and the town centre economy in particular, by developing water based and water side amenities. Today the water has one group of users, the rowing community. I can’t escape the thought that this dominance is to the detriment of the majority of Bedford people. There is a group of exclusive users.
The large area of tarmac in front of the boathouse is functional, but is it in keeping with the Embankment? The building is stark, it’s message is keep clear, no public access. I get the first sound of running water at Boat slide Bridge. It lifts me.
Crossing over the bridge the screw housing seems unobtrusive, but it’s not finished yet. I’ll reserve judgement. Then I come out into the wide open space of the meadow. I look for the view. The wow. It’s not there. It’s a big space. Picnic space. But no wow.
With no distant view, should there be something in the space to lead the eye, add interest?
So far I’ve seen rowing, joggers, dog walking, cycling and a few people heading to and from town. Now I see a family group sitting on the grass, having a picnic. As the rain falls there only means of shelter is to move under the trees. There are no sheltered seating areas anywhere. Could this be easily solved for those who use the space in bad weather?
I keep returning to the fact that the river is dominated by one group of users. No one else seems welcome on the river. The only mooring points |I can find are on the main river course. Nothing on what I call the embankment. There are no services. No facilities. Maybe boat people don’t need services and facilities?
A river without boats. Narrow boats, house boats, little boats shuttling about, boats moored, the river needs life. It needs to look busy. It needs to look interesting. There are so many missing ingredients in this river setting.
I continue to wander through the meadow. Along tarmac paths. Off the paths to the water edge. Past a bandstand in need of paint. A rectangle of tarmac marked “Ice Cream Only”. And across the river from Castle Mound I see the view in my imagination as it should be. A grand entrance to the town, through Castle Quay onto the High Street. Nothing to explore. What lies beyond? Nothing that says, “Enter our exciting town centre here”. It definitely needs work.
I continue past Bedford Rowing Club and the Riverside Bar. A prime location, but I cannot imagine a less inviting place no matter how hard I try. It’s wet, yet I continue to walk on by.
Next I intend to talk the short walk along the river and enter Riverside North. That will evoke interesting feelings, and maybe more surprises