It was a very warm day as we drove to the Dunstable Downs. The sat-nav in the coach let us down and we drove around Whipsnade and saw the lion cut into the chalk hillside. Eventually we found the NT Chilterns Gateway Centre at 243m above sea level, the highest point in Bedfordshire. The Centre is a modern new building featuring a variety of 'green' technologies including a wood chip boiler, rainwater recycling and an intriguing 'wind catcher' that captures the air from the hill naturally and delivers it into the building through a 90m long underground concrete earth duct.
I walked along the ridge of the Downs past a medieval warren (there are still many rabbits about) and up to Five Knolls Round Barrow Cemetery dating to 3000 BC and re-used by the Romans. Areas of grassland had been left uncut to encourage plants and butterflies, of which there were many flying around.
After lunch at the Centre we drove down to Dunstable where the A5 and A505 cross. They are the old Roman road of Watling Street which goes from the Welsh coast down through St Albans and London to Canterbury; and Ickneild Way, the oldest road in Britain from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire to Knettishall Heath in Norfolk -103 miles, originating in the Neolithic period.
We visited Priory House Heritage Centre which still has a 13th century vaulted ceiling. We toured the exhibition showing the history of the town and saw a wall painting dating from Queen Elizabeth I's time, rescued from a house in the town. We looked around the Priory Church of St Peter - all that is left of the large Augustinian priory after Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. We had a short walk to the crossroads with an excellent guide pointing out different buildings. We were told there had been an Eleanor Cross - King Edward's widow's body had rested here on her way to Westminster. For the Millennium they had put up a clock tower outside Priory House. We finished with a cream tea and tales about the area. Thank you to Caroline Markham for arranging such an interesting day.