Dunstable is surrounded by countryside being located within a natural gap in the northern Chiltern Hills. To the east you will find Blows Down, acquired on behalf of the public by the Wildlife Trust, with funding from Dunstable Town Council and the National Lottery. To the west are Dunstable Downs, where ancient history and modern pastimes combine, providing another large open public area with breathtaking views. Miles of green lanes lead to Sewell, the prehistoric camp at Maidenbower, and the earthworks at Totternhoe Knolls. Other areas of the town are well served by marked rights of way such as Dog Kennel Walk, which is a favourite route from the town centre to nearby Houghton Regis.
Leisure and Entertainment
The Dunstable Leisure Centre is owned by Central Bedfordshire Council and is situated at the far end of the beautiful Grove House Gardens. The centre provides a multipurpose sports hall, squash courts, super gym, aerobic studios, health suite and sauna, sunbeds, steam room as well as an attractive swimming pool and separate learner pool. Outside facilities include floodlit ‘Redgra’ pitches and tennis courts. In the same area and adjacent to the Leisure Centre, is the popular ten pin bowling alley.
There are over 180 acres of parks, gardens and open spaces to enjoy in Dunstable. Within the parks are fifteen football pitches, all of which are used on a regular basis by local adult and youth football teams, a bowling green and two hard tennis courts. Each of the main parks and recreation grounds has a play ground and most were fully refurbished with new equipment and safety surfacing in 2008. There are also private sports clubs - Dunstable Downs Golf Club with its spectacular location on the western edge of the town, Dunstable Cricket Club, now located just down the road at nearby Totternhoe, Dunstable Tennis Club, and the famous Dunstablians Rugby Football Club. Activities such as para gliding, hang-gliding and kite flying are ideally suited to Dunstable Downs which are themselves an interesting and convenient site for exploration for local and visiting ramblers. Anyone standing at the top of the Downs can’t help but notice the London Gliding Club, which dominates the landscape below.
Dunstable is able to boast The Grove Theatre, one of the very finest arts and entertainment centres. The 780 seat venue is situated in a prominent location, bordering Grove House Gardens. The venue opened in April 2007 with a gala attended by the local community and compered by theatre favourite Brian Blessed. The venue offers superb modern facilities including; Stalls, Circle and box style seating, a full fly tower enabling large touring productions to be housed, a fully accessible auditorium including wheelchair accessible seats on both Stalls and Circle levels, two spacious bar areas and an outside terrace along with plenty of car parking in the local vicinity. There is a mix of one night shows and week long productions spanning a variety of art forms including dance, drama, musicals, children’s theatre, live music and an annual Christmas pantomime. The theatre operates a free mailing list and you can join the mailing list by calling the Box Office on 01582 602080 or logging onto the website at www.grovetheatre.co.uk. A brochure will then be mailed to you three times a year.
In addition, Priory House provides a centre for heritage activities in the town and an exhibition space. It is also a venue for high quality tea rooms, gift shop, Tourist Information Centre and has meeting and conference facilities available.
The Town also boasts a plethora of arts organisations which provide amongst themselves an abundance of drama, art, dance and much more for both participant and audience. The Dunstable Amateur Operatic Society for instance perform no less than two ‘West End’ style shows each year. The Little Theatre is the home of the Dunstable Rep. who perform six amateur shows in the 99 seat auditorium, together with a thriving programme of additional performances. There are youth drama groups, a contemporary dance troupe, Dunstable Concert Music Society running workshops for young musicians, and the Priory Church who as well as having the excellent Priory Choir host their own regular concerts in the magnificent setting of the Church.
Supplementary to all these various artistic promotions is a full annual programme of activities organised and facilitated by Dunstable Town Council. The Council is conscious of the town’s long traditions and depth of community identity and to support this has produced a whole range of community events for all ages and interests with supporting development opportunities, as well as major town annual events including a history day, music concerts and a spectacular town firework display, presented and supported by international artists and the up and coming talent in the town.
Dunstable’s plethora of inns, bars and restaurants make it an ideal venue for evening entertainment, for every age group. Some of the public houses cater very much for the younger Dunstablian and visitor, with continental and American beers on sale, dance floors and live music. Similarly there are those venues which would appeal to the more mature person, who enjoy sitting, relaxing and maybe having a drink and/or meal in comfortable surroundings. There are places to eat in Dunstable to suit all tastes and pockets, with many fine restaurants offering Indian, Italian, Chinese, French and other more traditional dishes. For those who enjoy a late night, several of the public houses hold a late night licence. All of these establishments can be found within easy walking distance of the town centre, but should you need a lift, there are centrally based taxi companies more than willing to take you to your destination.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is located in the beautiful Bedfordshire countryside and is home to more than 200 species of rare and exotic animals, making it one of the largest conservation centres in Europe.
The Safari Bus and Jumbo Express steam train give the visitor the opportunity to see tigers, elephants, hippos, giraffes, rhinos and more, out and about in their huge outdoor enclosures. Don’t be surprised to find a free-roaming wallaby, peacock or one of the strange-looking mara wandering idly by as you make your way around the zoo.
New exhibits include Wild Wild Whipsnade, a brand new exhibit featuring beasts from the past including wolverine, lynx, wild boar and moose. Take a step back in time to when these creatures once roamed free and learn about their natural habitat and origins. Recent newcomers include an Asian elephant calf, and two cheeky sealion pups Lara and Bailey. There are plenty of free shows to look out for which run daily through the season, including the Sealion Splash, Birds of the World and Elephantastic! as well as bear, giraffe and penguin feeds. Don’t forget to visit the Discovery Centre, which is home to a fascinating array of species from tamarins to turtles, from big snakes to sea horses.
The park also features a Café on the Lake and the Lookout Café; both serve a range of hot and cold food, snacks and drinks.
With beautiful picnic areas, free daily keeper talks, animal shows, exciting events and exhibitions, there are plenty of reasons to visit ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, for a big day out that’s full of discovery and wild fun.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is open daily, with the exception of Christmas day, and located just off Junction 9 of the M1.
For current ticket information and further details please visit zsl.org or call 01582 872171.
The Chilterns Gateway Centre & Dunstable Downs
For incredible views there’s only one place to visit - the highest point in the East of England that’s voted one of the region’s Seven Natural Wonders.
Soar above a breathtaking landscape, sculpted by time, decorated by nature and enjoyed by generations. Dunstable Downs, the Chilterns Gateway Centre and Whipsnade Estate provide acres of space with fabulous views over the Vale of Aylesbury, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Chalk grassland, rich in wildlife provides prime walking country and a kite-flying hotspot.
Nowhere else in the UK can you leave a bustling town and within minutes be in countryside offering the most exceptional views and fascinating history.
The Chilterns Gateway Centre
The hub for visitors to the Downs is the Chilterns Gateway Centre crowning the hilltop at Dunstable. The centre boasts an outstanding panoramic view from the comfort of a light and spacious glass fronted café, where visitors can sample the delicious Bedfordshire Clanger and a range of locally sourced food. There’s also a National Trust shop selling gifts, state of the art environmentally-friendly toilets and baby changing facilities and a parking area close to the centre, which is fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Perhaps the most obvious gateway into Bedfordshire from the Chiltern Hills, from the west the Downs often appears to be the final stretch of the Chilterns proper. A visually imposing area of chalk Downland looming over the Icknield Way, the Downs show many traces of man’s influence throughout history. Currently the most visual area of this is the patchwork of scrub and grassland which developed during the late 20th century as a result of the cessation of grazing. Look a little harder and the 5 Knolls, Bedfordshire’s’ only surviving Round Barrow cemetery appears on the skyline close to Dunstable. As the highest point in Bedfordshire, the Downs provide an awe-inspiring panorama which encompasses no less than six other counties. The wind swept ridge provides ideal conditions for a variety of air sports and on calmer days offers the ideal site to enjoy the view over a picnic.
The Chilterns Gateway Centre is open daily, with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and is located on the B4541 between Whipsnade and Dunstable.
Notes on Access: The centre has a level access into the building and (surfaced) ramped access from the viewing terrace onto the Downs; a surfaced path allows wider access. There is a multi user surfaced path from the bottom of Whipsnade Road in Dunstable to the Chilterns Gateway Centre. The remainder of this countryside property has steep slopes which can be hazardous particularly in wet weather.
For more information on the Chilterns Gateway Centre and our programme of family friendly events please visit; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunstabledowns or phone 01582 500920. For more information on neighbouring National Trust Properties visit; www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Whipsnade Tree Cathedral
On National Trust land near Whipsnade Common, not far from the wild animal park, a man called Edmund Kell planted his dream over seventy years ago. If you walk there now you will find trees making a Nave, Transepts, Cloisters and Chapels. This beautiful and serene place with a pond in the centre is open all year round with no charge for admission.
Shopping in Dunstable
For over seven centuries Dunstable has been a very important market town, servicing the surrounding areas and villages. The main arterial road that was used by the Romans is still flanked by traders. The first point of call for visitors today is the Quadrant Shopping Centre behind High Street North and Church Street, where many national chain stores can be found. Nearby in Queensway is a food and retail superstore, whilst the White Lion Retail Park, less than a mile from the Town Centre, offers a range of popular retail warehouses. Traditional shopping pleasures, however, still abound in Dunstable especially in the pleasant pedestrian shopping areas off High Street North and South. Ashton Square and Eleanor’s Cross are intimate lanes where Dunstable’s rich and colourful past is reflected. Here are found a variety of specialist shops and small family businesses.