He travelled widely in the Chiltern Hills north of Dunstable and included them in his writing.
28th November 1628
31st August 1688
John Bunyan was born in Harrowden south of Bedford and was brought up in nearby Elstow. As an adult he earned his living as a tinker, travelling widely through Bedfordshire mending metal utensils. He was a Puritan, and during the Civil War he fought on the Parliamentarian side, fighting for greater democracy and religious freedom. After the War he became a Puritan preacher and preached the Gospel. However, after a while the new religious freedoms were withdrawn and pressure grew on those who had left the Church of England and preached according to their own conscience, like Bunyan.
In November 1660 Bunyan was invited to preach at a farm at Lower Samsell, a hamlet near Harlington in the Bedfordshire Chilterns. He went, but was arrested and sent to prison for preaching without a licence from the Church of England. He spent the next 12 years in and out of Bedford Gaol.
During his time in prison Bunyan began his most famous work, an allegorical tale of a Christian pilgrim’s journey through the world to the world to come, and the various places and people that he meets along the way. John Bunyan knew the Chilterns very well and it is quite possible, though not definitely proved, that many of the places that feature in The Pilgrim’s Progress were inspired by Chilterns locations. The pilgrim’s journey begins in the City of Destruction, which could be near Totternhoe and progresses through many obstacles to The Celestial City, thought to be Bedford. The Delectable Mountains equate with the Sundon and Barton Hills north of Luton which are one of the most scenic parts of the Chilterns.
The Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1678 and was an instant success, passing through 10 editions in its first 10 years.
Following his release from prison John Bunyan continued preaching, travelling far and wide, until his death.
Travel with John Bunyan by John Pestell. Published by Day One Publications, 2002
The village of Harlington is the start and finish point for the Chilterns Country walk Walk Like the Clappers which passes through the Sundon Hills and Sharpenhoe Clappers. Harlington Manor, where John Bunyan was interrogated in 1660, can be visited by arrangement - contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07788 742209.
The John Bunyan Trail is a promoted walking route passing through a number of places in Bedfordshire connected with Bunyan, including Harlington and the Sundon and Barton Hills.
The Bunyan Meeting Free Church in Mill St, Bedford stands on the spot where Bunyan’s congregation met following his release from jail in 1672. It contains stained glass windows depicting scenes from The Pilgrim’s Progress. Next door is the John Bunyan Museum which presents the life, times and works of John Bunyan.