St Ives to Hemingford Abbots

One of the most varied walks, starting through an avenue of trees to an ancient woodland. Pass the site of kilns used to make bricks for the New Bridges causeway. View SSI designated ancient meadows. Pass by some of the world's largest living organisms and one of the oldest continually occupied houses in England. End by crossing a most beautiful meadow and riverside to stunning views of St Ives.

Look out for muntjac deergreen woodpeckersjaysbullfinchesgoldcrestlong tailed tits and black squirrels. The choice of food is amazing, from Cambridgeshire Walk's favourite snacking stop to one of the country's best pub restaurants.
This 6 mile (13,200 steps) route is easy walking through leafy lanes, open countryside, pleasant villages and along riverbanks. Plenty of historical and wildlife interest. If the River Great Ouse is in flood the route between points 8 and 9 may be impassable. Can get quite busy along The Thicket path at weekends, so keep an eye out for bicycles approaching from behind.


Starting point
Park for free at the St Ivo Indoor Sports Centre  Walk in the direction you entered the car park. At the tight S bend turn right down a path leading to the Sea Scouts' building. After about 100 yards you'll face the Sea Scouts' building at a T junction. Turn right and follow The Thicket footpath. It pays to occasionally look behind to anticipate the approach of cyclists, especially if taking children. Although most are considerate and will sound their bell, a few inconsiderate cyclists silently pass at speed, which can be a bit disconcerting. 

You pass Noble's Field and for the next 500 yards walk through an archway of overhanging trees as shown below, followed by glorious views across the River Great Ouse to Hemingford Meadow. On your right there are several areas of vaguely semicircular land set back a few yards from the path edge. These are the sites of brick kilns, where over one million bricks were made for the New Bridges causeway that leads away from St Ives bridge. Clay was dug from the surrounding land, made into bricks and loaded onto lighters to be floated down to the wharf by The Dolphin Hotel.
Point 1
Walk through three bollards and for the next 600 yards you pass through an ancient wood and wildlife haven called The Thicket. Keep an eye out for muntjac deer, jays, and long tailed tits. You may see a goldcrest, the UK's smallest bird.

Just over 300 yards past The Thicket there's an information board on your left for Houghton Meadows, designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Full of wildflowers in spring and summer, the area also attracts hosts of insects and birds. There are certainly grass snakes basking in the field edges on a warm day. the challenge is to sneak up on them. Green woodpeckers and jays are regular visitors.

Along the main path again, keep an eye out for black squirrelsBullfinches love the high hedges, particularly in early spring when they can nip fresh buds. After 500 yards there's a slight rise in the path and an S bend. Ignore the paths off to the right and then left, continuing along the main Thicket path.

Another 250 yards and you pass The Elms. Built in 1868 by Potto Brown for his son, in late winter and early spring the mature gardens are bursting with snowdrops, winter aconites and daffodils. There are also some magnificent trees. The stars are tall sequoias, from amongst the world's largest trees and biggest living organisms by volume.

Point 2
Walk into Houghton, on your right passing Rose Cottage, a tiny 17th century thatched cottage. Admire Houghton Manor on the opposite side of the road, built in 1905. The attention to style detail is amazing.

At the village square, on your left is Houghton Tea Room, beside a memorial to Potto Brown. One of the best for quality and value, if you're unlucky and all the seats are taken buy a take away meal and drink to sit under The Clock Tower in the centre of the village square and watch life pass by, or carry down to the grassy area overlooking Houghton Mill pond described below.

It's well worth having a look around the village centre. Houghton is of Anglo-Saxon origin, with evidence of settlement as early as Neolithic times. There are many fine listed buildings. The magnificent, but less than perpendicular, timber framed cottage overlooking the square is the village's oldest house, dating from the 15th century. It was originally a yeoman farmer's house, subsequently the George and Dragon public house.
Point 3
Once ready to continue, turn left at Houghton Tea Room and walk down Mill Street to reach Houghton Mill at the bottom. This National Trust property pictured above is worth a visit if open. There has been a mill on this site for over 1,000 years. The current building dates from the 17th century.

To the left of the mill is Houghton Mill cafe. If you've still not eaten, you can buy lunch or a snack. They have well positioned picnic benches overlooking the mill pond, but are a bit pricey. Alternatively, if you've brought a picnic or have food from Houghton Tea Room, walk a further 50 yards past the cafe and sit in the grassy area to the right overlooking the mill pond. Note, this spot gets very busy on sunny summer weekends.

To continue the walk, pass through Houghton Mill and follow the path around to Houghton Lock. Cross Hemingford Meadow to the Black Bridge (the old bridge was black, replaced by a more modern structure) and along the access road into Hemingford Abbots.

Point 4
At the T junction turn left to wander down Common Lane and the High Street, finally reaching the Axe & Compass, a beautiful thatched 1400s village pub. There's good food, the only background noise being the happy chatter of customers. Coffee and an intensely chocolatey accompaniment is worth trying as well as a good garden with children's play area.

Continue walking down the High Street for about 150 yards and take the narrow path disappearing off to the left on the far side of Beechers House, a 1600s timber framed house. Follow this route through a stile, across a field, and through another stile until you reach railings beside the River Great Ouse. Here, you'll pass The Manor pictured below, one of the oldest continuously occupied houses in Britain, the majority of the building having been constructed in the 1130s. It was made famous as the house of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston in her children's books. The house and gardens are open to visitors on most days.
Point 5
Walk on a few yards to the end of the railings and the High Street of Hemingford Grey. If you haven't yet stopped for a meal and fancy something special, you're in for a treat. About 200 yards down the High Street and at one end of the scale is The Cock, Cambridgeshire's Dining Pub of the Year 2017 and National Pub of the Year 2013. Considering that pedigree, the prices are reasonable.

Almost 130 yards further on, at the other end of the scale but no less classy, is Hemingford Garden Room. Can give this no higher recommendation than it's Cambridgeshire Walks number one favourite snacking place. Peaceful background classical music, great service, serene surroundings, free newspapers and happy chatter. The food is high quality and reasonably priced.

To continue the route from the bottom of the High Street by the river, walk across the High Street and follow the footpath, keeping the river on your left. The route leads to St James Church. Note the tower, the spire of which was blown into the river by a hurricane on 1741 and never replaced.

Turn right and walk down Church Street. After about 200 yards turn left into Love Lane, a leafy footpath which after 150 yards skirts a meadow sometimes containing donkeys. Notice the holly bushes along this section. The evergreen leaves have no spines in the highest branches, and in mediaeval times farmers would cut these down to provide fodder for cattle and sheep.

At the end of Love Lane cross over into Meadow Lane.

Point 6
A further 500 yards and you pass through a stile and enter Hemingford Meadow. Historian Bridget Smith, in her talk to the Civic Society of St Ives in 1997, regretted the loss of the meadow's wildflowers through agricultural spraying. The County Stewardship Scheme was paying farmers not to use sprays, and she hoped the meadow would recover its former floral glory in 50 years time. View the meadow today in spring and summer and you'll get a hint how quickly that recovery is taking place. The meadow is filled with millions of golden buttercup flowers, quickly followed by purple clover.

Follow the meadow edge to the left to head towards the River Great Ouse. Turn right on reaching the river, the bank of which is full of wild flowers, grasses, reeds and lilies. The river is bursting with wildlife. There are so many fish, constant ripples break the surface as they rise for insects. About 350 yards along the river bank there's a small sandy beach for children to paddle.

As you approach the end of the riverside section of the route there are stunning views of St Ives bridge and the river as shown below. On Sunday mornings and evenings members of St Ives Rowing Club skull along the river.
Point 7
Follow the footpath along the river bank until it turns right along the wharf by The Dolphin Hotel. A few more yards and you come to a stile exiting the meadow. Just beyond the stile, look out for agile swallows jetting close. Particularly in late summer, they patrol the inlet and stream on either side of the path, catching insects on the wing.

Walk under an arch which is part of the hotel's accommodation. Look across the car park to the New Bridges causeway heading south away from St Ives bridge. There has been a causeway across the boggy flood meadow to the bridge for at least 700 years, originally an earth bank with a series of smaller bridges over streams.

The current New Bridges is a magnificent structure, the longest road causeway with continuous arches in the country. Consisting of 55 arches and about 1,300,000 locally made bricks, John Turner took just 23 weeks to completion in 1822. If you're ready for refreshments, it's hard to beat a seat on The Dolphin Hotel patio, lounging beside St Ives bridge and the river.

Walk over St Ives bridge, built in the 1400s and one of only four with a chapel. As you walk into the town centre, why not admire the more than 150 listed buildings. There's always plenty of buzz in St Ives. Market days are on Monday and Friday. There's free music to listen to on summer Sundays. Visit the museum or nature reserve and much more.

To finish the walk, turn left at the top of Bridge Street, walk down Merrylands or Crown Walk into The Broadway. At the end of The Waits riverside area, keep straight on into the parish churchyard, keeping the church on your right. Exit the churchyard on the far side and head slightly left to walk past the white bridge. Follow Barne's Walk, a footpath skirting the backwater. After 250 yards you're back at the Sea Scouts' building. Turn right to return to the St Ivo Indoor Sports Centre car park.

Click the Print Friendly button below to print out this walk to take with you. Or for more walks click the Return Home button at the foot of this page. Did you enjoy the walk? Notice anything unusual? Why not add a comment below to tell fellow amblers what you liked about it?

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:03 am

    Thank you. This walk was brilliant, very picturesque and easy to follow.Hemingford Abbots was particularly pretty. The pubs were interesting too though the Axe and Compass had no chocolatey delights on offer!Thanks again, from 2 Geordie walkers.

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  2. Susan Heath9:04 am

    Did this walk today - beautiful- AND chocolate with coffee at Axe and Compass. Thank you for explaining it so well.

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  3. Anonymous9:05 am

    This is a brilliant walk and our dog loved it too. Plenty of variety so lots of off the lead free running about and those bits on the lead were quiet roads in extremely pretty villages so no worries about cars speeding by either.

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  4. Anonymous5:04 pm

    Thank you, we did this walk with our dogs in the sunshine today. The flower festival was on in Hemingford Abbots with Morris dancers outside the Axe and Compass where we stopped for coffee and chocolate treats. A quintessential English village at its finest. The walk took a steady 4 hours with lots of pauses for a doggy dip in the river and a friendly chat.No livestock and no traffic.A perfect walk!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the walk. I follow this one often because it's so easy to vary. Next time try taking the detour at point 3 across fields and along the river. Great for letting your dog off the lead for a roam. And try a meal at the Hemingford Garden Room, where you can sit in their sheltered garden with your dog. Appreciate the feedback. Thanks, John

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  5. Anonymous3:48 pm

    This walk is great for a pushchair too. We had a lovely walk this morning and stopped at the Dolphin for a cold drink in the garden.

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    1. Thank you for the feedback. Glad you enjoyed the walk.

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