St Ives to Holywell

Like travelling back in time? If so, this is the walk for you. Follow an ancient leafy footpath to a most beautiful Anglo-Saxon ring village. Lunch at the oldest pub in England (with ghost) overlooking the spot where Hereward the Wake fled William the Conqueror a thousand years ago. Or picnic in a lovely wildflower garden beside a pre-Christian holy well.

Amble along river banks and open countryside. Pass by fragrant elder bushes. Watch for green woodpeckers. Wander through clouds of damselflies, dragonflies and butterflies


This four mile (8,800 steps) walk takes you through leafy lanes, a beautiful village, fields and along riverside. Quiet places to sit and rest with plenty of wildlife and historical interest. If taking children or a dog, there are a couple of points to take care. The route may be impassible between points 4 and 5 if the River Great Ouse is in flood. Industrial landscape between points 5 and 6.


Starting point
Park in Needingworth Road and walk along Farthing Lane. When you reach the caravan park continue straight on to cross over a small footbridge. If you have children or a dog with you, keep a close hold since the footpath exits onto a busy road and roundabout.

Take the footpath on the opposite side of the roundabout. The entrance can be hard to see, but it will take you along the left side of the water skiing lake.

Point 1
After 250 yards you'll come to a choice of routes, with Parson's Drove running at right angles. Turn right to follow Parson's Drove, keeping the stream on your left.

This track must be very old. Likely it was the main route for Holywell residents to walk to the mediaeval markets of St Ives. Fancy making some elderflower or elderberry wine? There a many large elderberry bushes along the path. The lakes to the right have many resident birds, particularly in winter.

After half a mile you'll pass over a bridge, taking a kink to the left, then right. At this point the path starts to incline slightly upwards as it approaches Holywell. Notice the double hedge and large bank to the left, another smaller bank to the right. This part of the walk certainly has an ancient feel to it, almost that of a holloway.

Point 2
As you come into Holywell the path becomes a road. After a few houses you'll reach the ring village section. Holywell is one of three examples of an Anglo-Saxon ring village. It's thought the settlement formed from the widening of a track through forest that covered the area. Dwellings were built around the edge, the centre being used for livestock.

Continue straight ahead, ignoring the road on the right, and then after 250 yards another on the left. After 400 yards the road turns to the right. Holywell front and a view of the River Great Ouse is a further 150 yards.


Point 3
On the left is the Old Ferry Boat Inn, pictured in the image at the top of this walk. It claims to be the oldest pub in England. Alcohol has been served at this location from as early as 560AD. The foundations of the current building date from about 660AD, the building itself from the 1600s.

The pub boasts a ghost, that of a young girl named Juliet Tewsley. She committed suicide in 1050AD after being jilted by her lover. A stone slab in the pub is thought to be the location of her grave. The ghost is said to appear every year on 17 March.

W F Garden lived at the Inn for seventeen years, until his death in 1921. He painted beautiful local watercolour scenes and, having fallen on hard times, paid his bills with paintings. His death is attributed to a fall down stairs at the Inn.

In past years the pub had the right to operate a ferry across the River Great Ouse to Fen Drayton. It is reputed that Hereward the Wake used the ferry to escape from William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Since Hereward had his stronghold on the Isle of Ely, there is a ring of truth to this.

The location of the pub and its interior make it a very pleasant spot to stop for refreshments or lunch, particularly if you can get a seat on the terrace overlooking the river. Just a pity it doesn't get better reviews on Trip Advisor.

Continue the walk by heading along Holywell front, keeping the houses on your right. They're built on a gravel bank several feet above the level of the flood plain. The River Great Ouse occasionally floods to half way up the bank in winter, as shown in the image above. This aspect must be one of the most attractive views of any village in Cambridgeshire, with the buildings dating as early as the 1500s.

Follow the road as it heads upwards and towards the right. You'll pass Goodyers, a beautiful 1600s farmhouse. 

Point 4
You'll reach the churchyard of St John the Baptist, which dates from the 1200s, although there has been a church on the site since at least 990AD. The tower is believed to have been taken from Ramsey Abbey in the 1500s.

The holy well from which the village takes its name is to the left of the churchyard. A natural spring, it's one of several rising along Holywell front where water meets underlying clay and seeps under a gravel bank. The well has been in use for more than two thousand years and is believed to have healing properties. Below the holy well is a beautifully tended wildflower garden with bench, a most perfect spot to picnic on a hot day.

To continue the walk, take the footpath off to the left just before the entrance to the churchyard, heading across fields. In summer there are clouds of dragonflies drifting above the damp ground below the holy well. 

Cross a couple of fields to the River Great Ouse. This is another spot for a picnic, sitting on the riverbank watching cabin cruisers pass slowly by. Continue the walk by following the footpath, keeping the river on your left. After almost 500 yards the route turns right.


Point 5
A further 150 yards and you're at the end of Meadow Lane, most of which is taken up by industrial units and parking for the Guided Busway. Part way down you can walk along wooded areas instead of the road itself.

If you're walking late in the day you may hear beautiful birdsong from the wooded parts of Meadow Lane. At dusk nightingales can be heard, sadly a rare treat these days.

Point 6
At the far end of Meadow Lane cross over the roundabout. Take care if you have children or a dog with you, since traffic can be quite fast at this point. Continue straight on and take the first right into Needingworth Road.

Just over 300 yards along Needingworth Road you'll pass the Sacred Heart Catholic Church on your left. Designed by Pugin and built in Cambridge in 1843, it was bought by a local businessman in 1902 for £1,000, dismantled and transported by barge, to be erected in its present position all within five months.

A further 150 yards along Needingworth Road and you're back to the start of the walk.

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 the page. Did you enjoy the walk? Notice anything unusual? Why not add a comment below to tell fellow amblers what you liked?

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