St Ives to Houghton (via Wyton on the Hill)

This walk starts across open farmland and passes by a World War I airfield, before heading down hidden green lanes to arrive at the beautiful and historic village of Houghton.

Have lunch at one of the best cafes around. Sit beside an historic mill pond. Head back through leafy lanes and by riverside. Be entertained by inquisitive, adorable alpacas. Admire the largest living organism on earth. Walk through one of the best wildflower meadows. Look out for grass snakes, jays, and green woodpeckers. You might see bullfinchesgoldcrests or a muntjac deer.


More a case of two 3 miles walks linked by lunch, this 6 miles (13,200 steps) route has great variety through woodland, fields, a pleasant village and along riverside. Lots of quiet places to sit and rest. Great lunch and cakes available. Plenty of wildlife and historical interest. Keep an eye out for speeding cyclists silently approaching from behind along The Thicket path between points 5 and 7. The last mile of the walk is standard housing.
Starting point
If you've brought the car, park for free in Hill Rise cemetery grounds. Turn left out of the grounds.

Old Ramsey Road is much underrated. Just a few yards out of St Ives and you're definitely in the countryside. In spring and summer the roadsides are bursting with wildflowers, as shown below. Waves of cow parsley and buttercups are broken by hotspots of magenta vetch and purple scabiosa. The hedges are full of pink blossoms from dog roses. On the telegraph wires sit chaffinches and yellowhammers.

At the top of Old Ramsey Road there's a barrier. Follow the track to the left just before the barrier to head between fields, the air echoing with skylark song. You may scent the smell of pineapple. Look carefully for pineapple weed. Never has a plant been so appropriately named, since the flower both smells of and looks like a pineapple. The flowers make a delicious tea.


Point 1
You'll see Wyton Airfield on your right. Formerly an base for RAF and USA flights, it's one of the oldest airfields in East Anglia. Established for pilot training during World War I in 1916, the runway was expanded in 1936 to play a very active part in World War II. The first sortie of the war took off from Wyton Airfield and Lancaster bombers were stationed there. The runway was again extended in the 1950s to cut across Old Ramsey Road.

The route bends to the left and runs along the back of ex-RAF houses at Wyton on the Hill. After just under a mile you reach the B1090. If conditions are dry take the footpath to the left that runs along the field edge, with the road on the other side of the hedge.

Point 2
Keep an eye out for the footbridge exit through the hedge after about 400 yards. Cross the road and another footbridge opposite to follow the footpath leading onto Houghton Hall Equestrian and Alpaca Centre.

The path runs beside a huge equestrian building and fields. After 250 yards you reach metal barriers. The route leads over a stile to the right to head diagonally across a field towards the exit in the bottom right hand corner. There's a good chance the field, or the one on the far side, will be occupied by alpacas. Don't worry if they approach. They're inquisitive and interesting, but will readily move away.

Point 3
Go through the stile at the bottom of the field and cross the busy A1123. Walk down the footpath directly opposite. This area is full of wild plants and wildlife, with a sleepy stream winding its way beneath a small bridge as shown below.

Cross the bridge and turn right, then left. Wander down The Lanes, a hidden and delightful footpath. Head roughly straight on for about 300 yards into the centre of Houghton.

You'll come out beside Rose Cottage, a tiny 17th century thatched cottage on Thicket Road. Admire Houghton Manor on the opposite side of the road, built in 1905. The attention to style detail is amazing.

Turn right and after 250 yards you'll reach Houghton village centre.


Point 4
On your left is Houghton Tea Room, one of the best for quality and value. If you're unlucky and all the seats are taken, you can 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. Other options are 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 in the village. 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.

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 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, walk across the car park opposite Houghton Mill cafe. After 100 yards you'll reach a stile to access Love Lane. Turn right and a further 200 yards on follow the track around to the left.

Point 5
A few more yards and you'll reach The Thicket path. It pays to occasionally look behind to anticipate the approach of cyclists. Although most are considerate and will sound their bell, a few inconsiderate cyclists silently pass at speed, which can be a bit disconcerting.

Turn right and follow the path as it passes The Elms. Built in 1868 by Potto Brown (whose monument you saw next to Houghton Tea Room) for his son, in early spring the mature gardens are bursting with snowdrops, winter aconites and daffodils. There are also some magnificent trees. The stars are the tall sequoias, from amongst the world's largest single trees and the largest living organisms by volume.

As you continue along The Thicket path, look for out for jays and green woodpeckers.  Bullfinches love the high hedges, particularly in early spring when they can nip fresh buds. Keep an eye out for a goldcrest, the UK's smallest bird.


Point 6
Half a mile from The Elms, stop for a few minutes at Houghton Meadows on your right, designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. There are five adjacent meadows, unique ancient hay fields which display mediaeval ridge and furrow features.

Full of wildflowers in spring and summer, look out for lady's bedstraw, so named because it was used to stuff mediaeval mattresses because when dry it smells of new mown hay. Also see green winged orchids, cowslips, edible salad burnet, common knapweed, meadowsweet, meadow crane's-bill, yellow rattle, and crosswort. 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.

Continue along The Thicket path as it winds its way through The Thicket, a peaceful green area of ancient woodland as shown above. To access a map and information about The Thicket, click here.

Further along you'll skirt the Great Ouse, looking over Hemingford Meadow.

Point 7
After just under a mile from Houghton Meadows you'll pass Nobles Field, and shortly after come to St Ives Scout building on your right. Take the path heading off to the left which takes you towards the car park for One Leisure Indoor Sports Centre. Keep straight ahead along a footpath to walk past a cemetery on your right, and then St Ives football ground on your left.

Point 8
After 200 yards past the football ground you'll reach High Leys. Turn right, then left into Green Leys. On reaching the busy Houghton Road, cross at the pedestrian crossing to the right and head up a narrow alley opposite. You enter an open green area with mature trees amongst social housing. Following the road as it arcs to the right and you come onto Ramsey Road. Turn left and after three quarters of a mile cross Hill Rise road to return to the cemetery car park.

Here's the walk shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1900.
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?

2 comments:

  1. Great walk. Did it with the two kids 7 and 9 and they loved walking through the Alpaca field! Who would have thought there were so many beautiful paths just on our door step. Thank you for this walk!

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    1. Appreciate the positive feedback and glad you liked the walk. You must take the kids to Needingworth Nature Reserve next, picnic & binoculars in hand. See details at this link : http://cambswalks.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/needingworth-rspb-nature-reserve.html?m=1 Thanks, John

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