St Ives to Hemingford Grey

Cross ancient Hemingford Meadow to amble through leafy back lanes and along riverside to the beautiful village of Hemingford Grey. Look out for a wide variety of wildflowers, moths, butterflies and dragonflies. Wonder why there are so many holly trees bordering a lane? You'll understand why. Visit The Manor House and its beautiful gardens, pictured below. Guess how long it's been occupied as a home.

The destination is Hemingford Garden Room, top of the Cambridgeshire Walks list of favourite places to take a break. Don't already know of this little gem run by happy volunteers serving top quality food? You've got to try it out. If you're walking on a Sunday Hemingford Garden Room is shut, but there are plenty of spots to have a picnic. Or book yourself into The Cock  one of the top ten Pubs in the Country for 2016.


Good points of this 3.5 mile (7,700 steps) route are varied walking though meadow and narrow lanes to arrive at the beautiful village of Hemingford Grey  Includes riverside on the return route. Wildlife and historical interest. Hemingford Meadow can be muddy after prolonged heavy rain, or flooded in winter.
Starting point
Walk over St Ives bridge and past the entrance to The Dolphin Hotel. Follow the footpath sign off to the right which takes you across the entrance to the hotel car park.

Look back 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 bricks made in St Ives, John Turner took just 23 weeks to completion in 1822.

Walk under an arch which is part of the hotel's accommodation to a stile giving access to Hemingford meadow, pictured below. Just before passing through the stile, look out for agile swallows jetting close. Particularly in late summer, they patrol the inlet and stream on the opposite side of the stile catching insects on the wing. 

There's an information board at the meadow entrance. 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. Walk the meadow in late spring or early 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.

Although you can walk more directly across the meadow, the best route is to turn left and follow the path, keeping the slow moving stream on your left.


Point 1
After 160 yards the route turns right. From this point for almost half the walk you'll be ambling along hedging full of blackberry blossom and fruit, with varieties of moths and butterflies feeding on nectar.

Point 2
About halfway along the path you may have noticed occasional white posts along the edge of the meadow. Look across to the opposite side and you'll see similar posts. These mark the boundaries of meadow land for owners. Sheep graze freely across the meadow, owners generally leasing their allocation of grazing to local farmers.

The meadow dates from before the Domesday Book of 1086. The bank you see on the south side, which in more recent times carried the St Ives to Godmanchester railway line, is probably 13th century in origin. Each winter the meadow is enriched by silt as the Great Ouse floods across the whole area. After a severe frost the flooded meadow becomes the biggest ice skating rink in the country.

Point 3
At the far end of the meadow walk through a stile into Meadow Lane. There are some very nice houses, particularly those on the left, their back gardens overlooking the naturalised gravel pits.

After 450 yards you come to the end of Meadow Lane. Walk straight across into Love Lane, a narrow leafy footpath pictured below. On the right is a meadow sometimes occupied by donkeys.

Note the mature holly trees bordering the meadow. Feeding holly to cattle and sheep in winter is an ancient practice, the leaves have one of the highest calorific values of any tree and are rich in nutrients. Leaves in the highest branches are almost spineless, and even the more prickly leaves are palatable if left lying for a few days.

After 350 yards Love Lane comes out onto Church Street. Turn right.


Point 4
Walk up Church Street for 150 yards, passing attractive housing on the left. At the top, The Old Cottage, a 16th century timber framed building with colour washed brick infill, is particularly attractive. St James Church dates from the 12th century. The original spire was destroyed by a hurricane in 1741 and levelled off to its current form.

Follow the footpath around The Old Cottage to the left. For almost 200 yards the footpath skirts the Great Ouse before arriving at the bottom of Hemingford Grey High Street. From this point there is a beautiful open view of the river.

Continue walking along the towpath for 100 yards until you come to the garden of The Manor House on your left. Built in 1130, this moated house is one of the oldest continuously occupied in the country. Lucy Boston wrote her series of children's books about Green Knowe here, the Manor House and surrounds providing the setting. The gardens are an additional reason to visit, and are open every day. Various events are held throughout the year. Visits to the house itself are by appointment and well worth arranging. The Music Room is particularly atmospheric.

Point 5
Return to and walk up the High Street, passing many fine 17th and 18th century cottages. You'll pass The Cock public house. No ordinary pub, The Cock was voted National Pub of the Year in 2013 and is rated one of the top ten Pubs in the Country for 2016.

After 300 yards you'll find St James' church hall on your left. Follow the path just past the building, taking you to Hemingford Garden Room.

This is Cambridgeshire Walks' favourite place to take a break. Relax in the sunny courtyard, or stretch out on leather settees in the conservatory. Soothing classical music is punctured by the happy chatter of volunteers who manage to serve up some of the most delicious and value for money food you could ask for. Favourites are roast vegetables and cream cheese in a tortilla wrap or red pepper soup with smoked cheese and onion jam sandwich. Home made mouth watering cakes and excellent coffee. Free newspapers and magazines. What more could you want?

To continue the walk, follow the High Street for just over a further 150 yards. Turn left into Church Street and after 50 yards right into Mill Lane. Another 400 yards will return you to the bottom of Meadow Lane on your right. Retrace your steps to Hemingford Meadow.

Follow the meadow edge around to the left to head towards the Great Ouse.

Point 6
Another right turn and you're walking along the southern bank of the Great Ouse, full of wild flowers and grasses. Reeds and lilies line the riverside. Notice the colour of foliage in the trees on the opposite bank in The Thicket, ranging from pale yellow and bright orange to acid greens and dark copper.

The river is bursting with wildlife. Graceful terns patrol, darting down to scoop a minnow out of the water. In breeding season you'll see nesting mute swans opposite. A great crested grebe may float by with young nestled on its back. Stationary grey herons await a meal along the river bank. A reptilian cormorant may be standing guard at the top of the willow tree in The Dolphin Hotel gardens.

There are so many fish in the river, 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. Approach carefully and you'll see dozens of small fish enjoying the warm shallows. The air is filled with the song of skylarks, the meadow full of grasshoppers.


Point 7
On the opposite bank you'll pass Noble's Field and then Ingle Holt Island. 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 above. On Sunday mornings and evenings members of St Ives Rowing Club skull along the river.

Follow the footpath along the river bank until it turns right to return to the inlet by The Dolphin Hotel. A few more yards and you return to the stile into the meadow.

For refreshments it's hard to beat a seat on The Dolphin Hotel patio, lounging beside St Ives bridge and the river. Choose from a coffee and cake deal, bar meal from noon to 2pm, a bar menu at any other time or choose the carvery in the restaurant, giving you great views over the meadow.

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