The Thicket & Houghton Meadows

An Amazon jungle on the edge of St Ives. Sounds unlikely? Not if you know about The Thicket. Amazingly bright green in spring and early summer and full of birdsong. Follow on with a walk through medieval ridge and furrow meadows bursting with wildflowers so rare, they've been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Walk through avenues of trees to an ancient woodland. Pass the site of kilns used to make bricks for the New Bridges causeway. Look out for muntjac deer, green woodpeckers and jays. Bursting with wild flowers, have some target practice with the plant that caused the invention of Velcro. Look out for a wide variety of moths, butterflies and dragonflies.


This green walk of just over 2 miles (5,000 steps) is along a riverside footpath to climb a track through woodland, through a stile and into an open field. Follow with an amble through ancient and unspoilt meadows. Tranquil places to sit, rest and have a picnic. Very high count of wild flowersinsects and birdlife. Does involve some inclines and a stile to climb over. In winter or after heavy rain can be muddy. Keep an eye out for speeding cyclists silently approaching from behind along The Thicket path. The route is shown below on the Ordnance Survey map. You can also zoom in on a satellite view of the walk at Google Maps.


Starting point
If you've brought the car, park for free in the St Ivo Indoor Sports Centre car park. Walk away from the car park, back into Westwood Road and the direction you entered. At the tight right and left bend turn right down the path leading to the Sea Scouts' building.

At the end turn right along 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. Be particularly careful if accompanied by children.

Point 1
This section of the walk is very pleasant, lined with trees that meet overhead as shown below.

The field on your left is Nobles Field, where the St Ives Regatta is periodically held. Bought by the Town Council from the Noble family, who originally farmed this area, it is used to benefit the people of St Ives. If you're in no hurry, you can walk around the perimeter of the field and along the edge of the Great Ouse, to return to The Thicket path at the far end.


Point 2
Along the path and on your right you'll pass 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.

A few yards further and there are open views across Hemingford Meadow. This is one of the few spots exposed directly to river access and the site of an unfortunate tragedy which gained much attention in St Ives as reported in the Hunts Post of 19 February 1915.

Point 3
After about 500 yards you pass a bench on your left and walk through three bollards. Just after this, on your right, is the information board for The Thicket. Turn right and walk up the path. To access a map and information about The Thicket, click here.

Follow the track up a hill before turning left and winding through an ancient woodland full of wild plantsmothsbutterflies and dragonflies  The tree canopy echoes with birdsong. If you tread silently round each corner you may disturb a muntjac deer  There's a good chance of hearing the laugh of a green woodpecker or the flash of a jay in flight.

The route is lined with many burdocks. The plant is more commonly known for the use of its roots in the mediaeval drink dandelion and burdock (today's fizzy sugar version is unlikely to contain any plant extracts). Also great fun to pick the burrs and use a friend as target practice. Their ability to stick to just about any cloth surface was the inspiration behind Swiss engineer George De Mestral's invention of Velcro in the 1940s.


Point 4
After 400 yards the track heads left, back down the hill to the main path. Turn right instead and walk up the incline. Turn left after a few yards to cross a footbridge and pass through a stile.

You reach an ancient meadow as shown above. At the top of the hill evidence has been found of a Roman fort. The grassy mounds are the homes of yellow meadow ants. With it's south facing aspect catching the sunshine, this is a great place to have a picnic, although you are asked to stay near the footpath since the field is private land.

After just under 200 yards the path turns left to head down the hill. At the bottom there's a stile to climb over.

Point 5
You're now back on The Thicket path. Turn right and walk for 100 yards to reach the entrance to Houghton Meadows on your left. The Meadows, pictured below, are a rare example of ancient grassland designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of both their botanical and historical interest.

Stunning in late spring and early summer, the three meadows are full of insects and wild flowers. Awash with golden yellow buttercups, you'll also see purple great burnet, yellow rattle, white meadowsweet, lemon cowslips and violet-blue meadow cranesbill. The star of the show is the green winged orchid, nationally scarce. More common but no less attractive is wedgewood blue veronica. On a warm day tread carefully and you might catch a grass snake sunning itself along the meadow's edge. Also worth noting are the archaeological ridge and furrow patterns of agriculture, evidence of ploughing by oxen up to the 1600s.

To walk around the meadows, follow the track to the right across the top corner of Grove Close, around the back of a copse. Walk into Far Close and turn left to walk down the lefthand side. At the bottom turn left, back into Grove Close. Follow the path along the bottom, up the far side and along the top of the close to return to the entrance.

Back on The Thicket path, turn right to head back towards St Ives.

Houghton Meadows
Point 6
After 300 yards you reach The Thicket again. On the return route, follow the main path. You pass through an avenue of green, full of bird song. Although more likely seen at dusk, keep a watch on either side for a fleeting glance of deer, foxes or voles.

A further 600 yards and you're back at the three bollards described in Point 3. Follow the route back to the start point at 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?

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the guided walk, the sunshine was out and plenty of people were cycling or jogging off to the St Ives Friday market. The walk was great even saw a green wookpecker, swans, and a couple of buzzards resting on a couple of dead tree branches. I carried on to Houghton for refreshments and to see the mill repairs and even spotted the alpacas. James M.

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    1. Thanks for the positive feedback, James. Glad you enjoyed the walk.

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