Lockdown has had us all exploring more of what is on our doorsteps, and being so grateful just to be able to leave the house and explore locally. I’ll be honest – I’d never thought of where I live as a holiday destination. I’d never thought of it even really as a place to visit, other than Cambridge for the University. But my mind has been changed.
If you’re looking for a UK staycation option, or if you’re visiting the UK from another country and fancy a few days exploring somewhere a bit different and not too touristy (Cambridge is just an hour’s train from London so very easy to get to), then Cambridgeshire really is worth putting on the list.
Now the first thing you need to know is that Cambridgeshire is flat. So if you want epic views and climbs, then you’re in the wrong county – but what it does give you is hedgerows full of wildlife, rolling fields, historic cities, beautiful stately homes, and chocolate box villages full of thatched cottages. It’s quintessentially English and you could easily spend a week in the county.
Over the last 9 months of lockdown, I’ve explored the county on a series of walks. Here, across all the seasons, are 14 which discover the understated beauty across the county I call home.
1. Cambridge city centre stroll
If you’re wanting to spend some time in Cambridgeshire exploring then the best place to start is Cambridge itself. I also recommend staying here as there are so many hotels and eating options.
Strolling round the city centre will enable you to breathe in the history – from the ancient University buildings to historic churches. Also be sure to stroll along the river Cam (and go punting if it’s nice weather), walk the Cambridge Backs, and if you have time visit one of the museums in the city – The Polar Museum is my personal favourite, but the Fitzwilliam is very famous.
You can read my full guide to a day in Cambridge here. After exploring the county’s namesake, it’s then time to explore a bit further afield.
2. St Ives to Houghton
This walk is all about the ‘gram – lots of beautiful thatched cottages and pretty river views. Moving north towards Huntingdon, the market town of St Ives is one of my favourite towns in Cambridgeshire to stroll around. Start by exploring the town of St Ives itself, grab a coffee and people watch by the river and then explore some of the picturesque villages nearby.
A great walk which starts in St Ives is the 4 mile round trip to the quaint village of Houghton. Houghton is famous for its ‘Instagram cottage’ (see photo below), and is also home to a pub which serves tasty food called the Three Jolly Butchers. From the centre of St Ives, you can walk to All Saints’ parish church, and then follow the woodland trail until you hit Thicket Lane, continuing on until you reach Houghton. In total it takes about an hour.
3. Wandlebury and The Gog Magogs
Deep in the south of Cambridgeshire lie its equivalent to a mountain climb. The Gog Magog Hills (what a name) are a range of low chalk hills. To be honest, you’d barely notice they were hills unless everything else in the county was flatter than a spirit level! Next to the ‘Gogs’ is Wandlebury Country Park which is beautiful in autumn with all the golden leaves.
4. Abbotts Ripton to Kings Ripton
Two beautiful villages in west Cambridgeshire, Abbotts Ripton and Kings Ripton are the perfect option for a half day trip to include a walk followed by a yummy pub lunch. Starting in Kings Ripton, a walk through the (unsurprisingly) flat fields will take around an hour, and bring you to Abbotts Ripton full of pretty thatched cottages and a quaint village centre.
Most importantly, there’s also a great pub called The Abbotts Elm in the village which is a good spot to have lunch. As you can see, we did this walk on a cold, crisp winter morning and then cosied up by the fire in the pub.
5. Grantchester Meadows
The picture perfect village of Grantchester is just outside the centre of Cambridge. The meadows are the area between the village and the river Cam, full of wild flowers with lots of benches and picnic spots. You can walk from Grantchester all the way in to Cambridge city centre, so you can do this walk easily if you’re staying in Cambridge and fancy seeing a bit of the English countryside. From the centre, the walk starts at the road called ‘Grantchester Meadows’ which is just off Eltisley Avenue. You’ll probably spot a few English cows along the way too.
Walking through Grantchester Meadows
6. Historic Ely loop
Ely is my favourite town in Cambridgeshire. It lies in the east of the county and is well worth a day of your time exploring. This part of Cambridgeshire is known as ‘The Fens’ which means it was once effectively swamp. Ely is the centre of the Fens and is home to an amazing cathedral, pretty parks, the home of Oliver Cromwell, and yet more river walks. You can read my full post on visiting Ely here.
Exploring historic Ely
7. Hemingford Grey to Hemingford Abbotts
The Hemingfords are two pretty villages north of Cambridge which you can walk between by following the windy path of the river Ouse. There are also a couple of great pubs on this route (The Cock Inn at Hemingford Grey and The Axe and Compass in Hemingford Abbotts). Again this is a really nice walk to combine with a lunch out and the villages are so picturesque you can easily spend a couple of hours exploring all the little lanes.
8. Burghley House & Stamford
This walk pushes right up to the Northern border of Cambridgeshire, starting at the historic Burghley House. The house is a prime example of Elizabethan architecture and is still lived in by the Cecil family to this day. The house is open on a seasonal basis, and the grounds and park are open year round.
I combined a visit to Burghley house with a bit of a cheat walk because it actually crosses the county border in to Lincolnshire. Stamford is a stunning town though, perfect for a spot of shopping, exploring the beautiful streets and treating yourself to a delicious dinner in one of its many eateries.
The round loop from Burghley house to Stamford and back again takes around 1.5hours. As you can see, I did this walk in autumn, and the golden leaves made it absolutely stunning.
9. Fen Ditton to Horningsea
Just to the east of Cambridge lie a number of gorgeous villages (the kind where you can’t afford any of the houses). Fen Ditton and Horningsea are two lovely areas, and a walk between the two takes about an hour, starting at the Cambridge Museum of Technology. You can stroll along the river in Fen Ditton, through Ditton Meadows and Stourbridge Common and then follow the Cam north until you reach Horningsea. You can also cross over to Milton Country Park to extend the walk.
Again, you’ll be unsurprised to hear there are some lovely pubs in both villages so combine your visit with lunch (no wonder I put weight on over lockdown!)
10. St Ives to Woodhurst
This walk is about a 4 mile round route. It doesn’t take in the centre of St Ives (if you want to do that then have a look at the Houghton to St Ives walk above) as it starts in the car park at the Co-op in St Ives. Turn right on to the main road out of the car park and walk until you hit the public footpath which guides you on to Woodhurst.
This walk is a beautiful ramble through the fields and hedgerows so I recommend it as a summer walk- enjoy the wide open views, and a few woodland paths full of butterflies to follow. Woodhurst is also pretty with lots of lovely houses and a small duck pond.
11. Anglesey Abbey
Just north east of Cambridge is Anglesey Abbey – a National Trust property. The abbey was originally a religious monastery, dissolved in 1536 during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Later, a Jacobean House was built on the site of the former priory, and was privately owned until 1966, when it was donated to the National Trust.
Visiting today, there is a lovely set trail that you can walk around the abbey grounds and up to Lode mill, through the seasonal gardens. There is also a huge woodland area to walk as well, and walking the full grounds can take a whole day.
12. Bottisham to Stow cum Quay
This walk really made me appreciate the incredible water systems we have in place across Cambridgeshire. We are a flat county, we flood easily (as you can see from walk 13 below), and we’ve had to install incredible drainage systems all across the fenlands we live in. This walk takes in many of these small waterways, plus crosses the river Cam and walks through Baits Bite Lock. It was incredible atmospheric in the depths of winter in December.
13. The Offords to Buckden
Right in the west of Cambridgeshire lie a lot of beautiful little villages. Offord Cluny and Offord Darcy are full of picture perfect houses, and a stroll along yet another river, this time the river Ouse, brings you out at Buckden. You could choose to walk the Ouse way, but Buckden is also beautiful to explore. It’s famous for its towers, which are also known as Buckden Palace – a 12th century house which was once visited by Henry VII.
14. Grafham Water
Grafham Water is a reservoir on the very west border of Cambridgeshire. It offers lots of water sport activities, as well as cycling and hiking trails. There are also a few stretches of shoreline which could *almost* pass as a beach. The total perimeter is 9 miles wide, and is what we chose to walk one cold, Sunday morning in February.
Thanks for reading – I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of my home, through all the seasons. Have you been exploring more at home during COVID restricted time as well? If so, I hope your local adventures have been fun too. Stay safe and happy travelling.