Lockdown has really made me appreciate where I live – instead of escaping every weekend I get the chance to, it’s made me slow down and enjoy the things closer to home. One such thing is local walks. I’ve written about local Cambridgeshire walks in my post HERE, but today I wanted to share the detail of my absolute favourite – Houghton Mill, The Hemingfords and St Ives.
I’ve walked this walk in all 4 seasons as I can join the route from my house, so my photos will be across all of them to show you there is absolutely no such thing as a bad time to walk it. It’s actually one of my favourite walks in the whole country and if you’re coming to Cambridge then if you have time, I really recommend getting out in to the lovely countryside surrounding it.
A. Houghton Mill
Park at Houghton Mill and explore in the Mill if you can (tickets have to be pre-booked). Houghton Mill is the last remaining working mill on the River Ouse, and was one of the most successful flour mills in the region, producing flour on an industrial scale in the Victorian era to export far and wide.
Inside the mill, you can explore the history of the building and follow the milling process as you journey through three floors of traditional machinery and hands on exhibits. You can even buy the freshly milled stone-ground wholemeal flour in the tea room or shops for you to try using at home. Or you could just start your walk off with a scone in the tea room made with the flour (it would be rude not to sample the produce after all!)
B. Houghton Mill to Hemingford Abbots
Once you’ve finished at the Mill, head underneath the walkway through the mill across the river from the car park. You will go past a spot where you can hire boats along the river, and follow the path round to Houghton Mill Lock, where again you cross the water in to an open field. If you follow the path directly through the field, you’ll come out on yet another bridge across the River Ouse, Black Bridge, and then out on to Meadow Lane in Hemingford Abbotts
C. Hemingford Abbotts
When you arrive in Hemingford Abbotts, turn left at the end of Meadow Lane, on to Common Lane – one of the most beautiful and upmarket streets in Cambridgeshire. House prices along this road are all upwards of over £1m and it’s easy to see why. Follow Common Lane until you get to the Axe and Compass pub. Here I recommend taking a little detour round to the left to see the beautiful village church which is peaceful and particularly beautiful in the sunshine.
Back to the main road, where Common Lane has become the High Street, and you will see ahead of you a stunning black and white beamed house with a thatched roof. Feel free to keep walking up the High Street for a little bit, but you will need to come back to this house and take the footpath running alongside it.
D. Hemingford Abbotts to Hemingford Grey
Follow the footpath alongside the thatched house until you reach a field with the river running on your left. Cross through another gate and along a path by the river. In summer you’ll find boats moored, people picnicking and probably a few cows in the second field. You’ll pass through another gate and then find yourself coming to a village of houses, with the river curving round to your left. At this point you leave the river and enter Hemingford Grey.
E. Hemingford Grey
Hemingford Grey is another postcard perfect village, full of houses I can’t afford but dream I could. One of the nicest things to do in Hemingford Grey is visit The Manor, one of the oldest continuously inhabited houses in Britain with much of the original house remaining virtually intact. You can visit the garden every day from 11am to 5pm, and tour the house by appointment. Also in Hemingford is a wonderful pub, The Cock, which serves incredible food. It’s a great point for lunch or just a drink as a nice half way point on your walk.
F. Hemingford Grey to St Ives
Passing through Hemingford Grey, with The Cock pub on your left, continue walking straight along the High Street until you reach Church Street, and turn down this on your left. Then take the first right on to Mill Lane, and follow it all the way down until you see a green footpath sign saying ‘to St Ives only’ – continue along that road until you come out in an expansive meadow. This is Hemingford Grey meadow and here you can follow the river once again round until you reach the gate to take you to the Dolphin Hotel. You’ve now arrived in St Ives.
G. St Ives
St Ives is an historic market town. Arriving in to it at The Dolphin, turn left on the road and over St Ives Bridge, admiring the views as you do.
The bridge is the main attraction, and special because it is the most striking of only 4 bridges in England which incorporate a chapel. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537, the chapel was given to the prior to live in, and as the owners changed, so did the chapel’s use. It’s been everything from a private house, a doctors surgery and a pub called Little Hell, known for rowdy behaviour. Also in St Ives you could visit The Norris Museum, or even Holt Island Nature Reserve.
H. St Ives to Houghton
After crossing the bridge, turn left on to Merryland and then The Broadway, where you’ll walk past shops and be following the river on your left hand side. Follow The Broadway round to the right, away from the river, until it becomes The Waits and Ramsey Road. On your left you will see All Saints Parish church – another church on the route worth a visit. From the church, you can then cross a little bridge to join Thicket Path – which is your route through the woods back to Houghton.
A short while along Thicket Path, you’ll come to a fork with a building on your left where you can continue in to the woods, bearing slightly left, or go right and hit a road. Take the left hand fork and then just keep following the path until the path becomes Thicket Road. You’re now back in Houghton.
Houghton is my favourite village in all of Cambridgeshire, and probably all of England actually. On Thicket Lane you’ll see gorgeous houses, including my favourite fairytale thatched cottage on your right. If you follow Thicket Lane right to the end you’ll come out in the village square, with The Three Horseshoes pub on your right. Again, another perfect spot for a drink along the route.
At this point, you want to turn left up Mill Street to find yourself back at Houghton Mill, but before doing so you could explore more of Houghton, following each of the roads off the main village centre. Chapel Lane is particularly beautiful and leads to yet another stunning village church, as well as more thatched cottages.
Eventually, head back up Mill Lane and follow it to the end, which will bring you back to the car park at Houghton Mill. Collapse in to your car after a wonderful day exploring Cambridgeshire.
The walk starts and ends at Houghton Mill, a National Trust property with plenty of parking. Houghton is a 30 minute drive from Cambridge city centre and is accessible only by car. If you don’t have access to a car, you could get the guided bus from Cambridge to St Ives, and start the walk there.
The full walk is 10km long, and is easy to complete as the whole walk is on flat ground. In total it will take around 3 hours to complete, so is a perfect way to spend half a day (or a full day if you visit some of the attractions on the way round). There’s no need for walking boots or equipment – trainers and a moderate level of fitness is all that’s needed.
You can find the full route map for the walk, starting at Houghton Mill, HERE, though the route description is the circular one I describe, but in reverse.
So what did you think? Would you like to do this walk around my local villages? I think it’s a perfect way to spend a day with pub to pub drinking/eating as well as seeing beautiful villages and historic sites, all easily manageable. If you’re ever in Cambridgeshire, I hope this walk might appeal and wave to me on your way round. Stay safe and happy travelling everyone!