Easy walk beside the Great Ouse river to the attractive village of Houghton and its restored water mill, returning through water meadows and a nature reserve.
Main Walk: 18½ km (11.5 miles). Four hours 5 minutes walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 9 hours.
Short Walk, omitting Houghton Meadows: 15 km (9.3 miles). Three hours 15 minutes walking time.
Long Walk, extended via St Ives: 24 km (14.9 miles). Five hours 30 minutes walking time.
Explorer 225. Huntingdon, map reference TL234716, is in Cambridgeshire, 24 km NW of Cambridge.
2 out of 10 (3 for the Long Walk).
This is an easy walk from the historic town of Huntingdon to the attractive twin villages of Houghton and Wyton. Much of the walk is close to or actually alongside the River Great Ouse, and at Houghton you can visit the last working water mill on the river. Houghton Mill is operated by the National Trust and is open Sat–Wed from mid-March to the end of October (daily in midsummer), with milling demonstrations on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays; admission is £6 (2019).
Oliver Cromwell was a pupil in Huntingdon's old grammar school (as was Samuel Pepys). The building now houses the Cromwell Museum (free entry); it is open daily (except Mondays) but note that its opening hours are limited, especially in winter.
The Long Walk option (see below) goes via the neighbouring villages of Hemingford Abbots and Hemingford Grey to the interesting town of St Ives. In Hemingford Grey you can visit The Manor Garden, designed and planted by the author Lucy Boston and recreated as Green Knowe in her books for children. It is open 11am-5pm (or dusk); admission is £5 (2020).
St Ives has been an important market town since Anglo-Saxon times, when it was the last site where the River Great Ouse could be forded before it reached the sea, 80 km away. The 15thC town bridge has several unusual features, most notably the survival of its late-medieval Bridge Chapel. The town's Norris Museum (free entry) “tells the story of Huntingdonshire from earliest times to the present day”; it is open daily (except Sundays in winter) until 4pm.
A relatively high proportion of this walk is on tarmac paths and lanes, with the whole route never more than 20 metres above sea level. Water meadows are obviously prone to flooding and so this walk may not be feasible in the winter months, or after very heavy rain.
The road layout around Huntingdon Station is changing in 2020, following the demolition of the viaduct which used to carry the A14 (the trunk road has been rerouted to bypass the town). If any diversions are necessary the route to the station should be signposted well enough at the end of the walk, but you might need to improvise a route onto Mill Common at the start.
You can save about 1¼ km by taking a short cut through Houghton Meadows. More simply, the Short Walk omits the entire loop around the meadows, saving 3½ km.
Conversely, you can extend the walk by 5½ km with a longer central section. After Houghton the Long Walk goes through two pretty villages which are only glimpsed from the other side of the river on the Main Walk; it continues on an attractive riverside path before crossing the town bridge into St Ives. Much of the the return route is on a level path on the other side of the river, with a contrasting stretch through a wooded bank above it.
Towards the end of any of the walk options a couple of short cuts going directly to Huntingdon station are briefly described, although missing out the historic town centre is not recommended.
Huntingdon is served by half-hourly Thameslink trains through central London (hourly on Sundays), taking about 1¼ hours from London Bridge and one hour from St Pancras.
There are several bus routes from St Ives to central Huntingdon, with some services continuing to the station. The most frequent is Stagecoach Busway B which runs every twenty minutes (hourly Sun & BH) along the A1123 to the north of Houghton. Dews Coaches runs an infrequent local service (45A, Mon–Fri) via Houghton & Wyton but there are no useful bus services in the Hemingfords.
If driving, the station car park at Huntingdon costs £3.60 after 10am Mon–Fri, £2.80 for a weekend ticket (2020).
Take the train nearest to 10:15 from St Pancras to Huntingdon for the Main Walk. If you are doing the Long Walk and are planning to have lunch at one of the later pubs, leave an hour earlier. To do the Short Walk as an afternoon walk (just stopping for tea at Houghton Mill), you could leave one or two hours later.
The suggested lunch stop is the Three Jolly Butchers (01480-463228) in Wyton, after 6½ km. This has a large garden and serves good home-cooked food. A little further on, the Three Horseshoes Inn (01480-462410) in Houghton's village square is a good alternative.
On the Long Walk there are two more options worth considering, allowing you to complete more of the walk before stopping. A third of the way round (after 8½ km) the Axe & Compass (01480-463605; closed Mon) in Hemingford Abbots is a friendly village pub with a large beer garden, serving good home-cooked food. The most up-market choice would be the National Pub of the Year 2019, The Cock (01480-463609) in Hemingford Grey (1 km further on), serving excellent food (not Mon, Tue) until at least 2.30pm.
If you take an earlier train you could stop for lunch halfway round the Long Walk in St Ives, but none of the places there have been checked.
In summer the Houghton Mill tearoom (01480-301494) is a convenient place to stop for tea, with its wholemeal scones being made from flour ground at the mill; it is open daily to 5pm from mid-March to September, Wed/Sat/Sun only in winter. There is also the tiny Houghton Tea Room (07894-950151; open to 4pm Wed–Fri, 3.30pm Sat & Sun) in the village square.
There are many refreshment places in St Ives for a mid-afternoon break on the Long Walk, such as the River Terrace Cafe (01480-468098) in its fine location right by St Ives bridge.
The suggested watering-hole at the end of the walk is the George Hotel (01480-432444) in George Street. This old coaching inn has a comfortable bar and a large open courtyard with a gallery (used for staging Shakespeare's plays). There are several other pubs and cafés in Huntingdon's town centre, plus a small buffet at the station.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
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- Main Walk (18½ km)
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- Make your way across Mill Common. At the back of Mill Common car park, take a path which goes via Castle Hills to Old Bridge. Go across a road junction into Riverside Park.
Arriving from London, cross the footbridge to leave the station via the ticket office on the far side. Do not turn left up the station approach road, but instead bear half-left up a tarmac path on the right-hand side of the station car park. Go out through a gate onto an open area, Mill Common.
As noted in the Introduction, there may be diversions in place here while the reconstruction work is going on.
- Follow a path across the common, directly away from the railway. After skirting the corner of some housing continue across another part of Mill Common, still heading roughly E. The path comes out onto the town's inner ring road, where you turn right to go alongside it.
Go past a road junction, crossing a minor road (Mill Common) and then passing a car park on the right. At the back of the car park turn right onto a footpath. Just before it comes out onto another minor road (Castle Hill), turn left onto an enclosed passageway. At the end continue on a tarmac path along the left-hand side of another open area, Castle Hills?.
- At the far end of Castle Hills a small detour up to the prominent beacon on your right would take you to an information panel about the area's history.
- The path out of Castle Hills leads back to the ring road. Bear right and follow it to traffic lights by the Old Bridge hotel. Cross the junction into Riverside Park and take the tarmac path down to the water's edge in front of Bridgefoot House, with a fine view of the medieval Old Bridge? and Riverside Mill (now converted into apartments) opposite.
- Go through Riverside Park and continue along a path to Hartford church, where the riverside path ends. After a short stretch on the B1514, cut through back roads to a bus and cycleway leading to the A1123 (Huntingdon Road).
- Head NE along the riverside path, which you will be following all the way through the park. In 400m you have to skirt around a children's playground. Continue between the playground and a large car park to pass to the right of Huntingdon Boat Club.
- In a further 1 km the path goes through a copse and emerges on Church Lane. Continue along the lane in the same direction, passing a small riverside car park on the right, to reach All Saints church?, Hartford. Go through the churchyard and out onto a lane leading away from the river.
- Go up to the B1514 and turn right, with the Barley Mow pub opposite. After 100m turn right into The Grove and follow this gravel road past houses, round a left-hand bend and out to a T-junction with a bus and cycleway. Turn right and follow this to the A1123 (Huntingdon Road).
- Just past the Marina take the bridleway leading away from the river. Follow it round to the right to continue parallel to the A1123 before turning back to meet it. Cross over the main road and take the residential street opposite (Ware Lane) into Wyton.
- Veer right onto a tarmac path running parallel to the A1123, screened by a row of trees. In 200m, at the entrance to Hartford Marina, turn left and carefully cross over the main road. Continue along the pavement for a short distance and then turn left onto a broad gravel track (signposted as a public bridleway) with a large flooded gravel pit behind trees on your left.
- After passing some large houses the bridleway narrows to a grassy path for a while, then turns right in front of overhead power lines and widens again. Head E along this broad grassy path, later with large fields on both sides.
- In 500m keep ahead where the path joins an unsurfaced track, and again where it joins a tarmac lane. Where the lane curves away to the right, however, keep ahead on a grassy path, with a water tower visible on the horizon on your left.
- The path gradually gets closer to the main road you left earlier and eventually swerves right to meet it. Cross the A1123 carefully and take the tarmac path on the other side (slightly to your left), which leads into a modern housing estate in Wyton.
- Go all the way down a residential street and turn left at its T-junction with Huntingdon Road. The suggested lunchtime pub on the Main Walk, the Three Jolly Butchers, is directly opposite.
If you are doing the Main Walk (with the loop around Houghton Meadows), go to §I.
Go into the neighbouring village of Houghton.
Join the Pathfinder Way and head south on Mill Street, also joining the Ouse Valley Way at Houghton Mill.
- On leaving the pub, turn right to continue along the road into the adjacent village of Houghton. The road bends right and leads into The Green?, with an unusual thatched clock tower in the centre.
- Go diagonally across the square, with an alternative lunch pub on your left, the Three Horseshoes Inn. On the far side the Houghton Tea Room is behind the statue of Potto Brown?.
For both the Long and Short Walk options bear right in front of the statue into Mill Street, heading S and briefly joining the Pathfinder Way?. After passing St Mary's church? the road turns left towards the National Trust car park for Houghton Mill and its tearoom.
- A short detour ahead at the left turn leads to a picturesque view of the mill across the water.
If you are doing the Short Walk (returning directly to Huntingdon), go to §J.
- Follow the path past the mill and cross the river at Houghton Lock. Continue on the Pathfinder Way across Hemingford Grey Meadow and go over another branch of the river at Black Bridge. Turn left and go along Common Lane into Hemingford Abbots.
- Take the path past the entrance to the mill in a covered passageway. After going over Houghton Mill Sluice the path turns right, passing an information panel for the Ouse Valley Way? (OVW). Follow it round to Houghton Lock and cross the footbridge there. On the other side there is a four-way signpost and a tarmac path across the meadow.
- For the Long Walk via St Ives keep ahead on the tarmac path. In 500m you cross a branch of the river on Black Bridge and continue on a lane. In 200m this comes to a T-junction where you turn left, leaving the Pathfinder Way.
Go along this road (Common Lane) into Hemingford Abbots, passing a number of attractive old cottages. In 500m keep left at a road junction to continue along the village High Street. At the junction with Church Lane is the next possible lunch stop, the Axe & Compass pub.
- A short detour along Church Lane would let you visit St Margaret's church? before continuing the walk.
- From the High Street take a footpath running close to the river into Hemingford Grey. Leave the village on Church Street and turn left onto a footpath heading north-east. Go along Meadow Lane to Hemingford Grey Meadow.
- Continue along the High Street for 150m, heading SE. After passing Manor Lane and a long half-timbered thatched cottage on your left, turn left onto a public footpath, signposted to the river and Hemingford Grey. After passing between houses go through a wooden gate and across a meadow.
- On the far side of the meadow go through two more gates onto a raised path alongside the river. As you continue along a short towpath into Hemingford Grey you pass an inconspicuous wooden gate on your right, the back entrance to Hemingford Manor Garden?. The path leads into the end of a lane (High Street).
- Veer left off the lane to continue on a signposted footpath alongside the river. At the end of this short path bear right into Church Street, perhaps after a quick visit to St James' church?. In 50m the alternative route joins from Church Lane on the right.
- Bear right and go along the village High Street for 175m. The Cock is on the left, at the junction with Church Lane. From the pub go all the way along Church Lane and turn right onto Church Street to rejoin the main route.
- 75m past the junction with Church Lane, turn left onto an enclosed footpath signposted to St Ives. In 300m go straight across a minor road onto Meadow Lane opposite, soon with occasional glimpses of lakes behind the trees on your right.
- At the end of this lane there are several metal fieldgates. Go straight ahead past the middle gate, then through a metal kissing gate into a corner of Hemingford Grey Meadow.
Take the alternative route in [?] if you want to visit the up-market pub in this village, The Cock.
Take any route across the meadow (the riverside path is suggested) to the far side. Go out onto Bridge Street and turn left into St Ives. Cross over the town bridge and turn right onto the quayside. Go along an alleyway (Free Church Passage) to Market Hill.
- For the suggested route turn left to head N along the edge of the meadow, later curving to the right to continue beside the river. St Ives? is up ahead across the river and you can see two of its tall church spires, as well as a long span of low brick arches heading off to the right; as you get closer you can see the town's old bridge, just beyond the far left-hand corner of the meadow.
- After you have passed the first church spire and are midway between the two, the path splits. You could continue alongside the river for a closer view of the town bridge, but for a more direct route fork right, aiming for the right-hand end of a low modern building. On the far side of the meadow pass to the right of a small marina in front of this building.
- Go through a broad passageway under part of the building (the Dolphin Hotel) and continue up to the road ahead, at the left-hand end of the low brick arches. Turn left onto the road (Bridge Street) and cross over the town bridge, passing the famous Bridge Chapel? in the middle.
Unless you are stopping at the River Terrace Cafe turn right onto The Quay, with a fine view of the bridge and the seven-storey Old Mill? a little way down the river.
- At the end of the quay a short detour ahead would take you to one of the town's pubs, the Oliver Cromwell.
To continue the walk turn left into Free Church Passage. This alleyway goes past the United Reformed Church (one of the spires seen on the approach to the town) and leads into Market Hill, with its prominent statue of Cromwell. Turn left to continue the walk.
If you want to abandon the walk, the town's bus station is just beyond the other end of Market Hill.
- If you want to abandon the walk, the town's bus station is just beyond the other end of Market Hill.
You could cross this large meadow on the public footpath, initially along its right-hand side and then bearing left towards the Dolphin Hotel, but the suggested route is to go around its left-hand side on a permissive path alongside the river: this slightly longer route provides a fine view of the town.
- Head north-west back along the Ouse Valley Way to Houghton Mill, initially along streets to The Waits and the parish church, then along the riverside path. At The Thicket a short detour along a parallel woodland path is suggested.
- Head NW out of Market Hill on a semi-pedestrianised street, soon passing Bridge Street on the left and the Royal Oak pub on the right: you are now back on the well-waymarked Ouse Valley Way, which you will be following (more or less) all the way to Godmanchester. Keep ahead where the street widens, passing a memorial to Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
- In a further 175m you pass the Norris Museum on your left, at the start of a little open space next to a backwater called The Waits. Where the road turns right at the far end, keep ahead on a broad tarmac path to reach All Saints church?, the other spire seen earlier.
Go past the church to find the continuation of the OVW by a white-painted footbridge leading onto Holt Island?.
- A detour around the island is recommended if the nature reserve is open. There is a circular route on boardwalks and grassy paths, with information panels and a fine view of the town from the far end.
- To resume the walk, go past the footbridge onto a tarmac path. In 300m fork left at a path junction. The tree-lined path now gradually approaches the main branch of the river and you might recognise your outward route on the opposite bank.
In 500m there is an information panel about The Thicket on your right. Unless the path through this small nature reserve looks too muddy, turn right onto a path climbing into this wood.
- If you stay on the OVW, resume the directions at [?].
- Take either fork where the woodland path splits. Where they rejoin turn left (off the left-hand path) onto a fairly level path parallel with the OVW at the bottom of the wood.
- Follow this woodland path for 500m, crossing a stream on a wooden bridge along the way. At the end of the wood veer left downhill and turn right at the bottom to rejoin the tarmac path.
- The OVW soon becomes a surfaced lane (Thicket Road). In the next 1 km ignore some tempting gates on the left leading into meadows (there are no useful alternative routes). Where the lane swings left and right at a staggered junction, ignore ways off to continue along the OVW for a further 300m, soon passing some magnificent trees in parkland on your right.
- Opposite the entrance to this parkland (and as the lane bends right) turn left onto a signposted footpath, alongside a wooden fence. At the end of this fence turn right onto an enclosed path running along the back of the houses on Thicket Road.
- In 200m go through a wooden gate on the left and follow a grassy path past a caravan site. Continue through a belt of trees and go diagonally across a field (used as an overflow car park by the National Trust) to the Houghton Mill tearoom on the far side.
Detour to the village square (+400m)
- Go past the mill entrance into Mill Street, which turns sharply right and goes past St Mary's church. Two places you passed earlier are in the village square at the end of this lane: the Houghton Tea Room and the Three Horseshoes Inn. Return the same way.
If you want to try an alternative place before the long stretch to Huntingdon town centre (7½ km away), follow the detour below.
Continue the directions at §J.
Head east on Thicket Road, then turn right into Sandy Lane and cross a bridge into Houghton Meadows. Make a clockwise circuit around the meadow, returning on the riverside path to Houghton Mill.
- For the Main Walk via Houghton Meadows bear left in front of the statue into Thicket Road, heading E. In 150m ignore footpaths on both sides as you pass the old Manor House on your right, then the Miller's House on your left.
- 200m later, where the road curves left, ignore another footpath off to the right. In a further 300m, as the road bends left, turn right onto a broad track (Sandy Lane).
Follow this unsurfaced lane S past the entrance to some old waterworks and then over a low embankment, the trackbed of an old railway line?. The lane curves left and crosses a wide bridge over a branch of the river. Go through a wooden kissing gate into Houghton Meadows.
- For the shortest possible route through these large meadows, head S with the hedge on your right. In 200m, just after a wide gap in the hedge, turn right to go across a footbridge and head W, with the spire of Hemingford Abbots church? ahead on your left. Turn right when you reach the main river and resume the directions at [?].
For the main route, head SE across the meadow, initially towards the tower of Hemingford Grey church? about 750m away. Where the river meanders away to your left continue in the same direction across the meadow, to meet it again after 300m. Keep right to come to another branch of the river in 200m.
- You could veer off to the left to the confluence of these two river channels, but there is not a great deal to be gained by this little out-and-back extension.
- To start your return journey turn right along the river bank, initially heading SW and later W. In 500m you cross a stile and go past Six Gates Weir, where the main branch of the River Great Ouse joins. The riverside path continues to curve right and by the time you reach a hedge after another 500m you are heading N.
- Go over a footbridge and continue alongside the river. In 250m cross a bridge at Trout Stream Weir and go past some rotting timber supports, all that remains of an old railway bridge across the river. Go across another footbridge at Stone Gull Weir and bear left.
After crossing a green-painted bridge over another backwater turn left, staying close to the stream. After one more footbridge you go through a wooden kissing gate by a NT sign for Houghton Mill, passing a caravan site on your right. Continue alongside the large millpond to the Houghton Mill tearoom.
- Cross the river south of the mill and follow the Ouse Valley Way. This goes alongside the river as far as Hartford Marina, then veers left to go through a Nature Reserve and eventually under the A1307 into Godmanchester.
- For the route back to Huntingdon do not take the tarmac path but turn right to head W alongside the river, staying on the OVW. In 600m, after crossing Houghton Four Gate Sluice, bear left across the meadow on a grassy path towards a bridge over another branch of the river. Cross the bridge and turn right to go alongside the water.
- In 250m, where the channel curves off to the right, keep ahead across the grass towards a gate in the hedge ahead. Go through the hedge and keep ahead across the meadow towards another hedge, with the main river behind it. Veer left in front of the hedge to walk along the edge of the meadow (the overgrown path on the other side of the hedge is not recommended).
- In 500m, having negotiated a few field boundaries along the way, you pass the entrance to Hartford Marina on the far side of the river. Follow the grassy path as it curves gently left towards a metal kissing gate on the far side of the meadow. Cross the footbridge here, go through another gate and follow the path to the right.
- After making your way through a rather overgrown area cross another footbridge into Godmanchester Nature Reserve?, with the entrance to another (private) reserve off to your right. Keep ahead through a metal gate to go along a potentially muddy area of churned-up ground, with a backwater behind an avenue of poplars on your right.
- Continue along a clear grassy path through the reserve, with the first of several large flooded gravel pits on your left and the spire of Godmanchester church visible 2 km ahead. After going through the second of two metal gates you come to another flooded pit and turn right to walk around its edge.
- In 500m the path crosses a plank bridge over a ditch and goes through another kissing gate, leaving the reserve. Turn half-left to head S across a field and go up a low embankment on the far side, the trackbed of the old railway line? passed earlier on the Main Walk.
- Turn right and go along the raised path for 300m, then turn left as indicated. Cross a bridge flanked by two metal gates to go along the left-hand edge of a field. After another gate and bridge fork right to head towards a main road, with yet another large flooded pit on your left.
As you reach the A1307, follow the path as it veers left and right to go underneath it. On the other side keep ahead across the grass, passing a cricket pitch on your left and then houses on your right, to reach a tarmac path on the outskirts of Godmanchester.
- If you want to take a short cut along roads into Huntingdon, turn right onto this path and keep ahead when you reach a minor road. Turn right at a T-junction and follow the B1043 back under the A1307. Cross the River Great Ouse on a footbridge alongside Old Bridge and go straight ahead at the busy junction with the town's ring road, crossing over your outward route. This leads directly to the town centre via the pedestrianised High Street. Complete the directions at [?] in §L.
- Go through St Mary's churchyard and over the Chinese Bridge by the old Town Council buildings. Go alongside a stretch of water to Godmanchester Lock, then veer right across Portholme Meadow. Go across Alconbury Brook to Mill Common on the outskirts of Huntingdon.
- Turn left onto the path and almost immediately fork right towards St Mary's church?. Enter the churchyard and take the tarmac path on its left-hand side, passing Mary Ann Weems' gravestone after 20m. Leave the churchyard by its main gate and go down Chadley Lane to a road junction.
- Turn right and carefully cross the main road at the mini-roundabout. Cross the small courtyard opposite (with its historic Town Council buildings) and go over the white-painted Chinese Bridge on the far side.
- On the other side of this attractive bridge, turn left and follow the path alongside a wide stretch of water. The path crosses Godmanchester Main Sluice and then two weirs. At Godmanchester Lock, go over a footbridge and through a gate into Portholme Meadow.
- You will be leaving this large meadow 1 km away to the right, near the left-hand end of a row of modern houses. At the time of writing the clearest route was to keep ahead for about 100m and then turn right – finally leaving the OVW – onto a broad grassy path heading N, but these paths may not be a permanent feature.
On the far side of the meadow cross Alconbury Brook on a wide concrete bridge and keep ahead on a road (Mill Common), with the common itself ahead on your left.
- If you want to skip the town centre you can simply retrace your outward route across Mill Common back …
For the suggested route via the historic town centre, cross the ring road and go along Princes Street to Market Square. On the far side turn left into George Street and continue along the B1514 to reach the station.
Go up to the junction with the ring road. Cross this busy road carefully and go along Princes Street, passing the bus station on your left and the town sign (of Cromwell) on your right.
- You could go through a shopping precinct on the right to the pedestrianised High Street, but the shortest route is to continue along this road to the town centre.
- As you enter Market Square the Town Hall is behind you and the Cromwell Museum is in the old building to the right of All Saints church?.
- The suggested refreshment place in the town centre (the George Hotel) is behind the church, in George Street. Either go between the church and the museum and turn left, or cut through the small churchyard.
To complete the walk head W along George Street to its junction with the ring road. Cross over at the traffic lights and keep ahead on the B1514. In 300m turn left down the approach road
to the station. Through trains to London leave from Platform 2, on the near side.
» Last updated: October 7, 2020