Sunday, 15 October 2017

Along The Great Ouse

The valley of the River Great Ouse between Huntingdon and St Ives is a very desirable place to live with a handful of extremely attractive villages. Everything is civilised and prosperous, paths are well sign-posted and maintained, perhaps just a little too manicured in parts - come with me and have a look.

We'll start on the Quay in St Ives with its view of the old bridge which dates from 1425. The building in the middle of the bridge is a chapel which in its day had a spiritual as well as a practical purpose. Travellers could stop and say a prayer before their journey or give thanks for safe completion of their travels. And they could at the same time pay the toll for using the bridge. In medieval times many bridges were built and maintained by the monasteries, so a single monk installed in the chapel could both bless the traveller and relieve him of some of his money.

We then enter the huge Hemingford Meadow which stretches nearly a mile along the southern bank of the Ouse. It floods every winter and when the temperature drops sufficiently becomes the biggest ice-rink in the country.

Into Hemingford Grey with its very peculiar truncated church spire. The spire is said to have been blown into the river by a hurricane in 1741 - and they haven't got around to replacing it yet!

The Manor, which was built in the 1130s, is reckoned to be the oldest continuously inhabited building in England. Although it's been added to and repaired over the centuries a surprising amount of the original building still remains. It was used as the model for Greene Knowe by Lucy Boston in her series of children's books. She lived at the Manor for over 50 years and was responsible for developing the beautiful garden.

A path through more riverside meadows leads into the next village, Hemingford Abbots.

The centre of the village is a conservation area with many thatched and historic buildings, including the Axe & Compass pub. No we can't; it's too early!

Lets go into the church instead. 
The elegant spire is a landmark for miles around and inside there are some interesting features too, including an old oaken roof with carved angels. They've all had their photos taken and some of them stand a good chance of appearing in this blog in the future. But for now we'll continue on our way.

Our path turns down a side street then crosses more meadows and a couple of strands of the river, which divides and forms several watercourses across the wide floodplain. We are making our way to Houghton Mill, an old watermill in the care of the National Trust. Unfortunately right now that care includes covering the whole structure with scaffolding as the building is in need of some gentle restoration.

If you want to see what the Mill should look like then you could do worse than to pop into Houghton church and look at the stained glass window that was installed to mark the millennium. 

It's another quaint and fascinating collection of old buildings, every bit as picturesque as those in Hemingford Abbots, even if it doesn't have such a melodic name. From here we turn around and make our meandering way, along the north side of the river, back to St Ives.

A path leads all around Battcock's Island, a parcel of land completely surrounded by rivers and streams, and used as grazing land. The views back across the river towards the Hemingfords are as choice as any in lowland England. If John Constable had been born here rather than in Suffolk his pictures would have been much the same.

Meet three girls. Just part of the team who work so hard keeping the grass short and well fertilised.

There are peaceful little waterways hiding away shyly all over this landscape.

We have to leave the river now and take a lane known as the Thicket Path, a very minor road which can only be used for access. And as there's nothing much down here anyway that's very little traffic at all.

Then suddenly and unexpectedly we're back with our old friend, the River Great Ouse, sun glinting off its mirrored surface as it sidles quietly towards St Ives.

Back in St Ives, this slender bridge leads over the river to Holt Island, a tiny but well-maintained nature reserve. Just time to wander over to see if anything's about.

Almost immediately I spotted this little chap and, remarkably enough, he sat around long enough to pose for a photo. It's actually a Grey Squirrel, albeit a black one or a melanistic individual. This strain is becoming increasingly numerous throughout this area.

And that's the end of the walk for today.

Walker's Log:

    Start: St Ives, Cambridgeshire 09:20
    End: St Ives, Cambridgeshire 14:05
    Distance walked: 8 miles (13 Km) 
    Notable birds: Buzzard, Green Woodpecker, Goldcrest. 
    Mammals: melanistic Grey Squirrel.
    Farm animals: Sheep, Cows, Horses, Alpacas. 
    Churches: St Ives (locked), Hemingford Grey, Hemingford Abbots, Houghton.
    People with dogs: 8
    Dogs with people: 10
    People just enjoying a walk: about 40 or so.
    Cyclists: 2
    Horse riders: 1

Take care.


  1. Looks like you had a beautiful day for your walk. Seeing all the old buildings does take one's mind off the issues in the daily news. The Ouse is a charming river with a very strange name.

    1. The "very strange name", which is pronounced the same as "ooze" by the way, derives from a Celtic word, Usa, which just means "water". There are four different rivers with the same name in England. There are also other rivers called Esk, Exe and Usk which come from the same root.

  2. I'd love to see inside those buildings you featured! John, especially the oldest one. I really enjoyed your walk.

  3. 40 you say John.. good to see people out and about enjoying what I would call a quintessential English walk on the perfect autumn day, even though we didn't get to stop at the pub for a wee dram ☺

  4. Hi John - delightful ... I haven't been to that area, though slightly further west ... it is lovely countryside -I have to admit to delight in see your girls!! Wonderful area to live - cheers Hilary

  5. And a delightful walk it is too John.

  6. Lovely scenes and serenity...

  7. I enjoyed walking with you as I looked at the photos. The town and surroundings are picture-perfect!

  8. Another wonderful walk. The Manor is gorgeous, though I am not a fan of the topiary in the foreground. And, you are right, Constable came to mind on seeing that tall steeple.

  9. Always enjoy your walks around the English countryside. Seems so peaceful, even at this distance.

  10. Loved the walk! You mention St. Ives and my mother immediately springs to mind, (and my grandmother) with their tale about going to St. Ives and meeting a man with seven wives, and each wife had seven ? I have forgotten the rest, but am going to google it!!

    1. As I was going to St. Ives,
      I met a man with seven wives,
      Each wife had seven sacks,
      Each sack had seven cats,
      Each cat had seven kits:
      Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
      How many were there going to St. Ives?

  11. What a fabulous walk. The villages are so picturesque. The gardens and water courses so green and lush. A beautiful part of England. Your photos are super too.

  12. That is such a beautiful journey. Your photos make me want to travel to England and visit this place. Maybe I could even live in The Manor!

  13. A wonderful walk John. The scenery was magical along with your words. A beautiful area with lots of history. Thank you for the tour, I enjoyed it.

  14. Great series! I forget that buildings and bridges can be that old. And those three cows at the water barrel made me laugh.

  15. I'm always so envious that you have that many places to wander. You certainly know your background material and do a great job on filling us in as we walk along. The rivers and waterways fascinate me too. ----and , of course, the birds! Something for everyone.

  16. I love your walks John. The church spire made me smile, I don’t feel so bad about not getting round to doing some of my jobs!! Oh now the Manor, yes I could see myself living happily there! I like the girls. Wow, that handsome squirrel, we only have the grey ones here. I like your walker’s log, very interesting.

  17. I love some of these view...well, all of them. Some a bit more than others. And I love that old leaning tree in one of the photos.


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