Holywell circular walk

Like a walk full of history? View a holy well dating from pre-Christian times. Wander through a most beautiful Anglo-Saxon ring village. Relax in the oldest pub in England, complete with ghost. Pass where Hereward the Wake fled William the Conqueror a thousand years ago.

Amble through woodland and open countryside. Skirt hedges full of dog rose blossoms. Look out for green woodpeckers. Wander through clouds of damselflies, dragonflies, and butterflies. Pass by ancient willows. Look over the Ouse Fen, admire a 19th century lockup. Picnic at a perfect resting spot, or have a pub lunch with one of the most perfect views.

You have the option to vary the route between 3 miles (6,600 steps) and 5 miles (11,000 steps). Good points of the walk are through woodland, field edges and a hedge-lined flood bank. Includes the Anglo-Saxon ring village of Holywell. Quiet places to sit and rest. Food available, or have a picnic. Wildlife and historical interest. Can be very muddy in winter through point 1. 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
Park in Millfield car park beside the allotments, half way between Needingworth and Holywell  Walk to the back of the car park where a stile indicates the start of the walk.

The path passes through a copse, in spring full of crab apple blossom as shown in the image below. As you come out of the copse you'll notice many attractively leafed trees and bright red rowan berries. Follow the route around playing fields.

After almost half a mile the track ends at a T junction with a large field facing you. Turn left, walking on the far side of the hedge along the field, full of birds and dog rose blossom in summer.

Point 1
Just over 200 yards and the route turns right along the bottom of the field and through an area full of wild flowers. Note the ancient willows in the hedge to the left.

The path continues for 300 yards and then turns right to take you along the opposite side of the field. If you like walnuts this is a good spot to visit in autumn. There are several mature walnut trees half way along the field edge.

You'll come out onto Mill Road. Turn left towards Holywell. A further 160 yards and the road bends to the  left. Turn right into Back Lane, following the sign to the church. 

The village is one of the best examples of an Anglo Saxon ring village. It's thought the settlement formed from the widening of a track through forest that covered the area. Dwellings were built around the edge, with the centre used to keep livestock.

Follow the road around to the left.

Point 2
As you head for the church, just before passing through the church gate you might catch a gorgeous scent if you're doing this walk in spring. It's from a large ornamental blackcurrant bush on your right, even more fragrant after a shower of rain.

St John the Baptist church dates from the 13th century, although there has been a church on the side since at least 990AD. The tower is believe to have been taken from Ramsey Abbey in the 16th century. As you enter the church grounds there's a seat under trees to the right, well worth pausing at to appreciating the peace and quiet. You might see a green woodpecker feeding on ants.

Follow the path through the church grounds.

Point 3
The village takes its name from the holy well located at the front of the church. A natural spring, it's one of several that rise along Holywell front, water seeping under a gravel bank where it meets underlying clay. The well, in use for more than two thousand years, is reputed to have healing properties.

As you exit the grounds there's an opportunity to take a small detour and sit in the beautifully tended wildflower garden below the well, shown above. The most perfect place to have a picnic. Just to the left of this area on a warm sunny day you might find clouds of dragonflies enjoying the damp air that rises from springs in the field.

Walk down the road to Holywell front. You'll pass Goodyers, a beautiful 17th century farmhouse. The houses along the front are built on a gravel bank several feet above the flood plain. The Great Ouse can flood half way up the bank in front of the houses in winter, as shown in the image below. This aspect must be one of the most attractive views of any village in Cambridgeshire, with buildings dating from as early as the 16th century.

Point 4
At the end of Holywell front you'll find the Old Ferry Boat Inn, which claims to be the oldest pub in England. Alcohol has been sold from this location as early as 560AD. The foundations of the current building date from about 660AD, the building itself from the 17th century.

The pub is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a young girl named Juliet Tewsley, who committed suicide in 1050 after being jilted by her lover. A stone slab in the pub is thought to be the location of her grave. The ghost is said to appear every year on 17 March.

In past years the pub had the right to operate a ferry across the river to Fen Drayton. It is reputed that Hereward the Wake used the ferry to escape from William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Since Hereward had his stronghold on the Isle of Ely, there is a ring of truth to this.

The location of the pub and its interior make it a very pleasant spot to stop for coffee or lunch, particularly if you can get a seat on the terrace overlooking the river. Just a pity it doesn't get better reviews on Trip Advisor. There are more food options if you take the longer version of the route.

The shorter version of the route is indicated from this point on by a dotted line. Follow the road up the side of the Old Ferry Boat Inn. As the road turns left you'll pass Moynes Hall, a 17th century farmhouse. Even the garden wall is listed, being the best part of 400 years old. As you continue along the road you'll pass many pleasant cottages, until you return to where you entered the village. Turn right and retrace your steps along the road back to the car park.

To take the longer version of the walk, follow the path that's effectively an extension of Holywell front, leading past the terrace of the Old Ferry Boat Inn. This takes you along the Ouse Valley Way. Walk up and follow the footpath along the top of the bank that runs for the whole of this section of the route, from where there's a good view of the surrounding countryside. You'll find the surrounding trees and hedges full of insect and bird life.

The flood bank, shown below, is a bit of a puzzle, since this section is some distance from the Great Ouse. The river has varied its path, so the bank was probably constructed many centuries ago. It was certainly here in the mid 1800s and there are some ancient willow trees at various points along the field edges to the right.

Point 5
After just over a mile the flood bank ends and you arrive at the entrance to the grounds of the Pike and Eel. There's a better selection of food here, though the reviews on Trip Advisor are pretty average. You can relax in the grounds with a drink, watching boats drift by on the Great Ouse.

Continue the walk by heading up Overcote Lane away from the Pike and Eel. After 150 yards take the footpath to the right to wander between hedges and trees.

Point 6
About half way along this section you'll see the Ouse Fen to the right, a project by the RSPB and others to turn this area into a wetland reserve for birds. To view a map of the Fen, click here.

After half a mile the footpath bends to the right. Just before this you should turn left and rejoin Overcote Lane. Turn right to head towards Needingworth.

Point 7
Just over half a mile brings you to the top of Overcote Lane, where it meets the High Street and the centre of Needingworth. Much of the village dates from the latter half of the 19th century. A fire in 1847 burned down most houses in the village. There's a final choice for a meal or refreshments at the Queens Head, which gets excellent reviews on Trip Advisor.

Turn left and left again to head down Church Street. You'll pass a 19th century lockup.

Half a mile and you're back at your start point.

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?


  1. The walk is really good and many thanks. Ignore comments about the pub in Holywell it's really good food at very good prices. Staff were great too so what could be wrong with that?

    1. Anonymous10:06 pm

      Fair enough... happy to record that.