Houghton to Godmanchester Nature Reserve

This walk has all the favourite features you'd want. Hidden leafy lanes leading to a beautiful historic village. Swanky houses and riverside boat homes to dream about. A nature reserve bursting with insect and bird life. Take sandwiches to while away time in a great observation cabin as shown below. Or have a cream tea beside beautiful Houghton Mill.

How about being surrounded by insect-chasing swifts? Might spot the flash of a kingfisher. You're more likely to hear rather than see an elusive bittern. Keep an eye out for bearded tits and long tailed tits, great crested grebes, cormorants, even an otter. Wander by a 17th century mill, admire a 15th century yeoman farmer's house. Maybe spot mediaeval mattress stuffing. Try the walk late in the day and you might see a murmuration of starlings.

Godmanchester Nature Reserve

Good points of this 4 miles (8,800 steps) walk are easy walking through villages, meadows, woodland and riverside. Plenty of wildlife and historical interest. The walk ends with options for refreshments, or take sandwiches for a picnic. In winter parts can be muddy, and if the Great Ouse is in flood parts of the walk are impassible. 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
Drive down St Ives Road heading into Houghton and turn almost immediately right to park in the recreation ground car park. Walk out of the car park, cross the road and turn right to walk towards Houghton.

After 30 yards turn left into Home Farm Road. Another 150 yards, turn right into The Lanes, a narrow track between the houses. Follow this hidden and delightful footpath for 300 yards into the centre of Houghton, keeping roughly straight on.

You'll come out beside Rose Cottage, a tiny 17th century thatched cottage on the Thicket. Admire The Manor on the opposite side of the road, built in 1905. The attention to style detail is amazing. Head down the alleyway opposite Rose Cottage. At the bottom pass through the stile and cross the caravan park. At the far side turn right.

Point 1
Walk up past the National Trust cafe and turn left to pass under Houghton Mill, a National Trust property well worth a visit if open. There has been a mill on this site for over 1,000 years. The current building dates from the 17th century.

Follow the footpath round to go over Houghton Lock. Walk across the flood meadow to the Black Bridge (no longer black, replaced by a much more modern affair). Continue up Meadow Lane into Hemingford Abbots.

Point 2
At the T junction turn right up Common Lane. Time to do a bit of dreaming as you walk past some of the most expensive houses in Cambridgeshire. After almost 600 yards pass through the stile and continue walking up the path between common fields as shown above.

This area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It displays prominent ridge and furrow features and many anthills. In summer you'll find wild grasses and flowers. Keep an eye out for lady's bedstraw, used to stuff mediaeval mattresses because when dried it smells of newly mown hay, or the increasingly rare meadow saxifrage. On your right is the disused railway track from Godmanchester to St Ives, a shady alternative to walk along if the sun is too hot.

Point 3
After half a mile you come to Cow Lane. Turn right and after a few yards left into Godmanchester Nature Reserve. In 2014 Cambridgeshire County Council proposed to build yet another access road to the A14 straight across the reserve. The outcry this caused appears to have beaten off the threat. Recently purchased by The Wildlife Trust, the reserve has just completed major work to improve the habitat and access paths.

Keep an eye out for the flash of a kingfisher around the lake edges. There are heaps of butterflies and dragonflies. Bearded tits are an endangered species. You may hear the remarkable booming call of a bittern. The discarded remains of pike and bream are an indication of otters feeding. Look for a green plover or snipe on the scrapings around the main lake. How about one of the most spectacular bird sights just before sunset, a murmuration of starlings? And if all that wasn't enough, there's a brand new observation hut to peacefully peer at the birdlife over the main lake. 

Follow the footpath as it turns right after 250 yards

Point 4
A further 200 yards will bring you to a path off to the left. It's worthwhile pausing to peer over the peaceful lake through the fence to your right, where a bittern has been heard.

Continuing the walk, you can see the observation hut straight ahead. It's a tranquil place to have some sandwiches while watching the wildlife. The hedge running in front of the hut is full of blackberry flowers and fruit in summer and autumn, a magnet for birds and insects.

Coming out of the observation hut, turn left to continue walking further along the trail.

Houghton to Godmanchester Nature Reserve
Point 5
After almost 500 yards turn right. keeping the stream on your left. This part of the route is full of butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies in summer. Follow the path through meadows and beside various tributaries of the Great Ouse, as shown above, for almost a mile, climbing two foot bridges. As you cross the fields in summer swifts fly speedily just above grass level chasing insects, sometimes appearing to be on a collision course to hit you.

The path then skirts the Great Ouse itself. Opposite you see some fine cruising boats at Hartford Marina. Wouldn't it be great to live on a floating home with terrace on the roof? Keep an eye out for great crested grebes, cormorants and more common water fowl on the river.

A third of a mile brings you back to Houghton Lock. Follow the path to Houghton Mill. Beyond the Mill and to the right is Houghton Mill Tearoom, with its idyllic location of picnic tables overlooking the mill pond. The cream tea is delicious, the savoury version not far behind. On sunny summer weekends the mill pond is full of bathers, with families picnicking on the surrounding grass.

Point 6
Continue by walking up Mill Street into Houghton village square. Why not have a wander around Houghton village? It's of Anglo Saxon origin, with evidence of settlement as early as Neolithic times. There are many fine listed buildings in the village. The magnificent, but less than perpendicular, timber framed cottage overlooking the square is the village's oldest house, dating from the 15th century. It was originally a yeoman farmer's house, subsequently the George and Dragon public house. The Clock Tower in the centre of the village square is another favourite stopping point to watch peaceful village life pass by. 

To return to your start point walk up St Ives Road, past The Three Horseshoes public house.

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? Who not add a comment below to tell fellow amblers what you liked about it?


  1. Lovely walk but still a bit muddy just before and around Hartford Marina after the recent rains. Saw a seal in the oxbow lake opposite and bit further down from Hartford marina towards Houghton.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, James. Glad you enjoyed the walk. The route was pretty dry last week. Sorry the recent rain made it a bit tricky. Regards, John

  2. Leana9:30 pm

    I'm an independant wheelchair user. Were at houghton alot on the river and normally do the walk from Houghton to St Ives
    Is the nature reserve route fairly accessible? (not gravel or kissing gates - their a nightmare to get through!)

    1. Anonymous6:17 am

      Hi Leana... The route is not viable via a wheelchair. Beyond the nature reserve there are four footbridges to cross, three of which have gates on both ends which I don't think are wheelchair-friendly, and the footpaths are uneven and sometimes hemmed in by vegetation. There is also a gate at the entry to the reserve which is wheelchair friendly, but I think it has to be opened by arrangement or with a key.

      The route is worthwhile if you just follow beyond Common Lane into the common field beyond, and then return from there. There are two gates to tackle, but I think both allow horse riders through so I guess you should be okay with those.

      Thinking about the route has made me realise just how many problems a wheelchair users faces. I generally walk each route to check nothing has change since my last visit. I'v made a note for myself to try and think wheelchair users and publish a list of the walks on the website which are wheelchair friendly.

      Regards, John


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