Holywell to Needingworth via the Pike & Eel

Like a walk full of history? Wander through a most beautiful Anglo-Saxon ring village. 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 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. Have a pub lunch with a most perfect view at the oldest pub in England, complete with ghost. Various spots to picnic.


Good points of this 4 miles (8,800 steps) walk are along field edges hedge-lined flood bank and woodland. Includes the Anglo-Saxon ring village of Holywell, shown above. Quiet places to sit and rest. Food available, or have a picnic. Wildlife and historical interest. Can be muddy in winter.


Starting point
Park in Millfield car park beside the allotments, half way between Needingworth and Holywell  Walk out of the car park and turn left.

After a third of a mile you reach Holywell, 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. The layout remains, of a track circling dwellings with common ground in the middle.

Follow the road around to the left. You pass many pleasant cottages until, as the road turns right, you pass Moynes Hall, a 17th century farmhouse. Even the garden wall is listed, being the best part of 400 years old. Follow the road right and down a slight incline.

Point 1
You arrive at Holywell front. 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, as shown 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.


On the left facing the River Great Ouse is 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 operated 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.

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 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 certainly existed in the mid 1800s and there are some ancient willow trees at various points along the field edges to the right.


Point 2
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, and the reviews on Trip Advisor seem to be improving. 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 3
About half way along this section you'll see the Ouse Fen to the right, as shown below, beneath a dramatic sky. The project by the RSPB and others aims 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 4
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 further and you're back at your start point.

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