Houghton Mill via The Thicket

This walk never fails to fascinate. Early spring it's full of flowering blackthorns, looking like wedding confetti. Summer is verdant, bustling with life. At any time of the year you'll see something of interest. With options to vary the route and a great halfway stopover, what's not to like?

Pass the site of kilns used to make bricks for the New Bridges causeway. Wander along The Thicket path, bright green and full of birdsong. Pass by medieval ridge and furrow meadows bursting with wildflowers so rare, they've been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Look out for muntjac deergreen woodpeckers and jays.


This route of just under 3 miles (8,300 steps) is easy walking along footpaths and a quiet lane. In winter can be muddy around Point 4. Keep an eye out for speeding cyclists silently approaching from behind along The Thicket path from the start to Point 3. 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

If you've brought the car, park for free in the St Ivo Indoor Sports Centre car park. Walk away from the car park, back into Westwood Road and the direction you entered. At the tight right and left bend head away from the road, down the path leading to the Scouts' building.

At the end turn right along The Thicket path. It pays to occasionally look behind to anticipate the approach of cyclists. Although most are careful and will sound their bell, a few inconsiderate cyclists silently pass at speed, which can be a bit disconcerting. Be particularly careful if accompanied by children.

Along the path and on your right you'll pass several areas of vaguely semicircular land set back a few yards from the path edge. These are the sites of brick kilns, where over one million bricks were made for the New Bridges causeway that leads away from St Ives bridge. Clay was dug from the surrounding land, made into bricks and loaded onto lighters to be floated down to the wharf by The Dolphin HotelA few yards further and there are open views across Hemingford Meadow.

Point 1
After about 500 yards you walk through three bollards and pass a bench on your left. Just after this on your right is the information board for The Thicket. If in no hurry, turn right and walk up the incline. The detour will bring you back onto The Thicket main path a third of a mile further up. To access a map and information about The Thicket, click here.

Houghton Meadows
Point 2
Just over 300 yards beyond the edge of The Thicket you arrive at Houghton Meadows on your left. The Meadows, pictured above, are a rare example of ancient grassland, designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of both their botanical and historical interest. Stunning in late spring and early summer, the three meadows are full of insects and wild flowers.

Awash with golden yellow buttercups, you'll also see purple great burnet, yellow rattle, white meadowsweet, lemon cowslips and violet-blue meadow cranesbill. The star of the show is the green winged orchid, nationally scarce. More common but no less attractive is wedgewood blue veronica. On a warm day tread carefully and you might catch a grass snake sunning itself along the meadow's edge. Also worth noting are the archaeological ridge and furrow patterns of agriculture, evidence of ploughing by oxen up to the 1600s.

To walk around the meadows, follow the track to the right across the top corner of Grove Close, around the back of a copse. Walk into Far Close and turn left to walk down the lefthand side. At the bottom turn left, back into Grove Close. Follow the path along the bottom, up the far side and along the top of the close to return to the entrance.

To continue the walk, follow what has now become a narrow lane for a third of a mile.

Point 3
There's a slight rise in the path and an S bend. Take the track to the left through a metal gate and down Meadow Lane. The fields on either side are often stocked with alpacas, particularly inquisitive if close to the fence.

After 360 yards and before a slight upward incline, take the footpath to the right. It's worth pausing for a few minutes to observe the boggy area facing you for signs of wildlife, as shown below.

Follow the path to the left and then right, with the boggy area on your right. The bank to the left is the route of the old St Ives to Huntingdon railway. After just under 300 yards follow the route around to the right.


Point 4
The footpath then turns left, skirting a wooded area with some very old willow trees. A few yards further and there's a tributary of the Old Mill Stream. Railway sleeper supports are visible, left from when the railway went up and over the River Great Ouse. A few yards further there's a bridge to the left, worth peering over to watch fish lazily swimming. Another short distance and you'll find a beach for kids to paddle.

Follow the track through a field and beyond a turnstile with a caravan site on your right. To the left is a short detour of a few yards, a track constructed towards the river which is especially interesting for children.

Walk along the riverside path to Houghton Mill and the mill pond. In summer this area is a favourite with families. You can picnic on the grassy area and it's safe to swim in the mill pond. Built in the 18th century, the Mill is still in working order and tours are available on open days.


Point 5
Just beyond the grassy area is Houghton Mill Tearoom. Certainly worth a visit. One of summer's treats, to sit out on one of the picnic benches with a cream tea overlooking the mill pond.

To continue the route walk across the carpark opposite the tearoom and take the track that shirts the top end of the caravan park. This brings you to a turnstile. Walk through and take the narrow lane facing you. You come out onto The Thicket Road.

Opposite is Rose Cottage, a tiny 17th century thatched cottage. Admire Houghton Manor on your left. Built in 1905, the attention to style detail is amazing.

Turn right to walk along The Thicket Road. About 250 yards brings you to The Elms. Built in 1868 by Potto Brown for his son, in late winter and early spring the gardens are bursting with snowdrops, winter aconites and daffodils. The gardens also contain some magnificent trees. The stars are tall sequoias, amongst the world's tallest trees and biggest living organisms by volume.

A further 340 yards and you're back at Point 3. Follow the route back to the start point at  the sports centre car park.

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?

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