May walks

Continuing our weekly walking project – for the first time we’ve crossed the Cambridgeshire border. And with lockdown rules relaxing, we’ve even made it to the pub!

Weekly walking project

We’re aiming to complete and document 52 different circular in and around Cambridgeshire – enough for one each week of the year. And this month we’ve made it halfway to that target. The full list is here.

Here are May’s walks…

7 May – Mildenhall – West Row – Worlington

7.6 miles. Walk 16 in Suffolk Circular Walks. Following the River Lark (with enforced detour!) from Mildenhall to West Row, crossing the river and returning via Worlington.

We branched out to the Suffolk Circular Walks book for the first time in what are now our weekly Friday walks, heading just over half an hour up the road to Mildenhall. We had a little initial trouble, as the start of the walk has changed very slightly since the book was written and we then found that the footbridge near the old mill was closed, necessitating a detour and some experimentation (visible on the route-map below!) to find a way through. All of this added getting-on for a mile to the route. It did, though, take us past the huge Mildenhall church – an impressive landmark in an otherwise routine town centre.

The nicest part of this walk is the path alongside the meandering River Lark through the meadows as it leaves the town. As the path separates from the river and heads towards West Row, the edge of the nearby US airbase appears on the horizon, and we were continually overflown by two weird-looking aircraft on practice manoeuvres of some sort.

From West Row, the walk swung back over the river across farmland to Worlington – heavily poster-boarded in protest at a proposed solar farm. Here, we stumbled upon the Walnut Tree pub and, after months of writing on this blog about how various pubs might make a good post-lockdown pitstop, we actually stopped, asked for a table, and had lunch and a beer. Our first spontaneous pub visit for over a year made the rest of the stroll back to Mildenhall even more pleasant!


14 May – St Neots to Little Paxton nature reserve

8 miles. Walk 16 in Cambridgeshire Circular Walks. Out and back from St Neots along the Great Ouse to Little Paxton plus a circuit of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve.

We headed half an hour in the opposite direction to last week, to the other side of the county at St Neots, on the Bedfordshire border. I primarily know St Neots as the place where the A428 meets the A1 – a big road junction on any journey west. One thing I’m enjoying about this series of walks is how it is shifting my understanding of local geography, from being entirely based on our modern road system towards a greater appreciation of older connections, like our rivers. This was yet another dander along the banks of the Great Ouse – following previous walks at St Ives, Willingham, Ely, Fen Drayton, and Over – and at Mepal, where we walked the New Bedford River, which is a bypass channel of the Great Ouse.

The Great Ouse at St Neots

Having first lived in Cambridge when I moved to this part of the world, and with my work and social life focused on the city, ‘the river’ has always meant the Cam. But actually the river of the Fens, its main artery, is the Great Ouse. Even though it passes within a couple of miles of our house in Cottenham, it slinks rather unobtrusively between the surrounding villages, so I hadn’t previously paid it much attention, and have always been a bit vague about its route.

Today, my education continued as we followed the Great Ouse out from St Neots to Little Paxton across the meadows, on a path which was just slightly marshy in places after recent rain; this bit of the walk might be difficult (and possibly flooded) in winter. But it’s a pleasant route, albeit that the not-too-distant roar of the A1 distracts somewhat from the peace-and-quiet. At Little Paxton, the walk enters the Paxton Pits nature reserve – another of Cambridgeshire’s former-quarry-pits-turned-wildlife-havens (see previous walks at Fen Drayton and Milton). It’s a mix of wooded and open-meadow paths alongside lakes and the river – attractive countryside walking, and the road noise drops off significantly here. Having circled the reserve and walked through Little Paxton village, we retraced our outward route back to St Neots.

Overall, this is a good walk and we enjoyed notching up another stretch of the Great Ouse.

21 May – Houghton to Godmanchester Nature Reserve

5.3 miles. With thanks to the Cambridgeshire Walks blog – this is a slightly extended version of that walk. From Houghton to Hemingford Abbots and on to and around the Godmanchester Nature Reserve. Returning along the Great Ouse.

More Great Ouse. More gravel pits. We’d actually considered not walking today, with the weather forecast promising 40mph+ winds. But we’re glad we ventured out, because this is an excellent walk – even on a blustery, rainy day.

It connects to the St. Ives – Houghton walk that we did back in November, starting in the picture-postcard village of Houghton and sharing the section of that walk to the Hemingfords, across meadows alive with buttercups, before turning towards Godmanchester. The walk along Common Lane provides a chance to ogle some high-end property – mostly beautiful houses, with a smattering where expense is slightly outpacing taste. Then we struggled into a headwind across the fields to Godmanchester Nature Reserve.

This is yet another of those converted Cambridgeshire quarry pits – and a very nice one at that, with some blissfully sheltered wooded paths alongside the lakes, and lots of bird life. We departed a little from the walk on the Cambridgehire Walks blog, walking right around the outside of the nature reserve rather than cutting through it. The National Trust have a similar walk on a longer route, which loops further out still to Godmanchester to make an 8 mile circuit – worth a go on another occasion.

The path eventually finds its way back to the Great Ouse and we sped along the river bank with the wind at our backs to the National Trust’s Houghton Mill. We didn’t take advantage of any of the refreshment options today, but there are plenty at the Mill and in the village. This is a high-ranking walk for us, with shorter and longer variants, and we’ll be back!

(Update: we did indeed return on a much calmer day in Winter 2022 and enjoyed both the walk and one of those refreshment options, the Three Jolly Butchers).

28 May – Isleham

7.1 miles. Walk 17 in Cambridgeshire Circular Walks. From Isleham Priory via West St and Hall Barn Rd to the Fordham Road. Through old rail line nature reserve. From Fordham Moor bridge along the lane and cross country to East Fen Drove. Returning to Isleham by Common Gate Drove and Temple Road.

Back to the edge of the Fens this week. After a cold, dry April and a cold, wet May it finally felt like late Spring today. We set out from Isleham Priory in glorious sunshine. Cloud bubbled up around midday but it was perfect walking conditions.

The route leaves the village by the Fordham Road, soon turning off into a nature reserve along the line of the old Cambridge to Mildenhall rail line – the fourth time we’ve crossed paths with the ghost of this old railway on these walks, after Reach, Lode, and (earlier this month) Mildenhall. We crossed pleasant and very peaceful farmland towards Soham, before picking up East Fen Drove and heading back to Isleham.

The old railway line

The country lanes that make up the fifth and sixth mile of the walk have no footpath and a fair amount of traffic, requiring quite a bit of stepping off the road onto the verge to avoid fast approaching cars. We came back into Isleham through its back lanes and finished with a visit to its high-roofed parish church and a sandwich and beer at the Griffin Inn.

A nice countryside walk, but we’ve seen better Fen edge options with more of the route off road, for example, at Wicken and Lode.

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