5 mins

7 of the best walks in Cambridgeshire

A world-renowned university town and charming settlements along the meandering River Cams and River Great Ouse, Cambridgeshire offers a surprising diversity of walking routes. Here are some of the best...

Best known for its university, Cambridgeshire offers a surprising diversity of walking routes (Shutterstock)

1. The Hills and Holes of Barnack to Burghley House

Burghley House, Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

Burghley House, Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

This (roughly) eight-mile circular walk starts at the pretty village of Barnack near Stamford, home to the Hills and Holes Nature Reserve.

Criss-crossed with pathways that rise and dip with the Teletubby-esque mounds, the otherworldly landscape was created from the spoils of a medieval quarry. Come at Easter to see the rare pasqueflowers, or in June and July when the reserve is scented with fragrant orchid and butterflies flutter through the profusion of wildflowers.

From here, the path follows a country lane, then an old Roman road to the estate of Burghley House, with grounds befitting a stately home. Dipping into Lincolnshire, drop down to the historic town of Stamford – a favourite location for period dramas – then follow the Torpel Way back to Barnack. 

Park in the village and walk down Walcot Road to the entrance of Hills and Holes. Follow the boundary path that runs between the nature reserve and Walcot House and emerge at Heath Road. At the junction, where The Green Drift and Mill Road meet, cross over and follow the old Roman Road, Ermine Street (also on the Hereward Way) through fields, then into the parkland of Burghley House.

Where the Hereward Way meets the Old Great North Road (less romantically known as the B1081), follow the road down towards Stamford, turning left into First Drill Lane and right over a stile to drop through fields into town. Head for the George Hotel for lunch, a historic coaching inn with opulent rooms, and a gorgeous leafy courtyard.

Take time to explore the centre of the handsome town before heading east along Barnack Road. Upon reaching open countryside, follow the sign left along a hedged path. Cross the railway and turn right to follow the Torpel Way, heading east between the train track and the River Welland.

Cross the railway line again at Uffington Road and turn left to keep on the Torpel Way (the railway now on your left). The path zig-zags through fields to Station Road. Turn right back into Barnack. Celebrate the end of your walk with a pint at the Millstone Inn.

2. Castor Hanglands Nature Reserve

Flowers bloom in Castor Hanglands Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

Flowers bloom in Castor Hanglands Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

If you time this four-mile walk right, you’ll witness an incredible phenomenon.

In March, the woodlands, meadows, and marshlands of Castor Hanglands near Peterborough are literally awash with frogs and toads. Up to two thousand amphibians inhabit the reserve, the ponds filled first with clumps of frogspawn, followed by tadpoles then fully-formed adults. It’s sometimes difficult not to tread on them as you wander along the reserve’s pathways, particularly during a wet spell.

Summer is also a special time at the reserve, when the meadows are filled with orchids and wetland flowers – such as water dropworts and the delicate lesser water plantain – attracting an array of colourful butterflies. Look out for great crested newts too, along with grazing ponies and deer.

From the car park at the south end of Southey Woods, cross the road and follow the track for a short distance before taking a left into Castor Hanglands. Head south, then follow the path through open meadows. Continue through Moore Wood, crossing a track and out onto open farmland. Turn right to skirt around Manor Farm before heading up the track, passing the unusual three-roofed St John the Baptist Church, and back to Southey Wood Car Park.  

3. Houghton Mill to St Ives and the Hemingfords

St Ives, a market town in Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

St Ives, a market town in Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

Flower meadows, meandering riverside pathways, charming settlements of thatched cottages and historic churches, this flat five-mile walk has it all. Take time to explore the handsome market town of St Ives with its narrow streets and olde world pubs. Stop by at the Norris Museum to find out about the local history of the Great Ouse Valley and the town.

Start at Houghton Mill, head up Mill Street, then turn right at the green fingerpost onto the path of Love Lane. Follow it to the end, then turn right onto Thicket Lane. From here, continue straight along the pedestrian and cycle path (The Ouse Valley Way), through St Ives Thicket and along the river to St Ives, emerging at All Saints Parish Church.

Walk along The Waits by the waterside and down the narrow street of Merryland to cross the charming 15th century footbridge. There are plenty of places to eat around The Quay and St Ives Bridge before you head west for Houghton Mill again.

Cross Hemingford Meadow to Meadow Lane. Continue to a fork in the road, then follow the fingerpost to take a path that skirts the edge of Hemingford Grey (another Love Lane). Turn right on to Church Street and follow the path along the boundary of the graveyard to the River Great Ouse.

Follow High Street, then Common Lane through the charming village of Hemingford Abbots, with its thatched cottages and grander Tudor-style villas. Turn right into Meadow Lane and carry on over another footbridge to Hemingford Meadow. On the other side, cross the lock back to Houghton Mill.

4. A walk through historic Cambridge

Cambridge University, Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

Cambridge University, Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

One of the oldest universities in the world, Cambridge dates back to 1209. This four-mile city walk takes you through narrow backstreets lined with bicycles, across bridges, through parks and courtyards and along The Backs – the grand and opulent university buildings that straddle the River Cam.

Starting from the railway station, follow Station Road, then turn right onto Hills Road, leading to Regent Street and Downing College. Duck into Cambridge University Botanic Garden if you have time.

To reach Peterhouse College, go through metal gates on the left of the busy Regents Street. The route takes you along lanes of red-bricked townhouses and imposing limestone university buildings: St William’s Street, Trumpington Street and Silver Street. Go over the bridge to Queen’s College and turn right, crossing the river again via the famous Grade II listed Mathematical Bridge.

You are now in the area known as The Backs, where the historic university buildings and grounds straddle the River Cam. Explore the world-renowned colleges along the river: King’s College, St John’s and Trinity. Continue along Trinity Lane and admire the splendid architecture of the colleges, courtyards and chapels: Romanesque and Renaissance, Neo-classical, Neo-Gothic and Modern building styles take you through the centuries.

From Magdalene College, continue along New Parks and Lower Parks streets for the large leafy park of Jesus Green with its lido. It’s a good place to stop for a picnic on a sunny day. Admire Jesus College with its extensive grounds (writers Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Nick Hornby belonging to its alumni), then cut through the tranquil parks of Christ’s Pieces and Parker’s Piece.

From here, retrace your steps along Hill’s Road and Station Road back to the train station.

5. Cambridge to Grantchester along the River Cam

A leafy path from Cambridge to Grantchester (Shutterstock)

A leafy path from Cambridge to Grantchester (Shutterstock)

From the Gothic spires of the centuries-old university colleges and chapels, follow the River Cam for three miles through meadows to the famous Orchard Tear Garden.

This is a walk to do in spring or early summer, when the route is alive with students punting on the river or enjoying a picnic on the meadows beside abandoned bicycles. Spread out your own rug and indulge in a little al fresco dining, with delicatessen ingredients, crusty bread and fine wine, befitting of a prestigious university town.  

From the punting station, follow the riverside path south, crossing the A1134 to continue along the River Cam. Head past Cambridge Canoe Club and go right at the fork. Cross the footbridge. Head round the eastern side of Lammas Land Car Park loop to join the river again and follow the riverside path through Paradise Local Nature Reserve. Where the path ends, continue west along Grantchester Meadows Road, then through Skater’s Meadow to meet the river again.

Follow the twists and turns of the river as far as Grantchester, taking a right turn to follow the edge of Eight Acre Wood into the village. Stop at the Orchard Tea Garden, enjoy high tea in the garden and relax in one of the deckchairs before taking the bus back to Cambridge. You can, of course, retrace your steps along the river.

6. Lode to Bottisham Pumping Station, along Fen Rivers Way

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

This is a long but delightful walk across country lanes to Bottisham Lode Pumping Station, then along the River Cam. Expect wide vistas over the flat fens and big skies, riverside moorings, inviting pubs, and sleepy Cambridgeshire villages.

Grab a pint at The Shed in Lode – you will need it to sustain you over this ten-mile walk. Follow High Street onto Station Road, becoming Fen Road and Lug Fen Droveway, to Bottisham Lode Pumping Station. From here, follow the River Cam southwest to Clayhithe, pausing at Bottisham Sluice to watch any river vessels passing through – and rest up weary feet.

South of Cambridge Motorboat Club, where boats line the riverside, cross the bridge into Clayhithe for lunch at The Bridge (or wait for Horningsea). With the river on your left now, follow the Fen Rivers Way to Baits Bite Lock. Cross over the river here and continue along the Harcamlow Way across fields to Horningsea Road, turning left to reach the village.

Rehydrate at Plough and Fleece or The Crown and Punchbowl before taking a right turn, heading north of the village to continue along the Harcamlow Way through Stow Cum Quy Fen. Continue on through the woodlands of Anglesey Abbey – and the remains of an Augustine priory – back into Lode.

7. Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve

The last windpump at Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

The last windpump at Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire (Shutterstock)

Just a mile in length, this easy boardwalk ramble takes you through the wetlands of Wicken Fen, rich in avian wildlife. Come in winter towards the end of day, when the reeds glisten with frost and the skies are blush pink. Look out for wigeon ducks, winter thrushes, hen harriers and short-eared owls. And if lucky, you might see a murmuration: the ever-changing formations created by starlings.

Starting from Wicken Fen Visitor Centre, follow the boardwalk in the direction of the windpump, still in working order. Continue straight on, then turn left into a wet woodland of willow and alder. Cross the Sedge Fen Drove and continue south. Turn right at the junction, following the water channel of Wicken Lode to visit the 30ft-high hide, affording great views over the flat fens.

Retrace your steps to the junction, then continue straight on along the boardwalk to your starting point. Warm up with a hot drink and steaming soup at the nearby café.

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