For Mollie…who made Hemingford Grey all the more beautiful by her living there.
In Hemingford, Hemingford and Houghton, hurricanes hardly ever happen. All right, all right, wrong H’s, but I couldn’t resist. These are, however, the right H’s for the quintessential experience of English village life.
About half an hour’s drive north of Cambridge, these little gems can be found tucked away just off the A14 and really are worth a wee visit. My suggestion would be to start the exploration in Hemingford Grey. Drive to High Street and park anywhere along that road (where it has no double yellow lines, of course) and then just begin to walk up the street towards the river. The wonders of this street give you a village pub called The Cock, with beer garden, famous for their homemade sausages and mash and nearby a wee coffee shop called The Hemingford Garden Room. (Both of these should be on your right as you head towards the river.) And there will be amazing, period homes like black and whites and thatched cottages…some of these dating from the 1500’s! In just a short while, you will find yourself at the River Great Ouse. Here you can just veer left to the river’s path and continue on your way. But I really do recommend a 10 minute detour to check out St. James Church.
In heading to the church, you will pass the River House at the corner on your right and then you just continue heading down the public footpath, a quiet little lane that hugs the river. After a few minutes you will see St. James Church to your left. Tell me you can’t imagine Jane Austen’s Jane and Lizzie Bennett leaving after Sunday Service through this church’s door. It was the first thing I thought of when I saw this 12th century building. Please do take a minute to sit on one of the benches in the church yard and just let your imagination take you to a quieter time and simpler way of life. Chances are you will see the occasional barge or boat drifting by and most certainly swans or ducks swimming merrily along.
If you are ready to move on or indeed never stopped here, let me get you back on your journey. Head back from where you came, making sure the river is on your right and just keep walking. You will pass The River House on your left where you just came from, but keep following the river’s path. Literally just a few steps away, you will pass The Manor on your left. (Pictured below)
Built in the 1130’s, it is the oldest inhabited house in the UK. Definitely a home to walk around imagining conversations from generations gone by. The tour price for the house and gardens is £7 for adults and £2 for children*. You can pay to just walk through the beautifully landscaped gardens for a less expensive price as well. But getting back on track. Keep walking ’til you reach your first kissing gate. Now, I could tell you the real reason for this name, but I prefer to share the romantic one, which is the first person who walks through the gate is to receive a wee kiss from the person behind them. This is the entry price of allowing said person to come through. If you are walking on your own, um, don’t wait for the next person… ;)
More beautiful river views await. Crossing the fields you may see the occasional cow or barges birthed by the river’s edge. There will be three more kissing gates to walk through (pucker up). After passing through the last gate, you will walk through a little path with houses on either side. At the end, you now find yourself in Hemingford Abbots. Here, at the beautiful black and white house (pictured below), you will turn right onto High Street which becomes Common Lane.
If by now, if you are getting peckish and need a wee bite for lunch, I highly recommend the Axe and Compass Pub which will be just a few steps away on your right. Serves just good ole classic pub grub. During the warmer months, you can sit outside at the tables out front or there is a beer garden out back, along with a children’s playground. In case you are hearing church bells as you eat, that would be coming from the Grade I listed building of St. Margaret, just down the wee side street (aptly named Church Lane) from the pub. Have a look around the grounds after your bite to eat. So your tummy is happy and full, now what?
Continue on, I say.
You won’t see the river as you continue your walk, but you will see beautiful old homes. Again as in H’Grey, there is a collection of thatched and charming rose covered cottages. Take the time to enjoy every little detail…from the charming, tiny windows to the lovely gardens. Just so much character!
Not too much later, you will see the first main road to your right, Meadow Lane. It is here you will turn to reach Houghton. As you turn onto this lane, you will shortly be crossing a bridge over the river and then onto beautiful fields.
And then one more bridge over another part of the river. But this one goes over a boat lock. Locks are simply used to lower or raise boats or barges from one level of the river to the other. My children always enjoyed stopping to see this procedure if we happened to be passing as a boat was going through. Actually, I saw many grown-ups stopping to watch as well! After this view, keep walking. Just as you turn around the bend, there may be a ‘rent a boat’ service open. From £8 for the hour, you can rent a rowboat or punt*.
If you skip the boating, the 18th century Houghton Mill is now just a few steps away. Much of the machinery in this mill is still working! It is a National Trust property, so if you are a member, it is free! Non members will pay £4.50 for adults and £2.25 for children*. There are family and group prices available too. Once inside, you can grind wheat, learn the history of a Victorian working mill and kids especially can get stuck into the many interactive games that teach about the machinery or they can see how a boat lock works. Outside, around the corner from the mill is a wee tearoom serving cakes and ice cream and snacks. Please note, the mill is open only seasonally from the end of March to end of September. If you are not too tired after this and want to see more of Houghton, simply turn left after leaving the mill and this will take you to Mill Street. Down this road there will be, you guessed it, another tearoom aptly called the Houghton Tearoom…tiny inside, but charming. Or do you fancy dinner? There is a pub called the Three Horseshoes on this same street. And, of course, a walk around this village will show you there are yet more lovely homes to check out.
So perhaps you have made a full day of this. Checked out the mill, had a pub meal or a picnic by the river. And now it is time for you to walk back to your car in Hemingford Grey. Don’t worry, if you are walking straight back, it shouldn’t take long. At least I never remember it taking that long. And if does feel long, consider it working off the hamburger and scones… ; ) (was that a ‘long’ description? ;)
These villages may not be Hertford, Hereford or Hampshire, but these above wee H’s are a whole lot easier to get around in one day!
If you spend any time in one or all of these villages, please let me know what was your favourite!
And if these are too far away for an easy visit, would any of these villages be added to your wish list?
*Please note: prices and events are applicable Summer 2015. Please do check websites if going at later times.