The river and its valley are an ancient corridor of settlement, travel and trade.
Stone Age and later flint tools are found in great numbers all along the valley. These range from hand axes from about 50,000 years ago, to Neolithic flints about 6000 years old.
A sequence of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments is found along the Great Ouse. The most important was discovered at Rectory Farm, Godmanchester - a unique and massive ‘horned’ enclosure at the end of a cursus dating from about 5000 years ago.
Historically the inland ports and water mills along the river and the livestock markets of St. Ives have bought great wealth to the area. The ancient monuments, churches and large houses are all indicators of this prosperity.
When the railways brought the Victorian public into the countryside, the Great Ouse area was discovered by travel writers and acclaimed as a ‘beauty spot’.
From 1880 until about 1930 a sizeable colony of artists lived and worked in the villages of Houghton & Wyton, the Hemingfords, Holywell and St.Ives. Their presence and work transformed both the local and national appreciation of the place.
In the first half of the 20thC the area was widely known and much frequented by tourists who enjoyed simple walking, boating, camping and fishing holidays. Tourism continues today with the added interest of the National Trust at Houghton and birding in the RSPB reserves.