The British Horse Society (BHS)
Together with the BHS-affiliated local bridleway group Swavesey & District Bridleway Association (SDBA) the BHS is working with GOVT to secure safe, off-road equestrian access through the beautiful riverside area.
The Great Ouse Valley is a wonderful environment winding through Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Yet it is only a few miles in any direction from the scenic, peaceful riverbanks to local towns. Here there is much development, leading to increases in road traffic, turning roads into unpleasant places for non-motorised users. Horses are kept in most of the villages and towns along the river and equestrianism is an extremely popular pastime locally, especially but not exclusively, among women. Horse riding is included in the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Local Transport Plan as Active Travel, along with walking and cycling.
Exploring this gorgeous countryside on foot is already open to all of us. Exploring on horseback adds a dimension of further vision and height - your own private birdwatching hide - as wildlife is generally unperturbed by the presence of a human on a horse.
We need more Public Bridleways
The river has a wealth of Public Rights of Way along its course and leading to and from its banks. Most are former towpaths, many are vehicular farm tracks. Despite the historic use by horses and the public, most of these routes are now classified as Public Footpaths, giving only walkers the full richness of the valley's flora, fauna and environment. Equestrians and cyclists are currently much less well-served, with only tiny segments of the rights of way network in this area being classified as Public Bridleway or Public Byway. Yet, if you cross the border into Norfolk you will find both banks of the 100-foot Drain (the ‘new’ Great Ouse) is Public Bridleway for ten miles from Welney up to Kings Lynn. How wonderful it would be to be able to ride along the entire length of the Great Ouse, and to be able to get to it safely, off-road, from nearby villages.
The BHS and SDBA are working with GOVT to open more of this wonderful riverside area to equestrians, by the creation of through-routes along the riverbank with connecting links from nearby villages enabling equal opportunities for all.
Sue Rogers and Tina Yates
Secretary and Chair, Swavesey and District Bridleways Association
BHS County Access & Bridlesways Officer - Cambridgeshire
Some images from our collection:
Two horse riders enjoy the wonderful river view from Fen Drayton across the Great Ouse to the Ferryboat Inn at Holywell. Kingfishers and common seals can be seen from this spot, and there is a wealth of dragon and damselflies through the summer months here too. There used to be a ferry here, hence ‘Holywell Ferry Road’, the Public Byway from Fen Drayton to this river edge. Although a ferry is not possible now, the Great Ouse Valley Trust is investigating the possibilities for a new river crossing for non-motorised users further down the river at Brownshill Staunch, using the conveyor bridge.
The Mill at Houghton.
The Great Ouse Valley contains some wonderful gems of history along the way. This is Houghton Mill at Houghton, an old watermill which still does demonstrations of flour milling. The mill has a Public Bridleway running directly through and underneath the building's archway, and then across Houghton Lock over the river Great Ouse and into Houghton and Hemingford Meadows. It is an extremely popular route, partly due to the National Trust cafe at the Mill and the Axe and Compasses pub in Hemingford Abbotts. Houghton village itself also has plenty of places for refreshment with Houghton Tea Rooms, Houghton Post Office and the Three Horseshoes pub, all set in the village centre around a very pretty thatched clock tower with seating underneath.
The Thicket Path
The Thicket Path is an old riverside route leading through ancient woodland from St Ives to Houghton. It is renowned for its wildlife - insects, birds and plants - and also contains vestiges of kilns used to make bricks from clay dug from local pits. The bricks were then loaded into boats called Lighters and transported along the river to the trading wharf at St Ives which then existed where the Dolphin Hotel now sits. The Thicket is an important through-route for non-motorised users and is popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
Photographs by The British Horse Society