Cambridge is a unique City, with a historic core centred on its many colleges, providing a wonderful cityscape. This is punctuated by numerous green spaces and the River Cam, creating a very special environment. And within a few hundred yards you can be walking by agricultural fields, because the countryside famously comes right into the City.
That means you can walk straight from the centre of Cambridge through lanes and out west into the countryside, and in a short time – just a few minutes – reach idyllic villages, catch breathtaking distant views, and find some great gastro-pubs and cafes/garden centres.
The Great West Walks offer you a choice of circular routes and stop-off points centred on Coton, taking you through the renowned Coton Corridor, the West Fields, and the Cambridge Past Present & Future Coton Countryside Reserve. There are three circular walks which can be started from either the City Centre or Coton Village, or at other points on the circuit. Some have mostly hard surfaces, others are field paths on bare earth. There are full walking route detailed descriptions linked to below. And with great spots for lunch in a pub/cafe or a picnic outside, great views from our vantage points, these are ideal excursions into the countryside.
Ordnance Survey Explorer Series Map No.209 covers the Coton Corridor and the West Fields. There are limited infrequent public transport services. Whippet bus No.8 serves Coton Village itself. Otherwise the Citi 4 stops for Coton on Madingley Road at the top of Cambridge Road (quarter mile from the village). There are bus stops on the Cambridge Hop On/Off open-top tour bus route at the Coton Orchard and the American Cemetery. There is a small amount of car parking at the Martin Car Park (currently closed), in front of Coton Village Hall, or permission could be obtained to park at The Plough or Coton Orchard.
PDFs describing the three circular walks in compressed detail with schematic maps are available here (The authors accept no responsibility for the accuracy of the maps or whether the routes shown are public footpaths, permissive paths or rights of way. Nor can they be responsible for any injury or mishap that might befall any person who follows these walks):
More details of the points of interest and the routes follow, with some fuller illustrated route descriptions and alternative route options:
Points of interest
What is now Cambridge Past Present & Future bought the land for Coton Countryside Reserve in the 1930s, using money from a legacy provided by Professor George M Trevelyan. Farmland was acquired at Coton to protect the environment from development, eventually being designated as Green Belt, and with protective covenants with the National Trust.
In the late 1990s, Cambridge Past Present & Future gained planning permission to create a 300 acre countryside reserve. As part of this, diverse wildlife habitats were created, including woodland and hedgerows, bird boxes, ponds, hay meadows, and an orchard. The Martin Car Park (currently closed) was opened on Grantchester Road in 2008.
The reserve, which is part of the Cambridge Green Belt, offers a chance to experience changing seasons and to enjoy great views over the surrounding area. In 2010 a new farm tenant was appointed and Trumpington Farm Company now works the land in a wildlife-friendly way, adhering to Countryside Stewardship and Entry Level Schemes administered by Natural England. New access points and recreational routes have been introduced for walkers, cyclists, joggers, pram users, disabled people and horse riders, creating a major public green space within easy reach of Cambridge and nearby villages.
Please consider joining Cambridge Past Present & Future to supports its activities and the Reserve. Contact them at: Wandlebury Ring, Gog Magog Hills, Babraham, Cambridge CB22 3AE Phone: 01223 243830 Email: email@example.com Website: www.cambridgeppf.org
Coprolites Coprolite mining provided the raw material for the world’s first chemical fertiliser in the mid 19th century. Coprolites occur as a layer of phosphatic nodules, formed from the shells and casts of molluscs such ammonites. One site is beside the path to Red Meadow Hill. Coprolite digging was an important local industry in Coton between 1858 and 1875. (extract from Coton Through the Ages by Kathleen Fowle)
Red Meadow Hill provides an elevated viewpoint across much of Cambridge from higher ground. It demonstrates the compactness of the historic core of the city, with landmarks such as King’s College and the University Library interrupting the skyline.
The green edge of the city is clearly visible, with the West Fields in the middle ground beyond the M11 motorway. To the north are the new developments on the West Cambridge and Eddington university sites. Higher ground to the south east and south of the city can be clearly seen in the distance, including the Gog Magog Hills and Wandlebury.
The Rifle Range After Red Meadow Hill, Walk II passes close to an army live-firing rifle range and follows a route parallel to the range. When in use, red flags are displayed.
The Plough is the contemporary village gastro-pub in Coton with a preserved historic interior and an outside terrace, serving seasonally themed European dishes.
Coton Orchard, up Cambridge Road, operated by Blue Diamond, is a large garden centre with a Post Office, farm shop, and cafe/restaurant as well as the historic Coton Orchard. It is also a bus stop on the Cambridge Hop On/Off open-top tour bus route.
Coton Village Walking into the village from The Plough look out for the 17th century thatched cottage on the corner of the High Street. As you turn left onto the Wimpole Way (still the High Street), on your left is St Catharine’s farmhouse (originally a 14th century Hall House) and across the road Fairview Cottages (16th century cottages restored in 1966). Just past the Village Hall (the 1932 WI Hall completely rebuilt in 2012), in Chapel Yard, is Rose Cottage and the former Baptist Chapel. On the left before the Church is the Rectory, built in 1840.
St Peter’s Church dates back to the 12th century and has several interesting features:
12th century font; 15th century pews; medieval nave roof; monument to Andrew Downes, one of the translators of the King James Bible; William Morris & Co stained glass windows in the chancel.
Opposite the church is Lantern Cottage, built in the 17th century and next to it the 19th century old school house. The new school, built in the1960s, lies at the point that the High Street turns into Whitwell Way. Down the drive to Rectory Farm can be seen the 18th century Pigeon House.
Madingley Hall in Madingley Village dates back to 1543. The Hall, surrounding park and farmland is owned by the University of Cambridge who bought it in 1948 for the sum of £50,000. Famously in January 1861 Edward Prince of Wales arrived at Madingley. His mother, Queen Victoria had rented the Hall as a residence for her son whilst he studied at the University.
The 800 Wood Over 1500 native tree species were planted in 2009 to commemorate the University’s 800th anniversary. The plan was designed to retain long-distance views east across to Ely as the trees mature, and several seats are provided.
Madingley Wood, SSSI The former Brook Pit and Madingley Wood both have wildlife interest. Madingley Wood, SSSI, is the nearest ancient wood to Cambridge, growing predominantly ash & maple. It has been the subject of 340 years of research, and documentation exists from 1210 onwards. Madingley Wood itself is fenced round and not open to the public.
The American Cemetery and Memorial On the north slope of Madingley Rise is the American War Graves Cemetery and Memorial, currently under restoration. Land was given by the Madingley Estate in 1943. Some 9000 dead from World War Two are commemorated. From the flag to the chapel, a long wall of Portland stone carries 5000 names of those dead who were never located. The graves of the rest are marked by Italian white marble crosses, fanning out radially down the slope. This is also a bus stop on the Cambridge Hop On/Off open-top tour bus route.
View over Coton Corridor From the lay-by on the A1303 the view south was described by the Cambridge Preservation Society in a brochure published in 1929 as “the most beautiful … of all views of Cambridge” and a view that “Every Cambridge man remembers…”.
Walking From the City Centre
It is easy to walk out of the City Centre to Coton to start the various walk options.
To escape to the west, start from outside Senate House in the centre of Cambridge on Kings Parade. Head north into Trinity Street and turn left/west into Senate House Passage to the T-junction with Trinity Lane, where you turn right. You are walking around Gonville and Caius College (founded 1348). Then turn left/west into Garret Hostel Lane, passing Trinity Hall (founded 1350) on your left.
This lane is shared with cyclists and is quite busy, with a punt station by the bridge over the River Cam, where you cross the river into ‘The Backs’. This green sward either side of the river backs onto various colleges and is described as one of the ten best views in England by writer Simon Jenkins.
Carry on Garret Hostel Lane to the traffic-light controlled crossing of Queen’s Road. To carry on to Coton, cross the road and keep straight on. The grounds of Clare College (the first Cambridge college, founded 1326) are to your left.
Then on your left the University of Cambridge Library (one of the UK’s ‘legal deposit’ libraries where every published book is collected, this being the ‘new’ building from the 1930’s).
Where the tarmac path forks, take the right fork down to a small bridge over Bin Brook.
That may seem an odd name for what can seem very like a ditch, but is the main tributary into the River Cam, draining the West Fields. It is also the water feature of a whole series of college gardens. And has been the cause of some spectacular floods.
Follow the lane up to the traffic-light controlled crossing of Grange Road. The recommended route with rights of way is straight on west into Adams Road (where the pavements have been newly surfaced in 2018). (Many local people go south down Grange Road to take the path behind the Rugby Ground Stand and into the West Fields. This is not a public right of way.) For the length of Adams Road, walk on the pavement. Where the road curves round to the north, you will see the start of The Footpath in front of you, a segregated cycle and pedestrian walkway. This is the start of the West Fields.
Keep walking west on The Footpath, where soon the extended views open up across the West Fields. The hills on the horizon are about 60+ metres height, some 50 metres above your starting point. The path starts to run alongside the famous Cavendish Laboratory (founded 1874, moved to these buildings 1974, 29 alumni have Nobel Prizes) and the relatively recent West Cambridge development by the University.
In front of the new buildings, the segregated path stops and The Footpath continues straight on as a narrower shared tarmac path for cyclists and pedestrians. You can take this, or there is an inviting boardwalk to the right leading to a continuing segregated route running parallel west through the West Cambridge site (there is an Espresso cafe with terrace in the building overlooking the adjacent pond). This paved pathway goes past the University Sports Centre and the West Lake (with swans and ducks) to Ada Lovelace Way (named after the early computer scientist 1815-1852, who worked on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine). Turn left/south to re-join The Footpath and turn right/west towards Coton.
You are walking here on official long distance walking routes The Wimpole Way (which leads to the National Trust’s Wimpole Hall 11 miles away cross country) itself part of Harcamlow Way (the 140 mile long figure of eight route through Cambridgeshire, East Hertfordshire and Essex, centred on Harlow and taking in many historic villages and market towns).
At the foot of the ramp to the footbridge over the M11 is a lych gate on the left if you wish to return to Cambridge via the path south to cross the fields to Barton Road, leading to Newnham or Grantchester and the River Cam. This also connects to the loop path back into the Coton Countryside Reserve. (See more details below for the routes to Newnham and Grantchester).
The Footpath now crosses the M11 motorway, with a ramped footbridge. Once over the bridge, the woods to the right here are behind the Coton Orchard and Garden Centre. To the left is the Cambridge Past Present and Future Coton Countryside Reserve. You can choose to go through the lych gate on the left into the coppice on a footpath parallel to The Footpath.
Either route takes you to the entrance to the Coton Countryside Reserve. Either walk through Coton Recreation Ground – depending on the season, a game of cricket or football may be in progress – or re-join The Footpath – in fact the tarmac lane in front of you.
The first watering hole is near, with The Plough a gastropub, on the junction of Brook Lane and the High Street at the end of The Footpath.
You could choose to carry on past the pub, following the High Street round the bends into Cambridge Road and in 300 yards is the entrance to Coton Orchard Garden Centre with farm shop and cafe/restaurant. And the stop on the Cambridge Hop On/Off open-top tour bus route.
Re-trace your steps to The Plough to follow Walk I (follow the link to the details above) or to join Walk III: the circular walk back to Cambridge described here. Or to follow Walk II, at the junction of the High Street and Cambridge Road turn west into the old village towards the Village Hall and Church (follow the link to Walk II details above).
Walking towards Newnham and the City Centre from The Plough
With your back to The Plough go across The Footpath and up the grassy ramp onto the Recreation Ground. Look across to the Bowls Club behind its hedge and walk round the outside to the left/east and you will see a gap in the trees/hedges into the next field. Walk through the gap, with a house now on the right, and you will see a young coppice of trees in front of you. Walk south on the path through these and you will reach a lych gate onto the Bin Brook Path.
Turn left and follow the path south across the fields. You will come to another lych gate and turn immediately right across a concrete bridge through two gates, then turn left. The path winds pleasantly along the edge of the fields of the Reserve for some way before meeting the concrete paths of the Coton Countryside Reserve. Turn left/east to continue over the bridge to the where the main concrete path turns left, joining the route described below after the first paragraph.
Walk III from Coton Countryside Reserve Martin Car Park
There is limited car parking in the Martin Car Park (currently closed) of Coton Countryside Reserve by the Wheatcases Barn. Join the twin concrete path passing the Barn heading east. Follow this over the bridge over the brook to the point where the main concrete path turns left.
Turn right onto the muddy path which can be churned up by the Reserve’s farm vehicles, though there is usually passable walking along the top of the drainage ditch, heading towards the surfaced farm bridge over the M11. There are some distant views from atop the bridge.
At the end of the ramp down from the bridge the surface ends and the path continues in a broad sward across the field towards a wide gap in the hedge. (This is the point where the cross path south from The Footpath joins the route). Continue straight on across the next field to enter a lane between hedges leading to Barton Road.
Turn left along Barton Road. The pavement here is shared with cyclists, often travelling fast, so watch out for them. For the shortest routes back to Cambridge, or the loop back to Coton, stay on Barton Road. (See the option below for an extended walk down to the River Cam before returning to Cambridge via Newnham.)
Remain on the left-hand side of Barton Road for approximately a quarter mile to when you see a footpath on the left adjacent to Bin Brook (immediately after the second house: number 116). Follow this footpath to the end which brings you onto Gough Way.
Turn right for about 50 yards and cross the road into the signposted “Private Footpath” after number 50, still along Bin Brook – the Gough Culvert – following the dog-legging path to reach the end of Cranmer Road. Walk down Cranmer Road to the corner of Grange Road next to Selwyn College.
Turn left and follow Grange Road, past the University Rugby Ground (The Private Road behind the Rugby Ground is not a public right of way).
Continue to Adams Road. This is the point where to return to Cambridge you turn right and follow the pedestrian/cycle lane into the City Centre.
To return to Coton via The Footpath, turn left along Adams Road and follow the route description from Cambridge City Centre above.
Walking to the Cam towards Grantchester and Newnham
You will see a signpost on the other side of Barton Road for the permissive path through the belt of trees towards Newnham and Grantchester.
After the belt of trees, the path follows the edge of the field to the left, passing the College Sports Ground. You will come to a small wooden footbridge. Cross this and turn right/south to follow the path along the field edge, continuing round to the left/east. The path meets the track to the Cocks and Hens Cambridge Tennis Club viewed to your left. Join the track going right across the bridge and follow it round to the left/east towards Grantchester Road.
There is a kissing gate on the right at the end, signposted The Baulk, to a permissive path running behind the hedge so you don’t have to walk on the road. You walk south for only one field then cross Grantchester Road to double back on yourself, now walking north, again off the road, behind the hedge. The signposts and provided map signage can be misleading here. This path round the edge of the field skirts St Catherine’s College Sportsground to join the main north-south path between Cambridge and Grantchester through the meadows around the River Cam.
You join the tarmac path turning left/north towards Newnham. You could turn right to walk through the meadows to Grantchester with its three pubs, gin distillery and the famous Orchard Tea Rooms and Rupert Brooke museum.
Once again this is a shared route with cyclists and is quite a narrow path at first before opening up, with a bare earth parking area by the Skaters’ Meadow. This used to be flooded for winter skating between 1920 and 1940, complete with a lamp-post in the centre for evening illumination.
The walk now becomes a surfaced road: Grantchester Meadows. Fork right along Grantchester Meadows and at the end of the first section turn right to follow a lane round which leads you to the entrance to the Paradise Nature Reserve.
Now a wood chip and bark path winds through the woodland on the banks of the Cam.
Follow this until you come to a car park on your left and meet the cross cycle path and bridge. Turn right to cross the bridge and immediately turn left to stay alongside the water heading north. There is an open air swimming pool on the opposite side of the water.
Follow the tarmac path to the dog-leg traffic light controlled crossing of the busy Fen Causeway. Cross the road and continue along the path towards the Millworks and the Granta Pond. The path forks here.
To return to the City Centre via Mill Lane take the right fork and follow the path heading north and then cross the bridge to The Mill pub at the bottom of Mill Lane. Walk up Mill Lane to the junction with Trumpington Street, with Fitzbillies opposite. Turn left/north to head into King’s Parade and return to the City Centre.
To return to Coton to complete the circular walk, take the left fork round the Millworks to join Queens Road and walk north past the Granta pub and the Granta Pond punt station. You can start punt trips from here, and the nearby Sala Thong Thai restaurant will supply exotic Thai picnics. Walk past the Darwin College buildings and cross Silver Street to head north to access The Backs, the green sward around the modern Queen’s College at this point.
Walk north along The Backs with views of the rear of the historic colleges to the right/east through the trees. On your left on Queens Road is parking for coaches and large groups of visitors arriving and departing. Pass College gates along here until you reach Garret Hostel Lane and the traffic light controlled crossing. Turn left and cross to head west. You have re-joined the route previously described above. Follow this to return via the West Cambridge site and The Footpath to Coton.
The Great West Walks were prepared for the Coton Busway Action Group by Alistair Burford, Carolyn Postgate, Terry Spencer and Roger Tomlinson.