St Neots benefits from large areas of open space which help give the town its character. Residential and light industrial areas sit alongside open fields, meadows and woodland and all this is predominantly surrounded by agricultural land with some large areas of former gravel pits now given over to lakes and wetlands.
These spaces are connected by the valley of the River Great Ouse forming a green corridor through the town. Although many of these open spaces are now protected from development, over the centuries they have survived relatively unchanged probably because together they form the flood plain of the river.
Ouse Valley Way
A long-distance walk along the River Great Ouse from its source at Syresham (Northants) to the sea at Kings Lynn. The local section of the Ouse Valley Way links the Green Corridor of St Neots to other picturesque riverside towns such as Huntingdon, Godmanchester and St Ives, and to other charming villages along the way.
In all, the Huntingdonshire stretch is 26 miles of varied walking that winds its way from the willow-lined banks of Eaton Socon (behind North Laurels House) to the open Fenland of Earith. It is possible to walk it in one day but it can easily be broken into circular walks from 2-11 miles (information boards are placed at each starting/finishing point).
Paxton Pits Nature Reserve
77 hectares of meadows, grassland, scrub, woodland and lakes that were formerly gravel pits, Paxton Pits is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSRI) and is an important bird watching site known for its abundant wildlife (e.g. muntjac deer, field voles, harvest mice, orange tip and Brimstone butterflies), birds (e.g. nightingales, cuckoos, lapwings, kingfishers, hobbies, Cetti's warblers, great crested grebes, herons, cormorants) and a wealth of wildfowl (e.g. gadwall, wigeon, tufted duck, pochard and Mallard).
There are waymarked circular trails, with hides for birdwatching, and a Visitor Centre opens every day where you can find out about the latest wildlife sightings and where refreshments are available.
A short walk over the town bridge from the market square. Originally part of the medieval manor of Sudbury (centred around Crosshall). This frequently flooding ‘wet meadow’ was used for grazing and hay and since 1847 has been the venue for the famous annual St Neots Regatta.
St Neots Common
Consisting of two areas, Islands Common and Lammas Meadow. The land frequently floods and is too wet for ploughing so, unusually, in 1771 the Inclosure Act of St Neots maintained its manorial system of land management by granting ‘commoners’ rights. This allowed each commoner to cut a strip of grass on the meadow for making hay and, after Lammas Day when haymaking finished, to graze their livestock on the common.
One of the few alluvial wetlands that have remained under a traditional grazing regime it is now an SSRI and contains rare wildflowers such as marsh orchids, Marsh Woundwort (used in the 16th century for wound healing), water violets and tubular water dropwort.
Created from hay meadows and drained osier beds it consists of 72 acres of scenic parkland with a network of paths, cycle routes and footbridges. It offers sweeping riverside vistas and has picnic areas, children's play areas, a skateboard/BMX park, football pitches, a Cafe and has generous parking space for the town centre as well as the park itself.
Barford Road Pocket Park
18 acres of flood plain consisting of wild flower meadows, waterways and willow plantations (one of few still used for making cricket bats in the region). Protected and managed to conserve wildlife such as muntjac deer, otters, skylarks, pipistrelle bats, kingfishers, herons, buntings and overwintering wildfowl. A network of hard-surfaced paths for dog-walking, fishing and guided walks available.
Other Open Spaces in the Green Corridor
The Pightle Millennium Green - A 6-acre area of woodland and meadows west of the river under community trust ownership. It is set aside for relaxation and leisure activities with seating areas by the river for watching the boats and observing the wildlife, insects and birds. Its name reflects the ancient name for ‘small inclosure’ and it is accessed by the ‘Back Path’ (just to the rear of North Laurels House), an ancient link between the village greens of Eaton Socon and Eaton Ford.
Sudbury Meadow – Just a short walk over the bridge from the market square (next to Regatta Meadow), it is a mixture of meadow, orchard and wildlife friendly gardens and native shrubbery. It is has a circular path and benches for visitors to enjoy the wildlife.
Conygeare Park – Lying east of the river, this was the site of medieval warrens built to house rabbits that were prized for their meat and fur. Rabbits were introduced by the Normans but these 'coneys' were not the hardy creatures of today and were kept in these specially constructed earth mounds to protect them from English winters and enclose them away from predators. In later years the area was excavated for gravel and so is now completely flat and houses a children's play area.
Hen Brook Park – Named after Hen Brook, a tributary of the Ouse which meanders through this wildlife corridor that links housing and industrial areas. A path follows the brook and gives a tranquil route to the town centre.
Priory Park – This 80-acre park was once farmland and was part of the estate belonging to the St Neots Priory, from which the town of St Neots evolved. It was turned into parkland by Owsley Rowley in the mid-18th century who purchased the land to build a grand family house. The house no longer stands but the trees he planted now form mature woodland and the extensive open space he landscaped now contains 5 football pitches, several mini soccer pitches and a pavilion with changing room facilities.