Lying in the valley of the Great River Ouse, St Neots is now the largest and fastest-growing town in Cambridgeshire. Throughout the town's history the river and the market have been two constant influences and the same is true even today. Nevertheless, beyond these, St Neots has much to offer the visitor.
The present market square dates from the 12th century when the town was granted a royal charter and is one of the oldest and largest in England. It retains a strong Georgian character, thanks to restoration and improvements under a recent town centre initiative.
It continues to thrive and remains the hub of the town with weekly charter markets (every Thursday), farmers markets (2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month) and occasionally speciality and gourmet food markets.
Town centre shopping includes national retailers (like Waitrose, Marks and Spencers, Co-op, Lidl, Edinburgh Woollen Mills, Boots, New Look, Argos etc) and department stores (Beales, Barrets) as well as an eclectic variety of traditional local shops (including butchers, bakers, grocers, jewellers, ironmongers, sweet shops, bookshops, gift shops, clothing and furniture stores)
Dotted around the outskirts you will also find various major superstores (Tesco, Co-op) and several major DIY, building and plumbing suppliers (B&Q, Gibbs and Dandy, Jewsons, Screwfix etc.
The river has always been an influence on the town, particularly as a trade route. This is no longer a major function but the ever increasing popularity of rivers for recreational uses draws large numbers of visitors.
Several marinas offer long term moorings, some with boats for hire, and there are also well-marked public moorings. Riverboat trips operate at weekends and bank holidays (April-Sept) from near the Priory Centre to Eaton Socon Mill.
There is an active rowing club which, since 1874, has hosted a very successful annual Regatta. This popular event attracts around 1500 rowers from clubs all over the country (and abroad), who descend on Regatta meadow in the centre of town. This provides temporary camping space together with hot and cold refreshments and a licensed bar for the entire weekend.
A newer, but equally popular, event on Regatta meadow is the annual Charity Dragon Boat Race. St Neots has had a competitive and successful Dragon Boat team for many years and this spectacular all-day event has recently been combined with the annual Summer Festival. Over 20 teams battle it out on the river whilst on dry land there are food, drink and craft stalls, a funfair, a bar, children's entertainment and live music. An evening firework display forms the grand finale.
As well as the informal open spaces of the St Neots Green Corridor the town has several areas of formal parkland to enjoy.
Riverside Park is the fruition of an ambitious plan to create a major parkland amenity for the town. It was created from ancient osier beds that had at one time supported a thriving basket weaving industry. This declined with the advent of cheaper, mass-produced plastic alternatives for Willow. In 1965 the historic old town bridge was replaced by a new one which intruded onto the old osier beds. So, in 1973, this land was laid out with a network of footpaths and footbridges over the river, which today offer many pleasant walkways and cycle routes with sweeping riverside vistas. There are picnic areas, children's play areas, a renowned skateboard park and BMX area, football pitches, a Cafe and snack bar, and generous parking space convenient for the town centre as well as the park.
Priory park, situated off Huntingdon Road, is 80 acres of 18-century parkland that was formerly part of the Rowley Estate (Lord of the Manor). It is now mature woodland and extensive open space containing 5 football pitches, several mini soccer pitches and a changing pavillion.
Recreation and Entertainment
Recreational facilities in and around the town include 10-pin bowling, a skateboard/BMX park (renowned as one of the best in the country) and a brand new multi-screen cinema and restaurant complex (Rowley Arts Centre).
Additionally, the Priory Centre provides a focal point for social activities including dance classes, concert, theatrical productions, bingo, exhibitions and trade fairs. Located on the riverbank it also has a cafe and riverside terrace with picturesque views of the river and surrounding parklands providing an attractive setting for taking a break from shopping or as a venue for private parties weddings etc.
The town council provide numerous playgrounds for children to enjoy, located in the various parks and open spaces, and there are several soft play and activity centres in the town.
Sports and Leisure
St Neots is well served by a wide range of sporting facilities both for public use and provided by various local clubs and societies. In particular, there are very active clubs for football, rugby, cricket, hockey, tennis, table tennis, water-skiing, rowing, snooker, and bowls all with their own excellent facilities.
There is an excellent public sports and leisure centre in Eynesbury (at the Ernulf Academy site) featuring a 25-metre pool with flume and lagoon area, sports hall, squash, badminton and netball courts together with a cafe and creche. It also includes a recently upgraded and expanded gymnasium featuring a fitness suite with state-of-the-art equipment. Outside there are tennis courts and all-weather pitches for football and hockey.
Local golf courses at Wyboston Lakes and St Neots are both open to visitors and offer a challenging round of golf whilst enjoying unique vistas of the River Ouse and its valley. At Wyboston Lakes, you will also find water skiing and other water-sports facilities as well as an opulent new spa featuring the latest holistic therapies and beauty treatments.
Those keen on less formal kinds of exercise will find numerous interesting walks and cycle routes in and around the St Neots Green Corridor including several sections of the Ouse Valley Way and the Paxton Pits Nature Reserve. St Neots iso n Sustrans national cycle route 51 that connects Colchester and Oxford via Harwich, Ipswich, Cambridge, Bedford and Milton Keynes.
Finally, the Riverside Park is home to what is said to be one of the best skateboard and BMX areas in the country.
Culture and Heritage
Within the St Neots conservation area there are 183 listed buildings and 3 scheduled ancient monuments - the sites of the Priory, the Maltings and the Hillings (a 12th century castle in Eaton Socon) The town's heritage can be explored on foot by following heritage walks that link many of these and there are many helpful plaques and information boards. More information, maps and routes can be obtained from the St Neots Museum and from ESCA (Eatons Community Association).
The museum, located in New Street, is housed in the old Victorian police station and magistrates court. It tells the story of the town from pre-historic times to the present day and delivers a programme of temporary exhibitions, family activities and special events.
The town has several impressive churches including those of the parishes of St Neots, Eynesbury and Eaton Socon all of which are called St Mary's! The one in St Neots, built in 1485, is grade I listed and has an imposing tower rising to 128ft
Opposite St Mary's church in Eaton Socon, next to the village green, is a rare example of an old 'lock-up' - used to 'confine the refractory', i.e. miscreants who had been apprehended and were awaiting trial before the magistrates. This tiny building, built in 1826, was known as 'The Cage' and is one of only three surviving examples in Huntingdonshire. It is open for public viewing on certain days of the year (e.g. during village Mayday celebrations).