There’s plenty of history hidden in the landscape of Cambridgeshire, giving us glimpses of what life was like hundreds of years ago.
Cambridge was founded by the Vikings (they called it Grantabridge), Huntingdon was the birth place of Oliver Cromwell, and Henry VIII imprisoned and beheaded wives from a fortified Buckden manor.
However, not all of these places from the past have fully survived, and only remain as ruins waiting to be found by intrepid adventurers.
Thanks to Adrian Page-Mitchell, who is well-versed on local ruins, we can now bring you 22 more intriguing places to visit for all of the history aficionados out there.
Adrian has been to all the ruins below and has shared his thoughts on each one. Many of them are also within a short distance of Cambridge, while some are a little further afield such as King’s Lynn and Stamford.
Here are some of the best ruins to visit in the county and a little further beyond too:
We can start our ruins tour in Cambridge itself, a turn off the busy Newmarket Road, and then make our way onto Beche Road. This area until 1810 had substantial remains of the Priory of St Andrew, including a large portion of the central church tower, until the area was cleared to build the Victorian terraces seen all around today.
Just two buildings survive, St Andrew the Less church, which is in major need of attention now, and far less known behind it, is a small square building known as the Cellarer’s Chequer. It is still roofed but has the beginnings of vaults rising up now to nothing. The building was where the money was handled in the priory.
The Abbey house across the road contains materials brought over from the priory, and the wall that surrounds it contains much worked stone from the vanished monastery.
Another part of the priory church can be found about 10 miles away, as the church roof at Willingham once covered the nave of the priory.
St Ives Priory
In St Ives near the bus station is Priory Road, and on the right-hand side is a large Victorian building, with a buttressed wall around the south and west sides. This was the barn of the former Priory, of which no other remains are to be seen.
The priory is on Priory Road and is a 30-minute drive from Cambridge.
Ramsey Abbey Gatehouse
The mother house of St Ives Priory was Ramsey Abbey, parts of which are incorporated in the school building. On the green in front of the school is the partially ruined gatehouse, now in the care of the National Trust. The nearby village of Bury has an interesting church, which once had a large chapel at its west end, the remains of which can be seen on the west tower of the church.
The gatehouse can be found in Church Green and is a 50-minute drive from Cambridge. More information can be found here.
Colne Old Church
The village of Colne has an attractive early 20th century church at its centre, though there is much medieval stone and features from the predecessor, the scant remains of which can be seen down Old Church Lane.
In 1896, the Tudor brick tower fell into the church, demolishing much of the west end. Over the next few hours the nave roof collapsed taking the pillars with it.
The rather cheaply built brick chancel was left standing, along with the aisle walls with the attached porch, and parts of the former were built into the new church.
The chancel was not considered worthy enough to keep, so it was pulled down. This left the 16th century porch as the only surviving part, standing for most of a century, overgrown and surrounded by the old churchyard.
In 2013, the undergrowth was cleared, and the ivy cut at the bottom, but unfortunately the heavy branches fell onto the old walls, and some of the stones fell. There is now a fence around the ruin for public safety.
The ruin is found on Old Church Lane and is a 30-minute drive from Cambridge.
Dedicated to St Mary, this church was only brought to ruin in 1962, and the remains include part of the tower, south wall of the nave, and the tall wall of the south transept chapel.
The ruin is forgotten but has an important part to play in the history of church preservation. After being largely rebuilt in the early 20th century due to severe decay, the tower and nave were further strengthened in 1932.
Just 20 tears later the church again was in a poor condition, due to the tiny community not being able to pay for its upkeep.
The parish was merged with Barham just up the road, and the church there used for both communities.
Woolley church was abandoned, and largely pulled down in 1962 when the tower and spire became dangerous. Only the parts with listed historic features were kept. These include the 14th century west door, and a blocked Norman entrance.
There was shock at the loss of this important building, and it was used in 1969 when the Redundant Churches Fund was being formed as an example of what little help there was for small communities that could no longer care for, or no longer needed their churches. The organisation is now known as the Churches Conservation Trust.
The ruin is found next to the entrance to the Manor House, surrounded by the churchyard, and is 26 miles west of Cambridge. It takes around 40 minutes to reach, and there is not much room to park. You’ll need to take great care when walking along the narrow road.
By 1952, the village of Denton was little more than this tiny church, a farm and a few houses. A short distance away is another shrunken village of Caldecot, with the church there turned into a private house.
All Saints at Denton is unusual in that the east end was rebuilt in 1645, which was not known as a great period of church building. The part shown above with its simple square windows is little altered.
The tower is a strange construction, being built at the south west corner of the nave, and is no taller than the roof line.
Sadly in recent months the church was subjected to a planning application for residential use. This has been withdrawn, but the church is now behind a metal fence. A local group has been formed to try and save it, but its future is not certain.
The ruin at Denton is 37 miles from Cambridge, taking about 50 minutes to reach.
This is a village steeped in history. The castle was at the centre of power in the region for centuries, as it was the birthplace of King Richard III, and infamous as the execution place of Mary Queen of Scots.
More earthworks than masonry remains, but a more tranquil spot could not disguise its macabre history more.
Fotheringhay is 42 miles from Cambridge, taking under an hour to reach.
On a hillside, dominating the southern view of the town of Stamford is the colossal ruin of this once grand mansion, built by Thomas Burghley, son of Lord Burghley, chancellor to Elizabeth the First.
Finished in 1620, it was a cruciform building built in the Greek style, but was not used for long.
The third Earl used the family’s other home, Burghley house, and Wothorpe was abandoned in the 18th Century.
It slowly fell into ruin, becoming nothing more than a feature for the town.
The towers and surviving surrounding buildings, along with the gardens are now owned by a trust, and repairs have been ongoing for many years. The main towers can be visited on certain days but are visible at close quarters from the surrounding lanes.
The Towers are 49 miles from Cambridge and take about an hour to get to, more information can be found here.
Stamford Castle and Town Walls
The gate of the castle can be seen near the attractive park by the river, still with wooden doors attached.
The castle wall stretches beyond, and following the path round you’ll come to the bus station. This is where until 1932 part of the round 12th century keep still stood. Shockingly, that year it was pulled down when the surrounding area was cleared.
Past St Peter’s hill you can find the site of the gate of St Peter, and a short stretch of wall leads to the last of the town’s curtain wall towers, known as the Bastion Tower.
Stamford Castle is 48 miles from Cambridge and takes about an hour to reach
On the north side of the town are the former nave of the Priory, and the gate of Greyfriars. This town is a beautiful place and should be on everyone’s list to visit!
The Norfolk village now has a new Victorian church, after an attempt to restore and extend the smaller one across the road seems to have failed. Medieval brick is now intertwined with later red brick, on the highest point in the village.
Sadly, after a collapse at the east end, the ruin has been fenced off, with no plans for its future.
Southery Old church is 29 miles from Cambridge, taking about 45 minutes.
This once grand church was ruined by the collapse of the tower into the nave in 1947, leaving only the north arcade and chancel, with attached ornate chapel standing. The west of the chancel was sealed with a new wall, as the expense of rebuilding was just too high.
The chapel on the side houses many fine terracotta monuments and was missed by the falling spire by only a few feet, as it obliterated the south side of the church.
Oxborough is 41 miles from Cambridge, taking about an hour to reach.
Wiggenhall St Peter Church
This largely 15th century church stands so close to the widened River Ouse, that the former west door is practically obscured by the bank.
The church was abandoned in 1920, but had been struggling for many years before, with both aisles being removed, and their windows inset into the arches of the nave. It is now looked after by the Norfolk Churches Fund.
Wiggenhall St Peter is 43 miles from Cambridge, and takes about an hour and 20 minutes to reach.
St Mary’s Church, Islington
St Mary’s church stands looming over the A47 to the west of King’s Lynn. It is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, and was left a partial ruin after being an early victim of heritage crime. The lead from the roof was removed in the 1960s, and the plaster ceiling underneath collapsed after rain.
The already abandoned building was consolidated by having a brick wall built in front of the chancel arch when it was transferred into the care of the Redundant Churches Fund in 1973.
The settlement was one of many deserted medieval villages in Norfolk. A modern village called Tilney Cum Islington straddles a road to the south. The church stands on the drive of Islington hall, the only other remnant of the lost village.
The church is 44 miles from Cambridge, about an hour and ten minutes away.
There is much to interest the ruin hunter in King’s Lynn. There are good stretches of the town wall, including the west gate, and in the centre, the elegant tower of Greyfriars, which has now been a ruin far longer than it was whole.
It was once the central tower of the monastery and is not the only reminder of the town’s ecclesiastical past from medieval times. There is also the red brick Whitefriars gate near the quay, and the small remains of the crossing tower of St James’s Chapel.
King’s Lynn is 45 miles, and just over an hour from Cambridge.
The ruin of St James will be well known to anyone who has travelled along the A49 heading towards Sandringham or Hunstanton.
It is a huge building with a high central tower, and well preserved Norman arches. It can be reached with courtesy of church farm, standing high, on what was an island or causeway.
The ruin is reached by a rough track, and is 46 miles from Cambridge, about an hour and ten minutes away.
The Norman keep is a partial ruin, standing in some of the country’s largest earthworks. It was the prison of Queen Isabelle, mother of Edward III until her death, after he wrestled power from her, and her lover Roger Mortimer. It is now managed by English Heritage and owned by the Duke of Norfolk.
Castle Rising is 49 miles from Cambridge, about an hour and 11 minutes away.
St Mary, Appleton
On the Sandringham estate and the only survivor of the lost village of Appleton, are the striking ruins of St Mary’s church. The tower, which the bottom half may be Saxon, has the arcade of the nave behind, and a porch uncomfortably attached to two of the nave pillars.
Appleton church is just south of the village of West Newton, 52 miles from Cambridge, about an hour and 45 minutes away.
Standing to the north of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there are the flint remains of the Cluniac Priory of Our Lady. The religious order was considered alien, and none of the houses in England were allowed the title of Abbey.
The ruins include the church, including the massive lady chapel, which for a time was the burial place of Henry Fitzroy, illegitimate son of Henry VIII. There is also the Priors lodgings and Gatehouse, and most of the plan of the monastery survive in some form. It is looked after by English Heritage.
Also in Thetford are the remains of Blackfriar’s in the grounds of the grammar school, and in the south of the town, the nunnery.
Thetford Priory is 33 miles from Cambridge, taking about 40 minutes.
Little Cressingham Church
This partial ruin stands in the centre of the village and no one is quite sure how it came to be in the state it is in. The western bays of the church are open to the elements, and there is a south west tower of which only two walls remain.
Little Cressingham stands 48 miles from Cambridge, close to Thetford.
Rockland St Andrew
There are four churches within eyesight of each other, so it was inevitable that not all would survive. St Andrews stands only 150 metres from All Saints church, and just the west front of the tower has survived in a wooded copse.
The ruin is 47 miles from Cambridge, quite close to Thetford.
Not really a castle, more a fortified Manor House, it is largely just flint remains, with a moat surround. Legend has it that Hereward the Wake, the Saxon outlaw hid at the castle, but it was built long after his time in the 13th and 14th centuries.
The Castle is owned by English Heritage, and is 35 miles from Cambridge, about ¾ hour away.
West Raynham Church
This ruin is a former pilgrims church, with a passage under the tower and a very large north chapel.
It has survived centuries of abandonment remarkably well, last being used in the 1720s. It was heavily overgrown and collapsing in the 1990s, when it was one of the 20 churches chosen to be saved by Norfolk County Council. The remains were consolidated and are now central to village life.
West Raynham is 62 miles from Cambridge, an hour and 20 minutes away.