Almost where ever you walk in Ely, you can see the Cathedral. It is located in the centre of the city, and as you walk through the surrounding streets and parkland, you’ll catch glimpses of the dreamy spires. The West Tower is 65.5m tall, so it rises up dramatically from the flat Fenland landscape, it’s especially striking if you come into the city by train.
I spent a few hours exploring the compact city, crossing the Dean’s Meadow and Cherry Hill Park, following lanes, alley and cut-throughs, walking along by the Great Ouse river, taking in the busy little market in the central square, rummaging the in the antiques shops and having afternoon tea at the famous Peacocks. Come with me on a short tour…
I arrived by train at the small station, and it’s an easy five minute walk into town. First stop was the lively little market, selling everything from cheese to leather bags, brushes and plants.
The drawback of travelling by rail is that you can’t stock up on gorgeous bedding plants…
…but you could buy cheeses, or a squishy leather bag. There is a market every Thursday, with a Craft and Collectable market on Saturdays, and a Farmers Market every second and fourth Saturday. For details, check http:/www.elymarkets.co.uk
There are plenty of independent shops in the high street. That’s an increasingly rare sight now unfortunately. These were three of my favourites.
I spotted two independent bookshops. Loving this blue frontage.
Gorgeous gift shop stocking Nkuku, amongst others. I made some purchases here.
This is Thyme, at 30 St Mary’s Street. Cut flowers and beautiful house plants too. http://www.elyflowers.co.uk
You simply can’t miss the Cathedral and its precincts. The monastic buildings are some of the oldest inhabited in the country. See Prior Crauden’s Chapel with vaulted undercroft, and the infirmary buildings used by the monks. By the end of the 13th century, the Cathedral and its monastic buildings were largely complete. It’s said that the stone used to build the Cathedral was paid for by the humble eel, which was the currency of the Fens. The shallow waters were prime habitat for the slippery creatures and the Domesday book lists hundreds of watermills whose tenants who paid their rent with the fish in ‘sticks’ of five.
The sense of history is strong and it’s a particularly atmospheric Cathedral. I kept thinking I might catch sight of a hooded figure passing along one of the lanes.
Apart from the cars and yellow lines, this scene won’t have changed much over the centuries.
I’ve never seen so many photogenic walls…
Oliver Cromwell famously shut the cathedral for 11 years. He also lived in Ely and his Grade II listed house is now a tourist attraction.
Oliver Cromwell’s house
Despite his reputation (he ordered the execution of King Charles 1) and occupied a key place in a turbulent episode in history, Cromwell had a settled domestic and family life with his wife Elizabeth. Mrs Cromwell reportedly loved to cook with eels, and there’s a recipe for roasted ones outside on a metal seat.
All this talk of food was making me hungry. I have tried smoked eel, and it is very good, but I was on the trail of Peacocks, a famous tea room down by the river.
It was good to step in from the brisk autumn day to the smell of baking, and home made soup. This is a popular spot, so you may have to queue for a short while but it is worth waiting. There’s a vast selection of special teas on the menu. I chose Mycroft, smoky and a little bit aromatic, to go with a savoury Welsh Rarebit. Portion sizes were delicate, so a massive slice of coffee and walnut rounded things off nicely.
It’s lovely to wander by the river afterwards. The canal boats are settled in for winter, but it’s possible to take a short river boat tour.
Some wonderful houses nearby. And the excellent Waterside Antiques Centre is well worth half an hour’s rummaging.
I didn’t buy anything – but I was tempted.
The Fens is a special place. I like its stark beauty, sense of mystery and huge skies. As its centrepiece, Ely has heart and soul, and it’s an excellent destination to wile away a few hours in any season.