Explore the cathedral city of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, which was once home to the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell.
Whether approaching by road, rail or river, few sights compare with the first glimpse of Ely Cathedral. Rising out of the flat Fenland landscape of East Cambridgeshire, this immense edifice of ornate turrets and intricate flying buttresses against the expansive skies sends shivers down the spine. Of course, this is exactly the effect its builders desired; the cathedral was erected by the Normans as an awe-inspiring symbol of conquest, superiority and gratitude to God after overcoming fierce resistance from the local Anglo-Saxon population, just a few years after the Battle of Hastings. This glorious vision lends Ely its nickname, the Beacon of the Fens.
It was a few centuries later that the city’s most famous resident lived here though, and today a visit to Oliver Cromwell’s House, which has been restored to show how the Lord Protector and his family would have lived in the 17th Century, is a must for any itinerary.
Here are five of our other favourite things to do in and around Ely:
1. Walk one of the Fenland routes
There are many ancient routes to choose from such as the Bishop’s Way, which follows time-honoured tracks across wildlife meadows used by the Bishops of Ely to reach their palace at Downham, where medieval remains can be seen.
Take advantage of the hill-free terrain to explore the area by bike, available to hire from Bike and Go (0151 955 2028) at Ely Station.
2. Go to a concert
Visit Ely Cathedral for atmospheric Evensong with the residential choir (Monday to Saturday at 5.30pm; Sunday at 4pm) or catch one of the classical concerts held throughout the year.
There are free live jazz performances at weekends in the bandstand at Jubilee Gardens near the river. The annual Ely Folk Festival is a great family-friendly mini festival.
3. Take a river cruise
Hire a narrowboat for a leisurely day’s meandering from the town of March to the picturesque village of Upwell or make a longer trip from Ely to Cambridge. From Ely there are short cruises of the River Great Ouse.
Hidden inside Ely Cathedral is this unexpected gem. Ascend a spiral staircase to the south nave triforium to find the only museum in the UK dedicated to the art and craft of stained glass. Displays trace the inspiration and development of the art form from the 13th century to the present.
5. Go shopping
Potter around Ely’s delightful shops and galleries. On the High Street, Toppings Bookshop, set across three floors, has a great history section and offers free tea. The Eel Catcher’s Daughter will also ensnare gift-hunters. Discover Waterside Antiques, the largest antiques centre in East Anglia or the Babylon Art Gallery, both on the riverfront.
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