One of the main benefits of lockdown has been exploring places closer to home here in the UK. The cathedral city of Ely lies 30 minutes from Cambridge by car (or 20 minutes by train) and is a great day trip destination. If you’re in London, Cambridge and Ely also make for a really lovely extension from a stay in the capital, being just a 1 hour train ride away.
Ely (derived from the name the ‘isle of eels’) was founded on swamp like terrain which has to be expertly drained and managed to this day. The historic Fenland city is made famous by its Cathedral which is the only one of the Seven Medieval Wonders of the World in the UK. The last thing you expect in such a small city is a mighty cathedral, but it’s definitely the highlight of any visit.
I love this city, and here are 5 reasons why you might too.
1. The Cathedral
This epic cathedral was built in 1083. Built by the Benedictine monks when there was only a small settlement in the area, the scale of the Cathedral was to glorify God, not to reflect the size of the local population. It definitely feels a little bit too big for its location but it’s an absolutely beautiful building and the focal point of a visit to the city.
There is also a lovely tea room, The Almonry, at the Cathedral so you can combine history with cake – perfect!
2. Oliver Cromwell’s House
Oliver Cromwell – a name which still divides opinion over 350 years after his death. Cromwell is an important figure in British history; during the English Civil War he stood against King Charles I (on the grounds of both the way he was ruling, and the religious reforms he was making favouring Catholicism). Eventually Charles was beheaded and England had no monarch – Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector – King in all but name. Only 20 years prior he had been a struggling farmer. There aren’t many stories like his in the history of England.
Cromwell died less than a decade on, and Charles’ son, Charles II became King. He hunted down those who were responsible for his Father’s death and even the dead weren’t spared. Cromwell was dug up, hanged and beheaded – his head stuck on a spike for all to see.
Cromwell lived at a house in Ely for over 10 years and here you can learn about the man himself, visit a kitchen to learn about 17th century cooking (and try it!) and even do a Civil War themed escape room.
3. The Market Square and High Street
Since COVID hit, I’ve been ever more conscious of shopping and supporting local businesses. Hitting the high street might be something that in 10 years time, no-one does – but I think that would be a huge loss. Places like Ely would be really hit if the high street were to collapse – this shopping area of the city is full of buildings with character, and it’s home to many independent shops as well. My personal favourites are Toppings book store, The Ely Fudge Company and The Eel Catcher’s Daughter – a lovely little gift shop.
4. The Riverside and Jubilee Gardens
The river Ouse runs through Ely, and along the water’s edge are a few pubs and restaurants to grab a drink and watch the world go by. You can also take a boat trip with Liberty Belle up and down the river, which is a lovely way to see the surrounding countryside.
After disembarking the boat, there is a nice park area by the riverside – Jubilee Gardens. Opened in 2002 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s golden jubilee, the gardens link the waterfront to the city centre. There are lots of nice paths, picnic areas and flower beds. Of course, the best day of the year to visit is the prestigious Eel Day where the World Eel Throwing Competition (who knew that was a thing?!) is held in the park!
5. Eating and drinking in local restaurants and bars
There are also some lovely places to eat in Ely, but my two personal favourites are The Old Fire Engine House and Poet’s House. The Old Fire Engine House is a place for special occasions and it really does feel like you’re walking in to someone’s house. Seating is limited so book ahead as the food is delicious. Poet’s House is a great spot for afternoon tea, dinner or drinks and also offers really lovely rooms to stay in if you’re wanting to spend the night in Ely.
Thanks for reading – let me know in the comments below if you’ve ever been to Ely or are planning a trip to the UK soon. Stay safe and happy travels.