I caught the train to Ely yesterday to visit this rather sleepy little town but which of course is not a town: I’m not sure quite how it works but if you have a cathedral, no matter how small and sleepy you are , you are classed as a city. The trip through the flat land surrounding Ely is fascinating, at least for me. My mother loved the idea of mountains, and every year we all looked for calendars and Christmas cards (anyone else remember Christmas cards?) depicting Switzerland’s mountains and snow -covered forests.
I have to say I’m just the opposite, I love the flatlands of the fens. The artists among you will be well aware that horizontal lines infuse us with calm, and the fens do this for me. That’s why I love the Italian lakes (as long as I can ignore the surrounding mountains! ) Two trains later I arrived in Ely and the first stop was the riverside which is a really vital place crowded with beautiful boats, river cruisers, barges and houseboats and along the tow paths, pubs and eateries as well as icecream vans.
After lunch, fish’n’chips of course, one of the gastronomic delights of home, we made our way up to the Cathedral, known as “The Ship of the Fens” because in fact, Ely was once an island. The cathedral was begun in the eleven hundreds, and when the fens were drained from the 17th century onwards the cathedral was left standing upon its mound (the Isle of Ely) but it had previously been surrounded by marshes, rivers and peat beds. The cathedral suffered dissolution by Henry VIII when almost all of the” idolatrous” statues were destroyed by the iconoclasts. But that’s not the only disaster to have struck this most beautiful building. In 1322 the tower over the crossing of the nave and transepts, collapsed into the choir. It was redesigned by Alan of Walsingham, unusually with 8 pillars, thus octagon, and made with huge wooden tree trunks to lend it light both weightwise and because it illuminates the choir. Unfortunately this miracle of medieval architecture came under attack by the death watch beetle and as long as I can remember the cathedral has being trying to conjure up funds to pay for restoration.