Two cities of Ely sounds like something from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones but these really do exist in England, although one may not technically be a city. All will be revealed as you read on. Two years since last seeing each other and 36 years since we worked together, we had an eagerly awaited reunion with my friend Joy and her husband Jon who live in Heacham to the west of King’s Lynn. Well ahead of whenever we are in reach, the emails start to compare possible dates and locations and this time we knew we could get to Ely, about 20 miles north of Cambridge, which was an easy train journey for both of us.
Joy and John have always been avid walkers and particularly partial to a fell or two and we have always admired their feats and enjoyed their photos of such jaunts in the Highlands, Western Isles, Lake District and so the list goes on. Despite living in a beautiful part of Norfolk on the coast, they usually have a month or so away in Spring and Autumn to explore old and new favourite parts of the country. Personally, I am sure that seeing Joy’s postcards and photos of views from their walks on her desk when we worked together gave me the urge to explore this country more.
The Cutter Inn
We had only ever driven through Ely before but Joy and John were regular visitors so we were guided by them for the day. After all the hugs and excited of meeting at the train station, we headed for The Cutter Inn which sits on the side of the River Great Ouse. From our river view window we watched some rather large barges negotiate a relatively tight bend in the river and a very low bridge. This involved a few “Oooos” and “Ahhs” from us between catching up on all our news. The Cutter Inn served very good coffee and was the perfect start to our day in Ely.
We took a short walk along the river before heading through Jubilee Gardens and Cherry Hill Park which gave us our first impressive view across the park of the Cathedral. It seems an overly large Cathedral for the town, especially as Cambridge is so near and has differing architectural features with different additions over the years. The central octagonal tower is probably the most striking.
Ely, though, also boasts some other impressive buildings of note. The King’s School which has been existence since 970 and granted a Royal Charter by Henry VIII in 1541 has various buildings some of which seem to sit within the cathedral grounds. We assumed that one large hall we walked past was some sort of gallery and it was in fact the school’s dining room. Oliver Cromwell also lived in Ely for a decade after inheriting a property. This is now a museum and houses the Tourist Information office.
Renovation work was taking place in the Cathedral but we managed to access through the main doors and there is a small seating area where the interior can be viewed without paying the full entrance price. The size of the place seemed to resonate even more once inside. The overwhelming height of the stone arches along the isle which were only a fraction of the overall height of the cathedral.
The Lamb Hotel
To give our necks a break from looking up, we headed to The Lamb Hotel for a light lunch. This was originally a coaching inn but is a very smart, comfortable hotel and restaurant. We continued to natter and reminisce our way through bowls of soup before wandering through a few shops and heading back to he station.
I think I must be getting more sentimental as times go on. I find goodbyes, or should I say farewells, harder to deal with. Having kept in touch since leaving Norfolk in 1984, I am sure we will continue to do so but just wish these get-togethers could be just a little more regular. Hopefully I can monitor the diary a little more closely or source a house-sit that can make that happen. But till next time after a lovely day we said our goodbyes.
Another Ely in Another Cambridgeshire
Hot on the heels of our day out with Joy and John, we were due to meet up with our middle son, Sam, and daughter-in-law, Tabitha, in London. We met at a central station, had a coffee in a coffee bar with a great name, the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, and wandered for a while looking at the food stalls in Leather Lane Market. Over it’s 400 years this market has moved with the times and now offers more street food than leather and clothing and the stall holders were ramping up production ready for all the office workers on their lunch breaks.
A short walk from Leather Lane, Sam directed us up a very small alley way saying, “It’s something you will like“. A few steps down the passage we saw a tiny pub called Ye Olde Mitre. It is billed as the hardest pub to find in London and we could see why but once inside the history (my thing) gets even better.
It was built in 1546 for the servants of the Bishops of Ely from Cambridgeshire, I presume they worked in his London residence. Until the late 20th century, the pub and surrounding land belonged to the Bishops of Ely. So, by shutting the gates at either end of the passageway, it was part of Cambridgeshire and subject to their bylaws. The pub is famous for having a stump of the cherry tree that Queen Elizabeth I once danced around with Sir Christopher Hatton, after who Hatton Garden (think jewellery and gold ) is named. There is a myth that criminals would evade arrest from the Metropolitan or City police because it was out of their jurisdiction but theoretically that is true.
Inside it was cramped but that just added to the character. I think we accidentally gate-crashed a meeting when we went into one small room and a sea of about 12 faces all looked up at us expectantly. Perhaps it was a clandestine meeting of some Hatton Garden robbers. We quickly withdrew and headed to another small bar area for drinks and some hearty early birthday treat sandwiches (although very greedily the robbers had ordered all the sausages!) from the small but crazily cheap bar menu. By the time we left it was very busy, so not so hard to find perhaps for those local office workers and we did get a few looks as if we were in someone’s usual lunchtime seat. So this is how we totally unexpectedly visited two different Elys in England in two days.
We had a lovely day with Sam and Tabitha and after lunch wandered through Paternoster Square, around the outside of St Paul’s Cathedral and another coffee. This time it was at Host a coffee shop in St Mary Aldermary Church. Evidently it is the only church rebuilt after the Great Fire of London and served great coffee. Once once again, all too quickly, it was time to say goodbye. Two happy days, three quality coffees, two tasty lunches and two lovely Elys.