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Ten great reasons to visit Ely, Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 15:43 12 March 2010 | UPDATED: 11:45 28 February 2013

Ten great reasons to visit Ely, Norfolk

Ten great reasons to visit Ely, Norfolk

One of the smallest cities in the country, Ely still packs in a lot of interest, says Chris Bishop.

Ten great reasons to visit Ely

One of the smallest cities in the country, Ely still packs in a lot of interest, says Chris Bishop.

5 Museum

Housed in a former pub and gaol house on Market Street, Ely Museum charts the history of the Fens, from fossil collections dating back to when the area was under the sea, through the Romans and Saxons to the Great War.

1 Ship of the Fens

Elys magnificent cathedral is known as the Ship of the Fens and can be seen for miles across the flat countryside. A shrine commemorates St Etheldreda, who founded the city in the seventh century when she decided the raised island in the bleak wetlands was an ideal spot for a monastery.
After they conquered England in 1066, the Normans began work on the cathedral, which took another 300 years to complete. Quite how the masons of more than 1,000 years ago could erect such an incredible structureis amazing.

2 Tower tours

You can see it for miles and you can also see for miles from the cathedrals Octagon and West towers. The 215ft West Tower is open during the summer months, subject to the weather. Climb its 288 steps for an incredible panoramic view of the city and beyond. With 165 steps, the Octagon Tower is less of a hike, with tours each afternoon throughout the summer.

3 History

Ely might be Britains third smallest city after Wells, in Somerset and the City of London but its been a stopping-off point for some of historys biggest characters, including King Canute, Hereward the Wake, William the Conqueror and Oliver Cromwell.
Cromwell, who became Elys collector of taxes in the 1630s, went on to lead Parliamentarian forces during the Civil War, after which King Charles I was imprisoned, tried and executed. Britain was briefly a commonwealth and republic, before becoming a protectorate under Cromwell, a virtual dictatorship until his death in 1658. Cromwells house (below) just off the city centre in St Marys Street, is now Elys Tourist Information Centre (01353 662062).

4 The Court and Kitchen of Elizabeth Cromwell

Parts of Cromwells house are open to visitors, including Elizabeth Cromwell's kitchen, with displays highlighting popular dishes of the time. Mrs C was no slouch in the kitchen and in 1654 published a cookery book detailing recipes for making the best of local produce. They included a formidable salad of pulses, raisins, samphire, beans, chicken, sturgeon
and shrimp.

7 Food and drink

On a fine day, you can sit outside the Cutter or the nearby Maltings with a frothy coffee and watch the world go by. Slightly more of a trek is the Fish and Duck, off the A1123 between Stretham and Wicken, sited on the confluence of the Cam and Old
West the two rivers which meet south of Ely to form the Ely Ouse.
In town, the Old Fire Engine, in St Marys Street, specialises in traditional English, local recipes and seasonal ingredients. It also has a smart gallery.

6 A river still runs through it

Today the Ouse runs through the city centre from the Cutter Inn named after the generations of labourers who cut new courses to straighten the great rivers of the Fens and the network of dykes and drains which reclaimed the area from marsh and sea to Willow Walk. The river is popular with anglers and walkers, not to mention the Cambridge boat crew which trains for the Boat Race between The Maltings and nearby Littleport. Watch out for the hordes of Muscovy ducks which have colonised the banks and moorings around the Cutter. Follow the river downstream from the town centre, under the railway bridge, and you might catch sight of a marsh harrier or kingfisher.

8 An island of Eels

The Saxons called it Eilig or the Isle of Eels. So many of the mysterious, snake-like fish were caught in the surrounding fens, that the monks from the monasteries which pre-dated the cathedral paid their taxes in them.
The Domesday Book records 52,000 eels being landed from the Ouse alone. Unlike other fish, eels could be kept alive in wet sacks for days, meaning they arrived fresh hundreds of years before refrigeration.
Now eels have become so rare that the last few licensed trappers are about to hang up their nets for good, while anglers who catch an eel must return it alive instead of taking it home for their tea.

9 Shopping and markets

Elys winding shopping streets boast a host of independents alongside your national names. Thursday and Saturday are market days. Tuesday is early closing.

10 Never mind Corrie here comes Collie

Manchester has Coronation Street, London has Eastenders and Ely has its own online soap opera. Cauliflower Drove tells a story of tractors, love, death and cake, washed down with lashings of ale. Hummer Thompson, Clunch Parsons and Yaxley Farcett find themselves embroiled in a swirl of dark deeds after Reg Dixon is found impaled on a pitchfork at his smallholding. The Guardian called it the finest online soap by far. You can read all 100 episodes at

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