"The capital of the Fens - with eels and Cathedral" Ely by Airpunk

Ely Travel Guide: 81 reviews and 229 photos

For many centuries, Ely was an island. The tides made it difficult to access it and people lived from catching eels, which were abundant in the rivers and marshy waters. That situation gave Ely always a special position among all the towns in this region. Here, Etheldreda (later St. Atheldreda), daughter of an Anglo-Saxon king and with a somewhat dubious past, decided to found a monastery in 673. It later evolved into Ely Cathedral, the “Ship of the Fens”, which became the centre of the region. In 1071, the island of Ely was the last hideout for the rebels against the Norman Conquest. To break the year-long deadlock situation, the citizens of Ely gave up, but let Hereward the Wake and other rebels flee beforehand. Oliver Cromwell became the most famous Ely citizen. He levied in Ely in the 1630s and started his political career as a tax collector from there. In the 17th century, Dutchmen were brought in to dry up the fens and create new farmland. Those depending on catching eels (Which were most of the citizens at that time) were not happy and many fishermen even blew up dykes and canals. Ely thus became a rebel stronghold again and the Darining of the Fens took almost 200 years. Today, Ely is a small town with around 15 000 inhabitants, but its old status makes it officially the third smallest city in England.

Ely makes a good daytrip destination from Cambridge, Norwich of even London. Similar to Peterborough, an Ely daytrip lives from the Cathedral. However, where Peterborough has the shopping malls, Ely has a riverside walk with a couple of pubs and restaurants. It is easy to spend half a day in the Cathedral, especially if you do most of the activities offered there (visit one of the towers and the stained glass museum). If that is not enough sightseeing for you, there are two small museums: The local “Ely Museum” and “Oliver Cromwell's House”. It's easy to guess what the letter is about. During my time in Cambridge, Ely and Peterborough were the only destinations I visited more than once and Ely was also the one I always took visitors too. If Cathedrals and museums are your type of things, Ely is your place.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:One of the most beautiful Cathedrals in the country
  • Cons:Depends too much on the Cathedral
  • Last visit to Ely: Mar 2011
  • Intro Updated May 17, 2011
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