The “Ship of the Fens” sailed into view across the flat landscape of Cambridgeshire. This local name for Ely Cathedral is aptly earned as the Norman and Medieval masterpiece stands high above the surrounding countryside on a little island of its own. Even in these modern days of tower blocks and skyscrapers, it still catches the eye for twenty miles or more.
Ely Cathedral looks like no other religious building I have ever seen. Like most of the Cathedrals in England, it was built originally by the Normans. But unlike others, this one was built on soft fen clays and on 12 and 13 February 1322 its central tower collapsed. Concerned about using the same ground plan, the Church bosses of the day went highly innovative, removing the four original tower piers and enlarging the space to create a spectacular octagonal tower with timber fan vaulting.
Topping it all off is a large glazed lantern that floods the central Cathedral with light. The result is truly awe-inspiring.
We had been cycling across level land for several days, making our way south across the Vale of York and the fenlands of Lincolnshire to Cambridgeshire.
The miles slipped easily by with views of straight cut rivers, open fields separated by ditches and wide, wide horizons.
The wind was mostly side on and there was no need to get off our bikes to climb hills. Each afternoon the sun shone and we felt its warmth creeping into our tired bones and aching muscles, lifting our spirits and giving us extra zip.
En route to Ely, I had found us a campsite just outside of Wisbech, called the Secret Garden. Here we were greeted warmly by the owners Lesley and Neil, and invited to join in a beer and sausage tasting session. The beer comes from their own on site microbrewery and Jerry tells me it went down very well. I tasted a local cider mixed with blackcurrant that was very sweet. I am reaching the conclusion that the current trend of adding extra flavours to cider just spoils a good cider. The sausages come from the Gloucester Old Spots that live in an enclosure in the woods by the campsite. Kids visiting the site join in feeding the pigs then eat the pork, bacon and sausages!
Ah, yes, that is our bikes on the back of a Peugeot! Okay, okay, we haven’t cycled every bit of the way. We went off piste for a bit to catch up with old friends, Jim and Hanna and their younger son Dan who now stay near Huntingdon. The lift was to get back on to our route and to enable us spend more time with them as they treated us to a tour of Cambridge complete with ghost stories and ghoulish happenings.
One such story was of a girl studying at the university during a time of plague. Her parents came to collect her unexpectedly to remove her from danger and her boyfriend hid from them in the closet. Sadly, when she returned to college he was still in the closet, dead, having suffocated from lack of air.
Cyclists, tourists and punters abound in Cambridge.
The students were not much in evidence, it being finals week and they were all either studying hard or sitting exams. We wandered around the colleges, many dating back to the 13th century when students from Oxford, escaping from a dispute over the hanging of two college clerks for a murder they apparently did not commit, came here and set up a new place to study.
Famous alumni include Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage, who, in the 19th century came up with the idea of the computer, John Cleese, Sandi Toksvig, Clare Balding and Claudia Winkelman.
Life on the road has settled into a daily pattern that revolves mostly around cycling, eating, cycling, eating, sleeping and more eating. On our menu through the UK has been (aside from delicious meals cooked by our hosts): salted peanuts, apples, cream cheese and sardine rolls, pasta, pasata, Jamaican Ginger cake, custard, fruit pastilles and jelly babies. We try and add to the diversity with baguettes, pitta breads and salad, mostly from the Coop and their reduced section. Crossing the fens, Jerry spotted some locally grown asparagus for sale by the side of the road. It was really fresh, juicy and succulent and with the butter ‘lent’ to us by Lesley at the campsite quite delicious.
We have been truly spoilt by our friends, friends of friends, family and Warmshower hosts with exceptional home cooking and excellent hospitality. I think we may lose more weight once we hit the continent!