Ely Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Ely

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    Go to Jail!

    by planxty Updated Feb 27, 2015

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    Sounds like an odd thing to say - go to jail, but it can be a rewarding experience. The jail (or gaol) in question is the old Bishop's Gaol in Market Street, now converted into a very interesting local history museum.

    The ground floor traces the history of the area from the earliest times, and also has a fascinating video of old Fenland practices such as eel catching, eel trap weaving and wild-fowling from punts (flat bottomed boats) using the most enormous guns.

    Part of the upstairs is given over to a reconstruction of jail scenes in the original cells, and the rest to the more modern history of the area, including a good second World War section. There were numerous air force bases nearby.

    When I visited there was an excellent temporary exhibition of letters home to Ely from soldiers in the first World War. There were letters from a local man called Morriss who was killed in the war, and they were made even more poignant when I later discovered his name on the memorial in the local church (see seperate tip).

    Admission is £3 for adults. Allow about 1 1/2 - 2 hours to see everything.

    Ely museum, Ely, England. Ely museum, Ely, England.
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    Oliver Cromwell's house.

    by planxty Updated Feb 27, 2015

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    Few English historical figures provoke as much division of opinion as Oliver Cromwell. To some he represented a brave new world away from an hereditary monarchy, to others he was a ruthless despot who banned just about everything. Love him or loathe him, you certainly can't ignore him.

    Before rising to prominence, Cromwell was an unknown country squire in the Fens, and had a home for some years in Ely. This beautiful building (see photo) survives, and is now a tourist attraction, as well as housing the local tourist information centre.

    You basically take a self-guided tour through the house, and there are informative soundtracks played whilst slightly aminated mannequins in period costume move about. It doesn't sound very exciting but it is very well done. In one room there is a video presentation about his life, and in another there are replica period costumes for dressing up which children will enjoy. I myself look quite fetching in a Cavalier hat!

    My favourite room was the kitchen with it's lovely view to the local church (see seperate tip), laid out as it would have been. There is even a period recipe sheet available free - anyone for marrow pasties?

    Admission is £3:75 for adults. Thoroughly recommended.

    Oliver cromwells House, Ely, England.
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    Visit the Cathedral.

    by planxty Updated Feb 27, 2015

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    This is probably the primary reason people visit Ely, and it is certainly worth the trip. The word magnificent is often overused in terms of architecture, but nothing else really fits. Rising above the flat Fenland, and visible for miles around, it is quite breathtaking.

    The history of the Cathedral really starts with St. Etheldreda, a princess from Kent whose father had converted to Christianity. After two marriages, she had inherited the land round Ely and founded a religious community here. After the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror began work on the Cathedral, although it took 200 years to complete. Later still, Oliver Cromwell closed the place for about 12 years (on religious grounds) and stabled horses here. Despite wars, floods and pestilences, the cathedral survives, and really is worth seeing.

    Admission is £4:80 for adults.

    There is a seperate tour of the Tower available, but I'm not that good with heights!

    Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, England. Gargoyles, Ely Cathedral, England. Sundial, Ely Cathedral, England. Ely Cathedral, England.
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    Tourist Information Centre

    by gordonilla Written Jan 5, 2015

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    The centre was a short walk from the Cathedral precincts and is in fact in Oliver Cromwell's House. It should be noted the Cromwell family left the area in 1647. The centre was quiet when we called in but does offer a very good level of service.

    Exterior (1) Exterior (2)

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    Stained Glass Museum

    by gordonilla Written Jan 4, 2015

    The museum was an online find, and we did think we would see a lot more than we did. It is the only museum in the UK that deals with this subject. I do have to say that although there was a lot of history around there were not so many really old examples of Stained Glass.

    There is a small charge for entry and you are not permitted to take photographs.

    The space it occupies is very small and you do need to walk up some steps to reach the entrance.

    I was slightly disappointed by it overall, however it was a good enough place to visit over a holiday period as there are other things to see around the Cathedral.

    Entrance Signage Signage (1) Window Signage (2)

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    Ely Cathedral

    by gordonilla Updated Jan 4, 2015

    This was a first visit to Ely and the Cathedral; even if it was suggested well over a year ago. It was a fairly cold day, however the Cathedral staff were warm and welcoming.

    There is a charge to enter the Cathedral, however you can access their shop and café for free.

    The Cathedral is also home to the country's only Stained Glass Museum.

    Ely Cathedral Interior (1) Interior (2) The Way of Life by Jonathan Clarke A ceiling detail

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    River Ouse and Jubilee Gardens

    by Airpunk Written Aug 4, 2012

    One thing people frequently recommend you (beside visiting the Cathedral) is a walk along the river and a pint at one of the pubs and restaurant. Of course, this is a fair weather activity, although some still do that in rain and snow, skipping the walk part of the recommendation. Usually, a couple of barges and canal boats are moored at the river, in summertime even short round trips are offered. The area between the two railway bridges is famous for restaurants and pubs, but there are still a couple of them beyond those points.
    Jubilee Gardens were inaugurated by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh on the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002. The gardens are neatly kept and together with the park next to the cathedral, they form the green oasis of Ely. Jubilee Gardens and the riverside walk are popular places for local festivities. Of course, this is also the place where local artists have placed several sculptures. This include an eel in Jubilee Gardens as well as the Sluice, a sculpture which changes its light display according with the tidal level. The gardens can be accessed from the river as well as from broad street.

    Jubilee Gardens River Ouse on a winter afternoon Sluice Agressive swan The eel
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    Ely Museum

    by Airpunk Written Aug 4, 2012

    Like most mid-sized towns, also Ely has a local history museum. Similar to others of its kind, it starts from what the era looked like in prehistoric times to the post-war years. Although it has an old-fashioned appearance, it is one of the more interesting of its kind. The reason is the exceptional geographical location of Ely. Before the Fens were drained, it was an island. This led to some mentionable events, such as being one of the last Anglo-Saxon holdouts after the Norman Conquest. The Draining of the Fens were a period of change in the people's lifestyle which was adapted to the marches. This era is well documented in the museum, including items used for eel catching and some documentary clips. The exhibition about the first person to win a bicycle race was small, but caught my attention.
    The museum is quite good for a local history museum and it is one I would like to recommend for people interested in the topics mentioned. However, if you have to pick only a single place to visit after the Cathedral, I would prefer Oliver Cromwell's house.

    Ely Museum Ely Museum Ely Museum
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    Oliver Cromwell's House

    by Airpunk Written Jul 30, 2012

    This attraction was unexpectedly excellent. I was just awaiting some displays of local history and a couple of facts about the time when Cromwell used to live in that house. However, it turned out to be a small, but good museum about the life of one of Britain's most controversial historical figures. All rooms on the first floor and some rooms on the ground floor form part of the exhibition. The rooms in the ground floor focus on the Cromwell family's everyday life in the time Oliver lived there. The upper room are about the man himself, its rise from a local MP to a “King in all but name”. A good amount of boards and showcases are highlight Cromwell's career, an audioguide is available for free in different languages. At the end, visitors are encouraged to think about Oliver Cromwell as historical figure and cast their vote for Cromwell as “Hero” or “Villain”. Sometimes the museum has a temporary exhibition. At the time of my visit they were showing a documentary film about the Draining of the fens.
    The museum offers some activities for children (write like people in Cromwell's time, dress like a Puritan, etc.). However, the last room on the upper floor could not be suitable. It shows Oliver Cromwell with eyes closed on his deathbed and a ghostly projection on the left hand side. Some mannequins in the other rooms make movements, and in this spooky atmosphere I was expecting the dead Cromwell to open his eyes again. If you are easy to scare, go through this room quickly!
    Although it does not seem to be an important attraction, I would definitively rate it as Ely's number two after the Cathedral. It's a place worth to visit, especially if you are interested in history.

    P.S.: It is said that the house is still haunted by Oliver Cromwell – and that he appears in the mentioned room...

    Oliver Cromwell's House Inside the exhibition Hero or villain - you decide
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    Visit the Cathedral

    by King_Golo Written May 30, 2011

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    Ely Cathedral is the main sight of Ely. There was a monastery on its place as early as 673AD, but it was destroyed by the Danes in the late 9th century. In the late 11th century, Abbot Simeon arranged and supervised the building of a new church which became a bishop's see and thereby a cathedral in 1109. The cathedral didn't last long: In 1322, the crossing tower collapsed because of instabilities created by building the Lady Chapel. It was later rebuilt with an octogonal shape covered with 200 tonnes of wood and lead, the so-called lantern which is used to shed light on the interior of the cathedral. Another part of the cathedral collapsed in the Middle Ages, but was not rebuilt so that the building looks rather unsymmetric if you look at it from the front.

    We did a tour of the West Tower which was very interesting. Not only will the guide tell you some facts about parts of the church, but from the top of the tower you will also be able to enjoy the marvellous view over Cambridgeshire and the Fens.

    The entrance fee to the cathedral is not cheap: £6.50 for the general admission including a ground floor tour, £12 for the general admission and a tour of one of the towers, and £15.20 for the complete experience including the Stained Glass Museum inside the cathedral and a tour of one of the towers.

    Ely Cathedral View from the West Tower towards the Octogon
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    Ely Cathedral - Stained Glass Museum

    by Airpunk Written May 17, 2011

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    The Stained Glass Museum is located at one of the Southern Galleries in the Cathedral and can be visited without having to pay the entrance to the Cathedral. However, there are combo-tickets at the cathedral desk which include the Cathedral, the Stained Glass Museum and in some cases also a tour to one of the two towers.
    The museum itself has a good collection of stained glass works. The oldest ones are from the 13th century, the newest ones are from the 20th. Beside medieval religious art, the focus is on Victorian stained glass windows. Each window is thoroughly explained. Leaflets in several languages are available. A part of the exhibition is dedicated to the making of stained glass windows and the different techniques. A corner for kids to play is available too, if parents want to have a closer look at the windows.
    I would recommend the museum, although it is not a place I would travel all the way to Ely for. But if you are in the Cathedral, it’s worth to pay the extra money and have a look at this museum too.

    My favourite window: The prodigal son Rare picture of Christ during his apprenticeship Angel with rasta coloured wings 20th century stained glass window and finally, a medieval window
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    Ely Cathedral - Octagon Tour

    by Airpunk Updated May 17, 2011

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    A guided tour to the Octagon is available several times a day. This includes an introduction to the history of the Octagon, most of which you will known already if you have done the free Ground floor tour (for details about the ground floor of the Octagon, please see my tip about the Ground floor tour). The interesting part, however, comes when you have a look onto the Octagon itself. Through steps and narrow alleys you will be on the same level as the angels (which are, by the way, a Victorian addition). At this part of the tour, you will not only hear how the wooden lantern was built and lifted to this height. You will enjoy a breathtaking view into the Cathedral and you may even recognize the perspective from one or other historical movie (like Elizabeth – the Golden Age). If you have someone with you who is not joining you on the Octagon tour, make sure they will look up when you are visiting the wooden lantern. As the wooden panels with the Victorian angels can be opened like windows, you'll surely like to have a picture of yourself standing in one row with the angels. Climbing further upstairs, you will enjoy a view from the top of the Cathedral. On very clear days, you may have the chance to look as far as Cambridge. If you think that this is not enough or that the West Tower disturbs your view into that direction, climb that one.
    Of all Cathedral tours in Ely – which are all extraordinarily good – this was the best one. There is a fee of 4,00 GBP for this tour (6,00 GBP on Sunday, prices as of 2011). Ask for combo-tickets, if you are interested in other places like the West Tower or the Stained Glass Museum. Children under ten are not admitted on tower tours. Please keep in mind that some alleys and stairs on the way up and down are very narrow. If you have problems moving through this kind of spaces, it may be that the tour is not suitable for you.

    The Octagon's lead cover structure (outside) Wood cover details in the OCtagon The octagon from inside with Jesus Christ boss One of the angels has no halo... More angels
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    Ely Cathedral - West Tower Tour

    by Airpunk Written May 17, 2011

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    The West tower is the higher of the two remaining towers of Ely Cathedral. A similar looking East tower collapsed in the middle ages and was never rebuilt. Tours to the West Tower are especially recommendable on clear days which give you a 360 degree sight over the Fens, sometimes even as far as Cambridge. During your tour, you will hear some stories about the Cathedral itself as well as over the tower. This includes the one about the gothic structures which were built on top of the romanesque ones. On your way to the top, you will notice which additions were made in the 1300s. And also learn that their weight was the cause of the East Tower’s collapse. The guide also tells you about the surrounding buildings and the funnels built into some of the turrets. They were used to collect rainwater for brewing.
    The tour is good and the guides know a lot of background stories about the cathedral. If you are short on time or money, however, I will opt for the Octagon tour instead, especially on less clear days. The view from the Octagon is not as fine as from the higher West Tower (particularly as letter is in the way). But the structure of the Octagon can’t compete with the West tower at all. West tower tours (as well as Octagon tours) are available separately or on combi-tickets from the main desk. A “Full Cathedral experience”, for example, includes the entrance fee, a ticket to the Stained Glass museum, one of the two tower tours and a free coffee or tea at the café.

    West Tower Early Gothic details and roof paintings Turrets with water collection funnels View from West Tower Octagon seen from West Tower
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    Ely Cathedral - Ground floor tour

    by Airpunk Written May 9, 2011

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    There are several tours available in the cathedral and they are all worth their money. The ground floor tour is free (once you have paid the entrance fee for the cathedral itself) and takes place four times a day. Please check out the exact timetable as they very per season and day of the week. The most interesting parts are located in and around the Octagon. I will point out some of the most interesting features of the Ground floor in this tip:

    Lady Chapel: Ely’s Lady Chapel is the largest of its kind in Britain and was built in the 14th century. However, its construction disturbed the flow of subterranean currents causing erosions close to the crossing. As a consequence, the norman tower collapsed which led to the construction of the Octagon. The Lady Chapel is a prime example of iconoclasm in the reformation period. You can still have a look at all the details from the Middle Ages, but all figures had their faces destroyed.

    Prior’s door: On the southern side of the cathedral you will find a small chapel. You’ll soon notice that this was formerly part of the cloisters and that it was on the outside of the building for many years. Still, you can see some fine examples of Norman-romanesque stone carving. The most beautiful here is what it is called “Prior’s door”. The carvings include christ throned holding the book of seven heals and the doors and the twelve zodiac signs on the door frame.

    Chapels in the north transept: In front of the chapel of St. George, you will find a couple of flags from former military units. The oldest of them was on the battlefields of Waterloo when Napoleon was defeated. This chapel is the official chapel of the Cambridgeshire regiment and is used to commemorate the victims of the two world wars.
    In St. Edmund’s chapel you will find a medieval wall painting shwoing the martyrdom of St. Edmund.

    Note the tomb of Bishop Thomas Goodrich in the south transept. He was responsible of having all figures of siants destroyed, including stained glass windows. The bishop himself has a bronze relief with his picture on his grave...

    Octagon (ground floor): When the original central tower collapsed in 1322, it was decided to replace it with a completely new structure. That did not include only a stronger base design, which resulted in the octagonal shape. The people wanted to keep the daylight the way it is after the tower left a gap in the building. Therefore, the lantern was built, a huge oak structure which led daylight shine through different windows. Details about that incredible structure can be found in my tip about the Octagon. Among the details to be noticed at the ground floor of the Octagon are the niches. On the four walls, there were three small niches and two large ones on either side. This makes a total of 12 small and eight large niches. For Victorian restorators, it was easy to decide what to put into the 12 small ones: The twelve apostles. Our guide said, that no one knows what there was in the eight large ones. He said, that it must be written somewhere, but is kept as a dark secret. Whose statue was in those eight niches? Bishop Waleran Bigod? St. Michael O'Leary? Who knows...

    Prior's door St. Edmund Bishop Goodrich's tomb Iconoclasm in the Lady Chapel Altar screen
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    Ely Cathedral - General information

    by Airpunk Written May 9, 2011

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    Among England's Gothic Cathedrals, Ely's is one of the most beautiful. Although it does not have the majestic façade as Peterborough, the filigranity of Durham or the scissor-arch architecture of Wells, it has enough unique features to be worth a day trip.
    The present building was begun in 1083. Most parts of the Cathedral show the Norman-Romanesque style, later additions from the 13th and 14th century Early English Gothic (especially the Lady Chapel). The most remarkable feature is the Octagon, a crossing tower which replaced a structure collapsed in 1322 during the construction of the Lady Chapel. It contains an oak wood lantern, unique in its kind, which makes the transept looking very bright. The other tower, the West tower, is the higher of the two. It was built in Norman times and enlarged in the 13th century. The Southwest transept does not only provide access to the Stained Glass Museum and the West Tower. It also shows the change from Romanesque to Gothic architecture (from the lower to the upper floors). A similar Northwestern structure collapsed in the Middle Ages. The cut can still be seen from outside.
    Ely Cathedral is famous for being chosen a a filming spot in several movies. In many historic films, it takes the role of Westminster Abbey, the Royal palace or any other important building from the past. Some of the most recent movies include the two Elizabeth films, “The Other Boleyn Girl” or “The King's Speech”. If you want to be the star in your own handheld camera movie or just admire the beauty of the Cathedral, prepare to pay an entry fee of 6,00 GBP. A free ground floor tour of the Cathedral is available several times a day. Other tours include the West Tower and the Octagon (please see separate tips for that). There are combo-tickets which include the entry fee for the cathedral, a ticket for the stained glass museum and one of the two towers (the other one can bee booked with a separate ticket). Although these tickets are quite pricey too, they are worth its money. However, if you have to chose between one of the towers, take the Octagon.
    BTW, all guides I had were very friendly and had excellent knowledge. The guided tours are more than worth its money - for more details about them, please check my other tips.

    Ely Cathedral The crown jewel of Ely Cathedral: The Octagon Exterior view of Ely Cathedral Stained glass windows Interior view from the Octagon
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