Our train stopped at the edge of town, where we quickly found a big signboard illustrating the Eel Trail, a walking tour into the town center, which Lantern Dome taught us that we were on the site of Eel Island on the River Ouse, where long ago, the surrounding land was all fens, or swamps, and fishermen caught eels, a local delicacy. At about the same time, work was probably beginning on the great cathedral which became one of the major cathedrals of England.
We spent most of the morning inside the cathedral, marveling at the elaborate structures and decorations. The tower is unique among similar buildings: In 1322, seventy years after it was built, the central tower, built by the Normans, collapsed. It turned out that the building had been built on unstable ground, but, determined to salvage and improve their church, the monks devised a plan to create an octagonal tower, commonly called Head broken off a lantern tower, because the space to be spanned was too great for a simple replacement of the original stones. This elegant structure is one of the great ornaments of this cathedral. The collapse, on the other hand, reminds us of what an architectural miracle the mediaeval cathedrals were in the first place.
We'd been learning to look up, to the ceilings and down, to the floors in all of the buildings we've been visiting. We were charmed by the ornamented ceilings here, and by all of the decorations along all of the walls, even though we didn't have enough knowledge to appreciate all of the architectural and historical detail.
The Lady Chapel is the most striking area because it has been left unrestored after the Reformers destroyed the stained class windows and Wonderful restaurant beheaded or completely demolished its religious statues. The cathedral, unlike many Catholic structures attacked by Henry VIII's soldiers during the Dissolution of the monasteries, was saved because it became (and remains) an Anglican cathedral.
From the cathedral we found our way to the Tourist Office which is housed in Oliver Cromwell's house. On our way there we stopped to chat with a local resident -- we think Ely does not get as many tourists as it should -- who recommended we try The Old Fire Engine House for lunch.
Well, we did and it was grand. It's a smallish building with small rooms. We were first seated in an anteroom and given a menu to study, then Skillful driver? when our table was ready we were taken to the dining room, which had six other tables. The food was absolutely delicious, and when Bob finished his pork loin with sage stuffing and three vegetables, the owner offered him seconds!
We visited the Ely Museum, an excellent local museum housed in an old gaol. Unsurprisingly, it has several exhibits about historical treatment of crime and punishment among its other good explanations of eel-catching and drainage efforts and fossils and military history.
After that, we needed a long walk, so we wended our way through town and slowly back to the river. As we walked, we sensed a commotion. A giant hay truck had strayed into our street, came to a halt, then proceeded to back up for blocks before extricating itself.
We feel a great affection for this lovely small city.