Old Island of the Southern Marshlands – Ely
Forty eight hours into Travel Malarkey’s Tour Four, and I am struggling to write this morning’s blog post. Dogs have been walked as the sun burned the fenland mists from the banks of the river Ouse. Coffee is long since made and growing cool in my trusty travel mug (purchased from Carrefour in Calais on our first ever tour) And the morning is three hours older than it was when I fell, puffy eyed and swollen nosed, from my cosy Iggy bed.
Jay has kindly handed me down the cold he was carrying on Friday night. But while he has bounced back to normal in a matter of hours I have awoken to a chest full of glue, a sandpaper throat, and a head that seems to have lost all capacity for any kind of thought.
Jay awakes and sits on the couch opposite, snipping his toenails as I type. A mumbled “Owyah!” suggests his aim with the clippers was a bit off. Marley watches with interest from under the drop down bed. Wondering if the “Ow!”s and “Ouch!”es are going to be followed by bacon and crusty rolls. I am wondering the same thing. While thinking about swelling waistlines and shrinking wallets.
Iggy creaks slightly. Is he laughing at us? And settles into his wheels in his amazing, free and motorhome friendly, parking spot in Ely. An Olympic Javelin throw from the grounds of Ely Cathedral and the historic centre. A pub beer garden right across the path. Three minutes walk from Aldi. Five to the country park and riverbank.
“Welcome to Ely” the parking info proclaims. “Tell your friends” “Motorhome parking available on this car park.”
To be so warmly welcomed into such an amazing spot as Ely gives me hope for the motorhome future in England. Everything is relaxed. Everyone is friendly. I’m just amazed there aren’t more motorhomes to be seen in the car park. Although the spaces are smallish, and bigger vans than our six metre Hymer might struggle to find a space to fit them.
But in my muggy headedness I have forgotten to mention our drive here from Yorkshire yesterday! So let us rewind and start at the start.
With no need to hurry, and thinking it would be good to arrive in Ely after the Saturday crowd had emptied from the car park, we dawdled our way out of Ripon in the morning. Our parking ticket was good until just before noon, and it was nearly done when Iggy finally lumbered his way out of the tiny city.
The roads were about as busy as expected on a scorcher of a bank holiday weekend in August. Here and there the traffic backed up, and we found ourselves in a twenty minute jam on the A1 motorway. But who could care on such a beautiful day? With nowhere in particular we needed to be? Not us, that’s for sure. Not we.
Heading for Ely we leave the motorway while still far north and take the A roads. Surprisingly quiet for the most part we make good time apart from the odd, slow moving, tractor. We stop a couple of times to let Marley stretch her legs. Fill up with gas at a Shell garage where we stopped to grab a Costa coffee. The coffee tastes foul, but the gas is only 66p a litre.
The heat expands. Flattening the world around us as we pass through Lincolnshire. Twenty minutes in and I feel that familiar desire to stand on my tiptoes. Crane my neck for a view that just isn’t there. These flatlands are hard work for a Scot – used as we are to hills, and more hills, and walking up a rise to see the lie of the land.
Here and there identical church spires poke up from the flatness. A sign declares we are entering the Fenlands. I begin to feel compressed. Flattened between the sky and earth. Everything is small without the perspective of height. I am suddenly aware of the Netherlands on the other side of the sea. Of these two pieces of land being the same place. Borders a falseness.
I need to see. And adore the difference. Adore my discomfort. My claustrophobic reaction. But I am glad I’m just visiting all the same.
We arrive in Ely at twenty past five, and cars are rapidly emptying from the car park. It’s easy to get a space, and we’re parked up and off up the hill in no time to check out the cathedral next door.
Jay’s cold is hitting me hard by now, and everything is a bit fuzzy in the 28 degrees of sunshine that accompanies us on our wander. I try to shake the muzziness away, but all I get for my trouble is some earth spinning vertigo.
But everything is too pretty to let that stop me from exploring. The vertigo gets another spin as I lie on the cathedral grass to try and fit more of the massive building into my lens. Marley thinks this is a great game and throws herself down beside me to help.
On we wander, past beautiful old buildings, a canon, a pretty old church, the black and white timbers of Cromwell’s house.
It is, quite simply, stunning. Everything is so close together. A tiny island in the marshlands. A tiny island of antiquity in the modern world.
My camera clicks, and clicks and clicks. I’m running out of space for images, but I cannot resist this beautiful place. First Ripon, now Ely. The feeling of truly being on Tour has crept over me without me noticing. What more does Ely have to offer?
The streets around the Cathedral were full of eateries and we were doing a great job of resisting until the Fish House netted us good and proper. My throat was crying out for a drink, and the the place somehow gave the impression it would do a mean fish supper. At just £6.40 for a haddock and chips it was a cheap treat too. And Marley was under a table like a shot. Waiting like a good girl for scraps before we’d even decided to stay.
We’re so glad we did! The fish was just perfect. I don’t eat batter. Never. But this one was so light and scrummy I gobbled every bit. And if that’s not a recommendation then nothing is.
I felt surprisingly revived by dinner, and off we set once more, following the signs for the park and the riverside. I’d expected it to be a little bit further than it was, but nothing is far in Ely. In just a few minutes wander we arrived at the moorings. The perfect end to a lovely day, as the first flushes of pink stained the evening sky above the river.
Up and down the moorings we wandered. Admiring the live-aboards, the rentals, the holiday cruisers out for the weekend. Dog owners chatted. A family tried to protect two, ill-fated, late season ducklings from a patient, waiting heron.
My camera clicked, and clicked some more. How can I choose which photographs to show you? For every one selected there are so more, waiting in the wings for space to be displayed.
There is nothing else for it – you must go and see for yourself. Stay in the free, centre parking. Or the equally free ( and better for large vans) spaces five minutes walk away, down by the country park.
If you’re lucky you’ll get to hear evensong sung in the cathedral. Bag some excellent fish ‘n chips. And watch the trains pass over the river. The bridge so close you can reach up and touch it with your hand.
But be careful, very careful, as you wander the rivers and passages of old Ely. It’s easy to arrive here. But the heart may find it a harder place to leave.