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My husband and I ended up in Ely on a child-free weekend during the summer. Ely cathedral looks fantastic because the surrounding area is so flat, and the town (sorry, city) so small and low-rise, that the cathedral can be seen for miles around. It rises up out of the fens looking positively, errm, medieval. It would, since it was started in the 11th Century.
It's not difficult to find - the town is small, the cathedral is big ... It is open to visitors from 7 till 7, and has a deeply complicated pricing structure. There are two towers that you can go up, and a museum of stained glass to see as well as the basic tour. They had a new computer system in the day we visited, and some very confused (but friendly and apologetic) staff. We chose to do the "Octagon Tower" tour and had a "buy one get one free" ticket from the East of England tourism website, so it cost £9 for two of us.
There were about 10 of us on the tour, which took about an hour. I was revelling in the delight of being able to look, and listen, instead of having to restrain small children. You aren't allowed to take children under 10 up the towers and I don't blame them - the staircases got smaller and steeper as we got higher. The guide had lots of fascinating information to give us though, and the cathedral is just beautiful. The view from the top is great too.
Once the tour was over we went and sat in the Lady Chapel for a while. This is stunning - it is large, bright and airy - which you don't often get in an old church. I guess it was helped by being there on a lovely summer's day.
There is the inevitable gift shop, and, hooray, a cafe too. Outside there are gardens to walk through - and a rather nice teashop called The Almonry. Cream teas in the sun - bliss!
We went back to the cathedral in the evening for a concert given by the cathedral choir and two choirs from Cambridge colleges. The music was amazing, the surroundings awesome - and the seats rather hard and cold! Well, you can't have everything.
today we were lost about what to do. Having been told by a friend of mine that i should look at Ely cathedral as it was supposed to blow my mind. And she was not wrong, it really did. You can see the cathedral about 10 miles away while driving to it, it emerges from the country side like an amazing tribute to what our fore fathers could create. this is an amazing piece of architecture. Even walking to the cathedral after parking a car half a mile away it is breath taking. Every step we made towards it. i am not really massively into religion, but coming to the place like this really can make you believe that they trully believe in what they were doing when this place were builed. The detail of the building is awesome. And if you go on a sunday you do not have to pay! Inside is almost as good as inside.
A few weeks ago the present Mr Tart and myself spent the weekend in Cambridge. We were only a few miles away from Ely and despite some claims that he was 'History-ed' out he agreed to drive there on the Sunday morning. I was really excited about seeing the cathedral being a bit of a History nut. I love cathedrals and have a thing about seeing them whenever I go somewhere I havent been before.
An abbey was founded on the site in around 673 by Saint Etheldreda (youve got to love those Saxon names!). The cathedral was begun in the 11th century. The monastery part of the Cathedral was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539 and some parts of the Cathedral were destroyed, such as Saint Etheldredas shrine.
Ely is in Cambridgeshire, about 14 miles north of Cambridge. It is on the A10. Driving towards the city you can see the Cathedral from a long way away as the land around Ely is completely flat. Once in the city there is plenty of parking available. We went on a Sunday and parked on a street but during Monday to Saturday youd have to park in a car park because of the restrictions. The car parks are really well signposted although you could easily end up trapped in the one way system and may well end up doing a lap of the city first!
PRICES AND ACCESS:
There are lots of options for visiting the Cathedral. For admission to the Cathedral only the cost is £5.50 (including a guided tour when these are available). To include admission to one of the towers the cost rises to £9. On a Sunday there is no admission charge to the Cathedral but you can pay £5 for access to one of the towers or £3.50 for the stained glass museum. To enter the Cathedral, tower and museum you can buy a combined ticket for £11.80. We didnt go up the tower and we werent really interested in the stained glass museum so our entry was free (always my favourite price!). There are concession prices available. The Cathedral is accessible for visitors in wheelchairs but the towers are not.
The outside of the Cathedral is pretty breathtaking. The sheer size of the building is amazing. It was on entering the Cathedral that I got really excited though. The inside looks absolutely enormous. Your eyes are immediately taken up to the ceiling, which is very high. On the right hand wall as you enter is a sculpture of a winding road with a cross at the top (representing the twists and turns of life before we get to God). Im always a little sceptical about these modern sculptures being in ancient cathedrals but this one was more inoffensive to the eye than most.
Also at the back of the church was the font. This was from the 19th century so didnt excite me too much (anything after 1600 and I tend to rapidly lose interest!). I had to look interested as it was the font that Mr Tart was christened in! Look inside the font for the comedy ground force style water feature which the holy water flows through!!
When we went in there was a service going on, so we waited at the back and read the information boards which were quite interesting. We then had a look in the shop which sold the usual mix of religious and tourist items. The shop was quite big and sold a good selection of things, although we didnt buy anything (after an expensive weekend!).
The church has many interesting tombs and monuments, which I get very excited about! The tombs are mainly of bishops of Ely who I dont know very much about but they certainly have some amazing tombs. I love effigy tombs and there were enough in Ely to satisfy even me (morbid I know).
We then went into the Lady Chapel. Ely has the biggest lady chapel of any English cathedral. The chapel feels airy and a bit cold because its very light with enormous windows but very bare. The walls are carved but all the statues are headless after their heads were smashed off in the Reformation (Henry VIII had a lot to answer for!). There is a hideous statue of Mary in the window of the chapel. She is dressed as a medieval queen and is holding her arms out. It looks like a cheap waxwork and was just so out of keeping with the building - although having had a rant Ill probably find out that its a replica of a 15th century statue that Henry VIII destroyed!! Apparently Prince Charles unveiled the statue and I can imagine exactly what he thought about it!
The altar in the Cathedral was incredible. It is very intricately carved and was really beautiful. The centre of the church is also amazing. Look up standing in the centre and the roof is a highly decorated octagonal shape which is stunning.
There are guided tours available but not on Sundays when we visited, which was a shame as we would have liked to have done one of these if they were available and had more time. I would have gone up one of the towers but again we were pushed for time. The views are meant to be spectacular, although on the day we went it may have been a waste of money as the weather would have prevented any good views. Although I loved the stained glass in the Cathedral, the stained glass museum did not really appeal to me.
This is up there amongst England's finest cathedrals. I was hugely impressed with Ely Cathedral and will definitely revisit if I am in the area in the future. It always annoys me slightly when churches and cathedrals charge for entry but I understand that they cost huge amounts of upkeep and Id always be prepared to pay rather than see them close (although we didnt actually pay as it was Sunday, so if you want a free visit, go then!). Highly recommended!!