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Essentially England News - Of Eels and Steam
March 05, 2016

Of Eels and Steam

Hello to everyone - it's March! Our local weather has it a little backwards, though. February had some really calm, sunny days that brought out the blossoms, snowdrops and daffodils. Now that it's March, it's blowing a gale and this morning, the village had a dusting of white. Not for long… but still. March, I may remind you. And did anyone else notice that ever since the Met Office started naming storms, we seem to have a lot more of them?

Nevermind. I'm sure nature will sort herself out and send some warmth. And meanwhile I'll enjoy my primroses as I find them and entertain you with a few snippets from a trip into Cambridgeshire.

Ely Cathedral | ©

Paid with Eels

The Island of Eels, otherwise known as Ely in Cambridgeshire, had long been on our to-do-list. It has a famous cathedral with a wooden, rather unusually shaped octagonal tower and it's a lovely little city to boot. We'd been past it several times, usually during a 24-hour cycle race when stopping to explore was not on the cards. So when the weather forecast promised something reasonable-ish one day, we took the chance.

These days you can't tell, but once upon a time, Ely really was an island. All the land surrounding it lies below sea level and the only reason it's not wet these days is due to the 17th century efforts at draining the fens. The upside of not being able to go swimming is - of course - that you can see for miles. Especially from the Octagonal Tower of Ely Cathedral.

If you do visit and are able to do so, I strongly suggest you let the guide take you up into the tower. Don't let the narrow stairs put you off, because you're not just going up to admire the view. There is a view, of course, and it's stunning… but if you love history you can touch, your guide has two real treats in store for you.

Ely Cathedral | ©

That's because he doesn't just take you up to the lantern, which is what the wooden part of the tower is called, he takes you right inside. You get up close and personal with the beams that make up that marvellous construction. You can see the medieval carpenters' adze marks, you can admire how they fit the lantern together without nails… and how the Victorians rescued some of the joints by banding them with metal.

And remember the beautiful paintings ringing the lantern that you admired standing inside the cathedral? They're on panels that can be moved like shutters and, let me tell you, the colours are even more vibrant up close!

I can write several newsletters about Ely Cathedral, as you can probably guess… but it deserves the praise. And I suggest you go see it if you can.

Indicting Mice

Cromwell's House Ely | © essentially-england.comSomething else Ely is famous for beyond eels and a stunning cathedral is its connection with Oliver Cromwell.

The English Civil War isn't my favourite historical period and not one that I'm all that knowledgable about, so I jumped at the chance to find out a bit more. The exhibition in Cromwell's House is very well put together, telling the story of the Civil War as well as the social history surrounding it.

It's the latter, that usually draws me in. The way people lived their lives, how they dressed, what they ate, used for tools and utensils, what they read and believed fascinates me and often sparks my imagination. Something that will doubtless turn up in a story somewhere some day, is a little gem we found in the kitchen of Cromwell's House.

It's a completely insignificant snippet, but it was a new one for me and it made me smile so much that I had to share it. Because in Cromwell's House, I came across a note that explained that in medieval England animals could be held responsible for their misdeeds. Just think on that for a moment and then try to keep a straight face.

Take a goat to court for eating a row of cabbages. Scold a rabbit for decimating the salad leaves or the dog for digging in the garden…. And if you can indict mice for stealing corn, does that make our Tiger the local law enforcement?

The Flying Scotsman is Back in Steam!

This has to do with the Ely trip only insofar as our cathedral tower guide loved trains. And rugby, but we come to that another day. This is more about our ongoing love affair with the age of steam.

Steam trains are something you never grow out of. My husband remembers being taking by his granddad to Clapham Junction to see the last of the steam trains before they were replaced by diesel and electric. In the years since, many heritage railway lines are being restored and run steam trains to the delight of adults and children alike.

One of the most iconic steam locos of all time, the Flying Scotsman, has just reappeared on the regular rail network. The first time we saw the Flying Scotsman was a few years back in the railway museum in York.

The Flying Scotsman being overhauled at York Railway Museum| ©

He was being overhauled and rebuilt and this year, the long labour of love has finally paid off. The Flying Scotsman was once more proudly steaming between London and York and thousands of people went to see him pass. (There's a video on the Essentially England Facebook page if you'd like to see.)

We're hoping for a chance to go on the train at some point, though probably not this year. Tickets are selling like hot cake… as well they should. But when we manage to see the Scotsman in steam, I'll definitely write about it here!

And Next Month …

That's it from me for the moment. We're busy rebuilding the England site with the new, mobile-and-tablet-friendly design and I'm giving it an update and a bit of a re-write at the same time. Whether we get to go out and explore depends very much on the weather... though tomorrow we'll be in the velodrome cheering the battle for World Champion's stripes...

Meanwhile, please keep well, and I'll be back next month!

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