Monday 16 February 2015

Ely Revisited - A Fenland Cruise

With friends staying with us we wanted a day out that would entertain them, something different from what they would enjoy at home in the London Borough of Croydon, and the city of Ely seems to fit the bill. The cathedral, of course, but also the interesting little city and the dramatic train ride over the Cambridgeshire Fens to get there, and we could find a nice pub or restaurant for lunch, by the marina which is always a nice place to be on a sunny afternoon. 

I had done a similar trip a year or so ago with a group from church and it would be good to do it with friends, too.

So we set off from our local station, a through train to Ely, going on to Cambridge and Stansted Airport, calling at just Peterborough and March on the way. We know the stretch as far as Peterborough very well (or, at least, I do: passing this way on average about once a week!), but it is good to show visitors a view from the train that is totally different from anything they may have seen from the roads. The line follows the River Welland out of Stamford and then strikes across towards the Nene valley, running alongside the East Coast Main Line into the city. From the stop at the new platform 6 at Peterborough we descend towards the River Nene, passing over the river and under the main line to leave the city along the south bank of the River Nene, past new housing being built adjacent to the Peterborough United football ground.

We are soon out in the fens, an area marked by large flat fields criss-crossed by roads, dykes (which are ditches here!) and our railway line. We call at March station, a shadow of the junction it used to be, and then soon the towers of Ely Cathedral are seen over the trees which surround the city and the train curves south towards it, joining lines from Kings Lynn and Norwich at a junction just north of Ely and passing the marina to arrive at the station.

It was a pleasant walk along the waterside and up into the city centre where we parted company for a while, one of us visiting the Cathedral while the rest of us looked around the town, including a visit to the tourist information office in Oliver Cromwell’s house. Reconvening, we made our way back down to the river, by way of some of the shops (there is a useful model railway shop, within a toy and cycle shop) in the city centre. We had lunch in The Cutter Inn overlooking the waterside, an idyllic place. The inn is named after the men who built the fen drainage, known as cutters because they built cuts, and not after the fast sailing boats that the name brings to mind. There was some activity on the river and the boats always make a colourful sight, and every few minutes one of a variety of trains would pass on the embankment behind the marina where we had travelled in the morning and would return later.

After lunch we wandered down to the trip boat berth at the quayside and queued for a river tour. This was a fascinating tour of Ely and taught us much history, some of which is probably true (including the snippet about the name of The Cutter Inn), and something about the draining of the fens and fen life. We saw from the river some of the territory I had walked with a parish party a couple of years earlier.

We had enjoyed a great day out and now it was time to make our way to the station for the train home. Ely station, especially in warm, sunny weather, has a very pleasant atmosphere and is a good place to wait for a train and we were soon speeding home in comfort with some good memories of a short but worthwhile “adventure”.

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