Sunday, 18 August 2013

Ely and the Fens

This morning was spent on a recce to Ely Cathedral. Author Neil Gaiman is doing a talk there on Tuesday evening, for which Ms Fab and I have tickets. Unfortunately I had no idea how to get there. I've been to Ely a couple of times but, as a passenger, I didn't pay attention to the route. So picking up tickets was a good excuse to find out the way, as well as spy out car parks and pubs with nice food.

Ely Cathedral

Ely is in the Fens, an agricultural area with a fascinating history. My Yorkshire Grandad thought the Fens were one of the most beautiful places he'd been, but for me they're rather bleak and unwelcoming. He loved them partly for the 180 degree skies - he had bad claustrophobia and thought all that space was wonderful. 

Driving through the Fens in the Winter terrifies me. The black Fenland soil is constantly being eroded by the wind, and the roads are often several feet above the fields. Some of the roads dip and lean alarmingly - add this to deep drainage ditches either side and it's place I try to avoid in icy weather. 

The Winter Fens feature in the children's book Tom's Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce. One of the characters skates from Cambridge to Ely during one of the harsh Victorian Winters. It was a popular sport at the time, with speed-skaters travelling from Europe and America to compete in races. They wore 'Fen Runners', which were just blocks of wood with blades on them, screwed to the bottom of their shoes. (It's amazing what you learn doing a Children's Literature course...)

Fen Runners

Anyway, I now know the way to Ely. All I've got to do now is remember to take the tickets with me and not end up in a drainage ditch. Here's hoping....

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