the next town north of cambridge is ely (pronounced ee-lee), a place i kept saying i’ll visit “tomorrow” because it’s so close (15 miles away). after living here almost three years, tomorrow finally came. it helped that it was a beautiful day (rare) and a chance to go for a spin in a friend’s convertible sports car (though it was merely a british-made mg). ely is a pretty, little river (ouse) town with an impressive cathedral and an interesting history. oliver cromwell, the only commoner to rule england lived here for a while in the 17th century. his house is now the tourist information center. the town got its name from the abundance of eels in the area. eels on land, you ask? well, the region from cambridge north to boston is called the fens. most of it was and is below sea level and consisted of swamps and marshes (i.e. perfect environment for slimey eels) up until the 17C, when they brought over a dutch engineer named cornelius vermuyden to drain them. ely was one of the many islands that rose out of the swamp and was called elig, or eel island. supposedly, the eel is still a popular item on menus in the town, but i didn’t go out of my way to find a place that served them.
the cathedral is fairly awesome. it was dubbed ‘the ship of the fens’ due to the way in which it rose above the waterlands. the structure is almost a thousand years old, with a classic, norman nave and the largest lady chapel in england. its most famous features are its beautiful, painted ceiling and a very unique, octagon or central tower, where eight pillars hold up 200 tons of glass, lead, and timber: a major engineering feat.