When we stayed near Cambridge recently we decided to spend time exploring Ely as a family as the cities are fairly close together. My OH and son had never been before and it’s probably a good twenty-five years since my one and only visit. I knew there was a cathedral so looked at parking options close to that as a starting point and off we headed.
Imagine my surprise when we discovered that there are a number of free car parks throughout the city of Ely! Not often you can say that about somewhere in the UK these days. We parked in the Barton Road long stay car park which is ideally placed to explore the small city.
As my son is quite interested in history we decided we’d concentrate the time we had visiting Oliver Cromwell’s House and Ely Cathedral, whilst also enjoying parts of the Eel Heritage Walk which takes you on a circular walk of the city.
Oliver Cromwell lived in Ely for ten years with his family and Oliver Cromwell’s House is situated on St Mary’s Street. The tourist information office is also based there.
Free audio guides are available and it takes up to 45 minutes to explore the various rooms and displays. We found the experience very informative and my son enjoyed casting his vote when we had to decide whether we thought Cromwell was a villain or a hero. There is a short introduction video to watch at the start of the self-guided tour and lots of interactive displays for children to enjoy as you learn about Cromwell and his family from when they first arrived in Ely in 1636 through to the 1650s after the civil war had been won.
We all agreed that Oliver Cromwell’s House was well worth a visit and all came away having learned something new about the man who changed the political landscape of the country back in the 17th century.
Ely Cathedral is within spitting distance of Oliver Cromwell’s House and was free to enter when we visited after the Sunday morning services had finished.
There is a Crowns and Gowns exhibition running until 15th March 2020 which costs £5 per adult (on Sundays) and is free for children.
The current cathedral building dates back to the 11th Century and you don’t have to be religious to be blown away by its beauty. It really is a stunning building, and even my ten year old walked round in awe.
He’s as fascinated by churches and cathedrals as I am, and is always eager to look around somewhere we’ve not visited before. These buildings are steeped in history, engineering and design and he soaked up the atmosphere as we wandered around Ely Cathedral and I’ve taught him well, always look up too!
The Crowns and Gowns exhibition features costumes from television series and films that have been filmed in the cathedral, including The Crown, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and The King’s Speech. It was fascinating to get up close to the different outfits, crowns and tiaras and was a nice add-on to our visit to the cathedral.
You can also complete The Green Man Trail whilst walking around the cathedral, there’s a free leaflet available from the ticket office with twelve different green men to find. Another great idea to keep kids amused. We also didn’t realise that the Stained Glass Museum is housed on the first floor of the cathedral and we’d have liked to have seen that too. Always good to have a reason to return.
We walked down through Ely Park heading towards the River Great Ouse. On a warmer day, I can imagine people picnicking here. My son enjoyed running through the natural tunnel.
Apparently my son had watched a CBBC programme recently which featured eels and Ely so he was really pleased to discover a statue of an eel in Jubilee Gardens.
Spending time exploring Ely as a family, we got to watch the world go by down by the river for a while.
We found a cannon in front of the cathedral which had been donated by Queen Victoria, and we spotted a number of plaques around Ely with information on various buildings. There’s certainly plenty to keep everyone entertained when exploring Ely as a family.
My son is fascinated by trains, mostly steam trains, but he can’t miss the opportunity to visit a new train station and see trains coming and going. So there was no way we were going to be able to walk past Ely train station without popping in for a couple of minutes. There are no ticket barriers so we were able to go onto the platforms to watch a few trains come and go – the things I do for my train spotting son!
We had lots of fun exploring Ely as a family, there was something for all of us and we left with things still to discover which gives us a good reason to return. Have you been? Where else should we go?