This is the second part of a 2-part roadtrip from London through South and Midwestern England. Click here for part 1.
Day 3 – The canals of Birmingham
Before this day, I had associated the word ‘canal’ with Venice or Amsterdam. But little did I know, that the massive canal network in Birmingham was bigger than the one in Venice or Amsterdam!
But to enjoy them properly, we first had to deal with the day. What was a peaceful 2 days without rain, had completely turned the tables on us. Birmingham was pouring! The news mentioned that the storm had abated, but the rains were ongoing. And that is how Birmingham looked too.
We stayed in our hotel till noon. The rain didn’t look like it was going to stop at any cost. When it finally paused around noon, we drove out and stopped near the canals for some breakfast, near the broad street area (yeah, they have a broad street in Birmingham too!). And enjoyed the beautiful view of narrowboats passing by on the canals. We had not even become accustomed to our new-found bliss, when the rain started pounding away again.
Christos was getting desperate, as he hated the feeling of being stuck in a place. We had to start moving. And finally we caved in: we knew we wouldn’t be able to explore Birmingham. We had to get going. But, to where?
And Christos asked his most trustworthy adviser. He took out his iphone, and spoke into it: “Siri, is there any interesting places near Birmingham?”
After a couple of attempts (Siri has obviously not been perfected to work against the Greek accent), his iphone threw up a webpage with places not too far from Birmingham. The most obvious choice was Cambridge, about 160 kms away. But then we saw another option, just 25 KM from Cambridge.
Ely. A small cathedral city of just 20,000 people.
We drove to Ely instead of Cambridge due to 2 reasons. Firstly, given that Ely was a smaller city, the cost of accommodation was cheaper. Secondly, we could check out the beautiful Ely Cathedral.
Thanks to the rain, and a couple of stops along the way, we reached Ely well past 8 pm. The smartest thing we did was to book a hotel on the way. Because when we reached Ely around 8.20, the entire town was pretty much a ghosttown. Small town places in rural England shut down pretty early, and Ely was no exception. The brightly lit cobblestone streets lay barren. We checked into our hotel, which was run by a Thai family, and called it an early night.
Day 4 – Ely Cathedral
The day began with a quick breakfast at the friendly Thai hotel. There was biscuits, some sandwiches, and of course, tea. And then, we stepped out for a walk.
Luckily, we didn’t have to walk much. The hotel was located at St. Mary’s street, which also housed the famous residence of Oliver Cromwell. A few minutes later, our walk had found it’s destination: the cathedral church of the holy and undivided trinity. Better known as the Ely Cathedral.
If the cathedral does look a little familiar, you can thank Pink Floyd for it. The cover background of their famous album ‘Division Bell’ was shot in Ely, and the Cathedral appears between two faces in that album cover art.
The cover art also explains a little bit on why the Ely Cathedral is also called ‘the ship of the Fens’, a reference to the low-lying wetlands called the Fens which surround the cathedral. Going through multiple changes, the cathedral building was started in 1083 and finally completed in 1351.
There is no mistaking the central octagonal tower, which dominates the entire landscape. But what was more suprising was the internal space that this huge tower provided. John Weasley once described the “nave of the cathedral as being of an amazing height”. And I had to see it for myself to ensure that I had my jaw dropping to the ground.
Rest of Cambridge
After spending our time in and around the Ely Cathedral until noon, we went back to the hotel to check out. We still had time to ride to Cambridge, before heading back to London. And there was no excuse for not doing that, since it was just 30 KMs away!
What was indeed a true crime, turned out to be spending only half a day in Cambridge. We had no idea that Cambridge had so much to see, and in fact, I am pretty sure that we did not do enough justice to even seeing half of what it had to offer. We parked our car somewhere in Chesterton road, and started walking by the River Cam. The weather was still a bit windy and chilly, but there were a few rowers making their way down the river.
We stopped by to admire the gothic architecture of some of the university buildings. I know I should have noted down which ones I visited, but frankly, there were far too many, and almost all of them were gorgeous!
Our walk took us to the Magdalene bridge, which was a quaint little bridge with a sprinkling of bars and pubs, and the starting point of many punting trips. If there is one activity that needs to be done in Cambridge – regardless of how much time you have – that has to be the punting. Punting is the act of riding a long wooden boat by pushing a long pole against the bottom of the river. Kind of like an Englishman’s Gondola, if you may.
The punting trip was quite short, as we got off a little bit further to the famous bridge of Sighs. We were worried about getting too far, because we would then have to walk a really long distance to get back to our car. With evening approaching, we got back to our trusty Vauxhall Astra. For one final ride, to where it had all started 4 days ago.
Back to London!
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