November 4

Andrew Stawarz/Flickr
Andrew Stawarz/Flickr

It’s risky making a one-way bike trip into the Fens—you could face a headwind the whole time, with no return reward. The area is so gusty because it’s so flat. You might think the rivers here had gone stagnant but for the breeze pushing them toward the North Sea. The highest thing around is Ely Cathedral, which you can see from miles away. On my recent ride there, I might as well have been sailing, thanks to a generous tailwind that pushed my bike northward.

I arrived in town before my brother, who was taking a train from London to meet me. I picnicked in the massive noontime shade of the cathedral and stopped by the tea shop to buy a savory scone. When he arrived later, we purchased another scone and proceeded to the stone arches of the Ship of the Fens, the fourth longest cathedral in England. The nave was elegantly pointed, with a Victorian painted ceiling, and the groin-vaulted side aisles were heavier, rougher, Romanesque. The octagonal roof and tall lantern windows above the crossing were worth the crick in my neck. But for all that Gothic might, I could already sense the power of the scone waning. An hour-long tower tour wouldn’t stopper the acerbic, side-mouth comments from bubbling forth. No, it was time for bread, beer, and sunshine by the River Ouse.

Is there any better way to finish a day trip than a brief train ride with a full belly? At a quick clip past canals, dikes, and regimented fields, we made it back to Cambridge in less than 20 minutes. A short hug, a short ride through the city, a long shower, and a flip through my new book on the history of Ely Cathedral—were those scone crumbs wedged in the spine?


Reader’s Note: Every day for the next couple of weeks, we’ll be presenting new entries from “Along the River Cam.” Check here for the latest post.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Charlotte Salley is a former assistant editor of the Scholar.


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