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Ely's Cathedral Glory

Explore Cambridgeshire's lovely cathedral city of Ely on this short trail.

Distance 3.3 miles (5.3km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 100ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Surfaced tracks and pavements, field and woodland paths

Landscape Fenland city, magnificent cathedral, busy waterfront

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 226 Ely & Newmarket

Start/finish TL 538800

Dog friendliness Poop scoop bins are provided around city

Parking Barton Road car park (free)

Public toilets By cathedral, Market Place and Quayside

1 From the Barton Road car park, walk towards the cathedral and turn left on to Silver Street, then right on to St Mary's Street to reach the tourist information centre. This is a good place to start, not least because the 13th-century building was Oliver Cromwell's former home and houses a small exhibition. Walk past St Mary's parish church to reach Palace Green and the glorious west face of Ely Cathedral.

2 Walk along the left-hand side of the cathedral on Steeplegate and follow the semi-circular path all the way around to the far side (the gates close at 6:30pm). Go down the street opposite, past various monastic buildings including the Priory and Canonry Houses, as far as the Porta Gate. This imposing 14th-century gateway to Ely monastery is now the library of the King's School, East Anglia's oldest independent school. Don't go through the gateway but turn around to follow a surfaced path by a fence down through Ely Park. To your left, across the Meadow, there are new and stunning views of the cathedral, framed by trees, while the mound in the trees to your right represents the remains of a motte and bailey castle.
At the bottom of the hill leave the park and cross Broad Street, then continue down to the River Great Ouse via the Jubilee Gardens, opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 2002 as part of Ely's Golden Jubilee celebrations. Turn left and walk along the busy waterfront, past the old Maltings (now a restaurant and cinema) as far as the bridge to the marina. If you want to shorten the route and avoid the field and woodland paths veer left here for a pavement walk up Fore Hill back to Market Place near the cathedral.

3 Otherwise continue along Pegasus Walk, waterside of the Babylon Gallery. Beyond an open strip of willows continue underneath the railway bridge and out across an open meadow.

4 With the railway on your left, keep on the main path that drifts away from the river bank across the middle of the field. Go through the gate at the far side and turn left on to a narrow path. At the end turn left and walk along Kiln Lane, over a level crossing, and go immediately left on to a wide path through trees (signposted 'Hereward Way'). Across to the right are the flooded Roswell Pits, dug for clay and now managed for wildlife.

5 Follow this straight and obvious track known as Springhead Lane through the light woodland for over ¼ mile (400m), ignoring paths off either side. At the far end it emerges to bend right and cross a road. Go up a wide grassy strip between houses and after 100yds (91m) turn left, indicated 'public footpath', for a passageway between buildings. At the end go right, then immediately left, at the bottom of Vineyard Way. Walk along this street (aiming for the cathedral, now in sight) to emerge at Market Place.

6 Walk up the pedestrianised Market Street to the very end where Ely Museum (open daily) is housed in the former Bishops' Gaol and still retains the original hidden doorways, wall-planking and prisoners' graffiti.

7 Turn left into Lynn Street. Walk past the Lamb Hotel and straight ahead at the road junction to return to the cathedral and Palace Green.

If it wasn't for the cathedral Ely would properly be called a town, because its layout makes it just the right size to be explored on foot. But don't be fooled by the short distance of this walk - there is so much to see that you could easily spend a whole day wandering among the historic buildings and still manage to miss out on the home-made tea loaf in the cathedral's Refectory.

St Etheldreda, Queen of Northumbria, first established a monastery here in ad 673, and 400 years later the Normans began work on the mighty building you see today. It's affectionately known as the Ship of the Fens, partly because Ely was sited on a small island that rose out of the swampy Fenland so that the hilltop cathedral, with its huge octagonal tower rising up like a colossal mast, dominates the view for miles around.

Once upon a time the River Great Ouse provided a useful catch for the local inhabitants. Ely's name comes from 'Eelig', meaning eel island, and for a while local taxes were even payable in eels.

What to look for

Inside Ely Cathedral is the Stained-Glass Museum (open daily), dedicated to the rescue and display of stained glass. The main exhibition has over 100 separate panels tracing the ancient craft from the Middle Ages to the present day. There are group tours and workshops for those curious about stained glass.

Where to eat and drink

Try the cathedral's Almonry; the Cutter Inn (turn right on to the riverside from Jubilee Gardens); Waterfront Brasserie in the Maltings complex; or the Prince Albert pub near the car park at the start.

While you're there

In the village of Stretham, south of Ely, is a restored steam-driven pumping engine built in the early 1800s. This rare survivor includes an original beam engine. It's open on the second Sunday of the month and bank holidays.

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