The name of this Fenland city
means ‘eel island’, a reference to the staple diet
of its previous inhabitants, the Saxons.
It was also an island before the Fens were drained in modern times.
Here, Cambridgeshire’s most famous local hero, Hereward the Wake, held out against the Normans.
The city’s landmark cathedral dominates the landscape for many miles and was the work of Simeon, Abbot of Ely, in the 11th century. In 1322 the building’s main tower collapsed but was replaced by its present octagonal lantern tower designed by the monk Alan de Walsingham. The nave, measuring 248ft long, is one of the longest in England.
The Ely Porta, a three-storey
gatehouse, was home to Oliver Cromwell from 1636
to 1647, while King’s School, founded in the late
10th century, is one of Britain’s
oldest school. Its pupil-roll included Edward the
Near the city is Wicken Fen, the country’s oldest nature reserve. Owned by the National Trust it gives visitors some idea of what the Fens were like before they were drained – an atmospheric cocktail of reeds, waterways, woods and meadows.