What I did at the holiday: up the tower and down the mill!
I've got used to thinking of bank holidays as a chance to catch up on work.Boring eh? But having someone to stay (over the last three days it's been Samuel -- our South Sudanese friend) does make you get out and actually DO something. And the anxiety about the work left undone soon becomes outweighed by rewards of a bit of local tourism.
We'd been to Ely before of course (it would be difficult to live in Cambridge for nigh on 30 years and not have got to Ely), but ended up finding plenty new.The first thing was a tomb memorial that we'd simply never spotted -- to the architect George Basevi, who died in the cathedral in 1845, falling off/through the West Tower (always a cautionary tale for young architects). He has a rather smart faux-medieval brass, but what struck me most was that he is holding in his hands (you can just about see it in this picture) a plan of the Fitzwilliam Museum that he had designed but never finished.
So he was immortalised with what was to become (after it had been completed by C R Cockerell) his masterpiece.
The next thing was to go up the tower -- not the West Tower from which poor old Basevi fell, but the Octagon Tower over the crossing.
I'm not usually a great fan of church towers. Usually it seems that you pay through the nose to climb a lot of steps and -- if there is a guide -- he tends to drone on with inconsequential stories of mad vicars. And after all towers are pretty similar, seen one, seen them all.
But, because we had Samuel with us (who hasnt done church towers in South Sudan), we thought we'd better do it. It certainly was pricey (Ely cathedral isnt a cheap touristic option), but it was worth every penny.
For a start, it was a fantastic view. You actually go up into the lantern over the crossing... and they open the great shutters (with painted angels on) and you can look down into the cathedral below; and that's before you go outside on the roof.
And we also had the most brilliant guide. No tales of barking bishops, but a really good hour's worth of top rate information on the structure and history of the extraordinary octagon, back to the fourteenth century). We came away actually feeling that we had learned something.
That was Saturday. On Easter Monday we tootled off to a place we hadnt been before: Houghton Mill. It didn't quite have the WOW factor of the Ely tower, but it was pretty damn good. A water mill, built in its current form in the mid eighteenth century, and still in working order. Indeed on Easter Monday it WAS working, and we came away with a Houghton Mill bag of real stoneground flour.
It's now owned by the National Trust, and largely staffed by volunteers (who didn't get in your face); and they nicely grind the grain from their farm at Wimpole. A really gorgeous hour or so out.
Five stars all round.