Ely Cathedral is awesome. There is no other word for it. There's just so much of it. Swathes of shimmering stained glass glowing ruby and sapphire. Masses of marble carved in ridiculously over-the-top detail. A tangle of twisting tendrils formed in wrought metal. Arches. And columns. And niches. And carvings. And more and more and more. It's hard to even imagine the sheer amount of work that went into creating it all. The detail is immense.
Step back. Take in the scale. Ship of the Fens, they call it. Its outbuildings form part of Ely high street on one side; on the other stocky ponies munch on the green fields that slope down towards the river. Two craggy towers (plus a small one) point towards the sky, and a lady chapel, big enough to be a church in its own right, is tacked onto one corner.
|The Lady Chapel altar|
This used to be an island, you know. The Isle of Eels. Ely. A thousand years ago, when the monks of St Etheldreda's monastery decided to raise a great cathedral to glorify God, all these flat fields were fenland. The cabbages and corn were reeds and swamps, and the mist hung above the stagnant water, and above it all soared the Ship of the Fens, its strong stone towers forming an oasis of solidity in an ever-shifting world.
There's not much fenland left now. Early attempts to drain the land were foiled by the fact that when you took the water out, the peat shrank, and the water flooded right back in again. But then the steam pump was invented, succeeded by diesel and electric pumps, all toiling ceaselessly away to make water flow uphill and make men the masters of one more piece of earth.
The National Trust has preserved a section of marsh at Wicken Fen, although even this, of course, is carefully reclaimed and managed and monitored. When we arrived the black stagnant pools and stodgy grass sat sullen under an overcast sky, but suddenly the sun came out and it transformed into a shimmer of silvery stems punctuated with reflections of puffy white clouds.
Looking closer, we spotted caddis fly larvae with their strange accumulations of tiny bits of stick, damselfly nymphs floating in the water, and garish orange fungus attached to an old willow tree. Even Toby got excited about looking for all the birds and insects - after he'd finished jumping on the floating dock, that is!
|The fungus; the others were underwater so didn't photograph very well.|
|A bird! Or is it a plane?|