I had wanted to visit Ely for a long time, ever since I first caught a glimpse of the city’s magnificent cathedral through a train window. This would have been twenty or so years ago, back in the day when my wife and I, along with our five-year old son, journeyed up to Norfolk to visit my parents.
Mum and dad had recently moved to the county, from Kent, following my father’s retirement. Money was a little tight back then, and it made sense for us to take advantage of a deal which was available at the time on the old British Rail Network South East. I can’t remember the exact mechanics of the package, but it worked out quite a bit cheaper letting the train take the strain, rather than driving up to Norfolk and back.
Owing to some quirk in the way the rail network had been divided up in pre-privatisation days, Kings Lynn was part of Network South East, whereas Norwich wasn’t. The deal therefore applied to the former destination, but not to the latter. My parents lived roughly halfway between the two places, so dad was quite happy to drive over to Kings Lynn and meet us off the train, and it was from one of these trains, on the journey up to Lynn that I had my first glimpse of Ely. The view across the river, towards the cathedral, with its majestic looking "lantern", was particularly enthralling, and I decided there and then that I should one day like to visit Ely.
Little did I realise that it would be twenty plus years before that desire was achieved, but the seeds of an idea to stop off in the city, were first sown towards the end of last year. My son and I had spent the weekend in Norwich, a stay which of course included a visit to see my father. I had decided to travel back by a different route, because I wanted to call in at the Beers of Europe warehouse, to the south of Kings Lynn, in order to stock up on some beers for Christmas.
Mission accomplished, we headed south on the A10, through the flat, but fertile Fenlands, in the direction of home. There, looming up on the horizon, was the unmistakable sight of Ely cathedral, and before long, we found ourselves approaching the city. The sat-nav didn’t take us right into the centre; steering us in the direction of Newmarket and the M11, but we saw enough to rekindle my long and almost forgotten desire to visit Ely.
I decided to put my plan into action on my most recent trip, especially as this time I would be travelling alone. Ely, or the immediate environs, would be a convenient stopping off place on a journey up to Norfolk, as it is roughly two thirds of the way there. By staying there for the night, I could then continue my journey the following day, and would have more time to spend with my family (my youngest sister also lives in Norfolk). All I needed to do was to find a suitable place to lay my head for the night.
Finding a bed and breakfast place which offers parking in a town or city, can sometimes be problematic, so instead I opted for a room at the Red Lion pub in the village of Stretham; just over four miles from Ely. All I needed now were some recommended pubs to visit.
A request for suitable recommendations on local blogger, retiredmartin’s site yielded an even better response than I was looking for, as it turned out Martin would be at home that weekend, and suggested meeting up. I was lucky to catch Martin on home turf, as he is a prolific traveller and writer. Since retiring, he has set himself the task of visiting all the new entries in the current CAMRA Good Beer Guide. I think he may have done this last year as well, but I forgot to ask him.
As might be imagined, the new entries to the Guide occur all over the country, so Martin, and sometimes his wife as well, is often away from home visiting far-flung and obscure corners of the British Isles, as well as towns which some people might not even know existed. The write-ups on his travels and pub findings which Martin posts on his excellent retiredmartin blog, come thick and fast, but are essential reading for anyone with an appreciation of pub life in 21st Century Britain. What makes Martin’s posts even more appealing is the inclusion of the odd off-beat or indeed out and out quirky fact about the towns and villages he visits.
I was therefore doubly pleased to receive an email from Martin a few days before my trip, stating that he and his wife would pick me up from the Red Lion and then drive us to Ely, where we would be able to enjoy a few of the city’s choicest pubs. So that Friday evening the three of us met up, as arranged, and set off to enjoy Ely, but for details of how we got on, and for information on the pubs we visited, I'm afraid you will have to wait for the next post.