Elizabeth Goudge Ely - Cambridgeshire When her father, Henry Leighton Goudge was transferred to Ely the whole family went and it proved to be a good move for Elizabeth. She loved Ely and having visited this city about 60 miles North-East of London, I can understand her feeling.
As you approach Ely by train you cross the Fens. In Roman times, this area of Britain was never fully under Roman control. The local people knew the land far better than the invader and used their knowledge to harass the Roman armies. At one time this area of Cambridgeshire was all fens [bog/swamp] but a series of engineering projects begun even in Roman times drained the land.
With the draining, the land fell and the area was threatened by sea incursion. Finally, a series of pumps the took the water from the land and put it into drainage channels and when the tide came in, sluices were raised to keep the sea from overwhelming the land. The result is the modern, flat land with the special 'black dirt' that is particularly good for crops.
If you travel by train from London, you can see the Cathedral of Ely in the distance. The city appears to arise out of the flat land like a Mount over the sea [but in this case the sea is flat and green land]. At the summit of this Mount arising above the farmland is the great Ely Cathedral dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
The train stops at Ely down on the flat. As you leave the station and cross the road you can start your way upwards towards city center and the Cathedral.
Or if you prefer, you can cross the road, turn right and you will find yourself on the pathway to the River Ouse. Houseboats are tied up along the river walk; across the river cattle graze. Oh, yes, there are modern watercraft too but there is enough of the old time feel here that you can put yourself into some of Elizabeth Goudge Ely novels easily.
There is a lovely walk along the river and some places to eat or sit and watch the water fowl and boats. If you walk downstream a bit, following the path under the bridge you leave the modern boats behind and look across at the cows grazing and even see a small windmill in the distance you can imagine Elizabeth Goudge Ely life - especially if you have one of her books or her Joy in the Snow biography with you.
It was a visit to the Great Ouse that gave me my first real understanding of the houseboat mentioned by Goudge in her novels. I had always thought of the boats in an American tradition as one storied square boats with railings all around that I used to see in my childhood in New York's City Island. But the houseboats on the River Ouse look nothing like that! (And yes, the owners do grow flowers and small vegetable plots on the flat roofs of their boats - just as described in Elizabeth Goudge Ely novels.
Here is an city map. You can orient yourself by finding the train tracks in the lower right and then face toward the Cathedral. It is not hard to image this as an Elizabeth Goudge Ely City map
The Cathedral is on the site of an abbey founded by St. Ætheldreda in 673 but destroyed by the Danes in 870. To read more about this Cathedral and its history go to: Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity
When I visited, I was surprised to find that this city was the home of Oliver Cromwell also! (so much for my knowledge of history) and I wondered if that daily closeness to Cromwell is one of the things that inspired Elizabeth Goudge to make that period so central to many of her stories. Also this was a center of the clock making trade - so the Dean's Watch taps into that tradition.
If you would like to view some photos of Ely, you can go to Flickr - Ely Click on any thumbnail to enlarge it.
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