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Frank's travels around Britain 2007.

Ely & area by Merc.

Its terrible when you have to send your kids on holiday to get your hands on a descent car! Inexpensive it wasn't, but I managed to get 60 mpg for one very brief period (Before being in an M6 car park, whilst passing Birmingham.) and I loved all 900 miles plus that I put on the car from Monday to Thursday.

About 20 years ago, I was in the area, working & looking for my great great grandmothers grave in the Norfolk village of Bressingham. It must be my age! It was nothing like I remembered. The Church, St. John the Baptist, was on the main road opposite a pub that went back to the 16th century. The Chequers Inn was originally built as a hostelry and bake house for workers during the restoration of St. Johns. Restoration began in 1480 and was completed in 1526. The Lord of the Manor, Sir Roger Pilkington, who was the sponsor, died around 1524. As a consequence, money for the restoration ran out, and the leading of the roof was only completed after a collection in adjacent villages. The Church looked so sad. It looked in a poor state of repair, the grass was so high, gravestones more than a few feet away from the path were hidden. Grandma Mary's grave was under a tree and is now barely readable. It reads "Mary Gooderham, 73, died 30/12/1892,  Long time she was with pain oppressed/that wore her strength away/which made her wish for endless rest/that never will decay." That must have been one last miserable Christmas for her. Inspired by seeing the grave again, I spent too much time trawling libraries & a record office, trying to find a marriage date & burial of her  husband Robert, with no success. (Oh well, back to the web & paying money!) Whenever he passed away, he was not noted on the grave stone. We do know that on 1861 census of Bressingham, Norfolk. Robert was an Agricultural Labourer & deaf. All his children were brush makers.

A really interesting site I found, was West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village. It lets you explore the way our ancestors  actually lived. Between 1965 and 1972 the site was stripped and excavated. Luckily the area had been covered with a sand dune since the 13th century, giving the archaeologists a unique opportunity to study an entire Anglo-Saxon village. Most of the timber had rotted away, but there was enough evidence to plot the changes in the village between the 5th and 7th centuries. The early Anglo-Saxon village (c.420-650AD) has been carefully reconstructed where it was excavated, so you are walking in their footsteps, the buildings are in situ & it does have a feel of being alive but the owners have just left it. Experimental archaeology has provided new ideas on what life was once like at West Stow. In the Anglo-Saxon Centre, objects from the original village are displayed. A fascinating collection of everyday artefacts that includes gold pins, metal brooches, rivet-decorated combs made from antlers, cremation pottery, age-blackened swords, beaded necklaces, a lead plumb level and a small `girdle hanger' -- a symbol of the keeper of the keys, telling the fascinating story of this settlement and the people who lived here. Visitors can go into the houses, smell the wood smoke, feel the solid wood, imagine living in early Anglo-Saxon times. You might see wildlife, crops, pigs or hens; there is no hurry on this journey through time, you can stay there all day for £4. A lot cheaper than many places I have been too. There were reconstruction days, where people play their parts and, whilst I was around, there seems to be a constant stream of school children bringing lessons to life.

The cathedral city of Ely feels like its there purely because its the only hill for miles! The real fact is, It was a significant port until the 18th century when the Fens were drained and Ely was not an "island" anymore.  It is said that Ely derives its name from 'eel' and '-y' or '-ey' meaning island, i.e. an island where there were a lot of eels. This may be true due to the position of Ely, an island in low lying fens, which were historically very marshy and rich in eels. The city's origins lay in the foundation of an abbey in 673AD, a mile to the north of the village of Cratendune on the Isle of Ely, under the protection of St Ethelreda, daughter of King Anna. The abbey was destroyed in 870AD by Danish invaders and not rebuilt for over a hundred years. The site was one of the last holdouts in England to the rule of William I: Hereward the Wake did not surrender until 1071. The Great Ouse river is a popular boating area with a large marina. Its about 150 miles long, beginning in Northamptonshire & empties itself into the Wash. The name Ouse is Celtic or pre-Celtic, and probably means simply "water". The University of Cambridge rowing team has a boathouse on the bank of the river and train here for the annual Boat Race against Oxford University. What I didn't know was Ely is not renowned as a place of pilgrimage for a cup of tea. Well I was surprised to learn (too late to go!) that a tearoom in Ely, the  Peacock’s Tearoom, located at 65 Waterside, was awarded the UK Tea Council’s elite Top Tea Place 2007 award, alongside The Dorchester in London who won the Top London Afternoon Tea award. Ely is a very nice place, not too gentrified and dominated by the magnificent Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, it is known as the "Ship of the Fens" for the distant views of its towers that dominate the low-lying wetlands called The Fens. The cathedral was started by William I in 1083 and completed in 1351, despite the collapse of the main tower in 1322, which was rebuilt as an octagonal tower. The bishopric of Ely was founded in 1109. The city took part in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Oliver Cromwell lived in Ely for several years after inheriting the position of local tax collector in 1636. His former home dates to the 16th century and is now used by the Tourist Information Office as well as being a museum with rooms displayed as they would have been in Cromwell's time.

I was advised by the guy who made my bacon sarny to see the Saxon village & Bury St. Edmonds. I went to both, he was only right about the Saxon village! I am sure Bury St. Edmonds is very nice place to live & shop. It is not unpleasant but its a place to drive through, unless you need supplies!

Between Bressingham & the lodge there is the Elveden War Memorial. It can be found sitting alongside the main A11 road between Thetford and Newmarket in a forest heath setting with a small car parking area available on both sides of the road. At an impressive 30 metres tall, it is Suffolk’s biggest war memorial and marks the point where Elveden, Eniswell & Icklingham all meet. It stands as a memorial to those killed from these three parishes in the Great War. Some say it used to be possible to climb up the inside of the enormous structure.

The whole area is very attractive but being so flat & driving a Mercedes, I didn't stop enough. I passed by places, as they came up very suddenly on a bend & bingo they were gone! The entire place is covered with very attractive pine trees and the whole area seems dedicated to either the horse or boating. Thetford Forest Park was created only 80 years ago, but today it is the largest lowland pine forest in the UK - spreads across Norfolk and Suffolk. It is a centre for nature trails, camping & run by the forestry commission. I should have stopped more ... but eh! its not every break you can savour such boyish pleasures as driving for the fun of it.


Links for information on this page:


Saxon Village

Bressingham Church