top of page

Ely and Bury St Edmund

Ø June 30 Ely and Bury St Edmunds (Sunday)

My plans for Sunday included taking a train at 9:05 for #Ely, dropping my bag, and heading to the cathedral to attend the 10:30 #OrdinationService. Leaving the Park Inn with plenty of time, I arrived at the Peterborough train station only to find that the train was at 9:50. Fumble fingers or dyslexia? Doesn’t matter. Pondering what to do, as the 40-minute ride on the train wouldn’t allow me to attend the service, I opted for a cab. The dispatcher phoned a driver who showed up in ten minutes and took me across the countryside to Ely. Dropping me at The Royal Standard to leave my bag, I was most grateful and was going to be able to achieve the day’s goal. A ten-minute walk up a slight hill and through a gate into the close, I wound up circling the building before finding the entrance. I was there before 10, so I got a few outside shots of this magnificent huge cathedral.

Lacking a written invitation, I was seated in the north transept several rows back. As most of the reserved seats were not filled, we all moved forward when allowed. The organ played several introductory pieces, and then the congregation stood as the candidates for deacon were escorted down the main aisle. The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity was nearly full, and phones and cameras stilled. Twelve priests had been ordained the day earlier; 9 deacons would be added to churches throughout the diocese that Sunday. I’d been taken under wing (once again) by my seatmates, and with a program, was able to follow the order of service. The attendees were allowed to celebrate their achievement at the end as we all rose to give them a rousing hand.

Ely Cathedral, looking west from the quire

Ending at noon, I worked my way to the greeters’ desk, and was able to book myself into the two high parts tours – the #Octagon and the West Tower. With twenty minutes before my first tour, I walked around taking random shots, although I seemed to favor the octagonal lantern tower. The first tour began near the crossing where the guide explained the plan. We entered a door, locked up backpacks, and began climbing. At the gallery level, the stenciled quire ceiling looked close enough to touch. Up a bit higher, we went out on the roof. From the east side of the north transept, we stood between the Lady chapel and the Presbytery. Climbing some more into the #Lantern, we witnessed how the timbers executed the model we’d seen before climbing. Our guide opened several of the 32 doors in the Lantern, allowing us to marvel at the details of these paintings and to get pictures of the altar below and the patterned stained-glass windows above. An ascendant Christ boss surrounded by paintings of seraphim was the center of the octagon.

Up into the Lantern

Leaving the lantern, we again crossed at the roof level and descended the stairs to retrieve our gear. About 70 minutes had elapsed. Smiles abound, and all agreed it was a spectacular tour. For the next 80 minutes I continued to explore and photograph the insides. The next tour group began milling in the south-west transept five minutes before the 3pm start. We looked up to the ceiling on the tower’s platform floor, above gallery level.

As we climbed to get to the first gallery level, I turned back and observed a labyrinth on the floor of the west entry, with a modern wall sculpture of a cross opposite. It seems I got “rear guard” duty, keeping the group together and closing doors behind me, probably because I was the only solo participant. From the gallery we looked out windows along the roof over the side aisle, up to the painted panels of the tower platform ceiling, and down into the baptistry. Ascending again, we reached the top of the west tower, and the splendor of the Lantern and Octagon became even more evident. We then returned to the main floor, less than an hour in the tower.

West Tower roof view

After a few more outside shots of the west face, I headed back to the Royal Standard. I had plenty of time, so ordered a late lunch of sausages and mash, with green beans and a Timothy Taylor Landlord, an amber. An excellent meal, the meat was hot, the potatoes were real, the beans blanched perfectly and the ale tasty. I realized as I was finishing that I’d missed the stained-glass museum. A reason to return!

As I walked my bag towards the train station, I go a few shots of the cathedral through the trees of Cherry Hill Park. Turning towards the River Great Ouse, I came upon the small station. On time, the half hour ride took me one stop to Bury St Edmund.

A slight hill down from the station in #BuryStEdmund, Maps wanted me to avoid walking around a rotary so plotted a convoluted route to Cannon Street and my lodgings, Old Cannon Brewery. This is a cool place: stainless steel and copper kettles share the floor space, after checking in with an Aussie who hefted my bag up a flight of stairs, I returned to the bar for beer. (The kitchen closed at 4 on Sundays.) Two American servicemen, Garet and Mike, took me under wing after my second beer to visit what these Air Force mechanics said was the smallest pub in England. Maybe the size of my Florida den, the barkeep was a character who disappeared under the till to get down a ladder to change a keg. We had two more beers and they guys had to get back to their flat for a 4am reveille. I began downloading nearly 300 shots from the camera as I prepared for bed.

Ø July 1 Bury St Edmund (Monday)

Only one night at the #OldCannonBrewery in Bury, the lodgings came with breakfast so I was down before 9 to freshly squeezed orange juice, scrambled eggs, sausage and muffin, with tea. A heavy smell of brewing filled the dining room, and the brewmaster was actively preparing his next batch. The eggs were perfect, muffins warm and lightly toasted; lots of herbs in the sausage, rich with flavor. Returning to the room, I had altered my suitcase minimally, so packing up after cleaning my teeth was quick, and I got my bag down the stairs and behind the receptionist desk.

The evening before, I’d noticed a tall spire to the southwest of the inn, and suspected it was the cathedral. So I headed off without checking a map, and arrived at St John the Evangelist, an Anglican parish church with painted panels in the spire currently under extensive renovation. I was able to get inside, and see the baptismal font at the entrance, and blue ceiling over the altar. The thirteenth station, the Descent from the Cross, was represented by a painting which moved me by its intensity.

Walking south on St John’s Street, I got to the Market Square. Finally checking Maps, I needed to be south and east, over towards the River Lark. Down the Butter Market to a pedestrian walkway for a block east and south again on Hatter Street, I got to Churchgate Street and took it east to its end. To my left was the Cathedral Church of St James and St Edmund with its west end at the sidewalk of Angel Hill, a two-way borough street. A former abbey church, the large churchyard, the Cathedral Grounds, abuts the south side, running to St Mary’s Church, and then east to a wooded burial ground towards the river.

Arriving outside at 10am, I planned on booking the 11am tour and the 11:45 tower tour indicated at the cathedral’s website. After getting a few outside photos on my circuit around the building, I entered and was told the 11am tour had been cancelled because the organ was being tuned, and tower tours were only available on weekends. Familiarly known as St Edmundsbury Cathedral, this Suffolk diocese was formed from the dioceses in Ely and Norwich in 1914. With three large churches in the former abbey grounds, St James was elevated to cathedral status (probably due to its expandability) over St Mary’s, while St Margaret’s was demolished.

As I did my wander inside with the organ tuning proceeding through its scales, Steven appeared at my side. He is a guide, and heard that I’d inquired; I was then given a personal solo tour of the church. Serious renovations started in the Victorian era, with further expansion and addition of the tower in the latter twentieth century. All the ceilings are painted (stenciled) and the tower ceiling includes fan arching. Most of the stained-glass seems Victorian perpendicular Gothic. Both the nave and chancel altars are simple, while the Lady Chapel altar has a classic Orthodox icon mounted in a gold-leaf altarpiece.

Tapestry in St Edmundsbury Cathedral

Memorials to St Edmund include tapestries depicting his martyrdom by the Danes, shooting him with arrows (and then beheading) and a statue. St James is also a patron, as the church was built by an abbot who was unable to travel for his camino to Santiago. With a good deal of modern art, there is an exhibition space within the church. An interesting project that I’d see at other cathedrals, a #Lego model was being built, with contributions of a pound for a brick, of the building and grounds. A traditional model sits nearby. A floor plaque in front of the carved wooden cathedra commemorates the first bishop.

Exiting the cathedral, I walked past the Norman Tower, an active belfry, to St Mary’s. Per their trifold, one of the largest parish churches in England, with the longest nave at 213 feet. There are eleven pairs of angels adorning hammer-beam roof arches. The military memorial altar is to the north of the main altar. The organ sits above the arch from the nave into the quire. I admired a four-panel stained-glass window showing archangels. To the left of the main altar is the burial place of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tutor, Queen of France through her (political) marriage to Louis XII. [Beside her memorial, a sheet with the Tudor Lineage explained how James VI of Scotland was related to the Tudor family through her line.]

Leaving, I went for a wander along the paths in the Cathedral Grounds. Grave markers poked up through knee-high grass across the expanse. The ruins of the old abbey were surrounded by a wrought iron fence, to keep the agile and curious off these artifacts. Then climbing into town, the pedestrian-only street brought me back to the Nutshell (I’d neglected to write down its name.) Stopping into a wine shop, I checked for English wine, finding 3 offerings of sparkling bubbly on the bottom shelf, at £22.50, £30 and £40. No splits in sight. I returned to the Old Cannon Inn for a late light lunch. Having a pint of ale and the scallops small plate, I reflected on Bury St Edmunds in my journal. “This is a nice vibrant small town. Could be pleasant for a late summer holiday of a few weeks, but I suspect I’d be crazy after several months. USAF base nearby would provide some diversion.”

Continuing north out of the Inn, I arrived at the train station in time for the train to Ipswich at 15:26. After twenty minutes and three stops, a lift-less platform change at Stowmarket put me on the train to Norwich, arriving an hour after leaving Bury.

11 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page