There's no better way to start off a half-term break than with a night away to a place you have never been before. Last year around this time the boyfriend and I spent two nights in a seaside town called Paignton - slightly cheesy with it's boardwalk, arcades and ice cream shoppes that make it a perfect summer destination. When we arrived it was absolutely bucketing down with rain. Not what you might think would make the ideal autumn getaway, but somehow the high winds and rolling waves gave the little town a real sense of charm. Visiting it in it's most abandoned state actually somehow made the experience even better, not to mention the lack of tourists, that you know would be rampant in the summer, was a real bonus.
This year, after a planned family visit fell through, we decided to book a last-minute, overnight trip once again. After a quick peruse of our house's stack of travel brochures and touristy pamphlets, we decided on the tiny cathedral city of Ely. A fifteen minute train ride from Cambridge, Ely is set in the Fens (sprawling, flooding flat-lands that used to be mainly marshy).
Ely is home to a magnificent Cathedral
and the home where Oliver Cromwell lived between 1638 and 1646.
Unfortunately my picture-taking opportunities were few and far between yesterday, due to a full day of strong winds and sudden showers that kept us running for shelter, so kudos to Wikipedia for those two photos. I did manage, though, to get a picture of Owen making a half-hearted attempt at playing dress-up in the Cromwell House Museum.
Planning our trip so last-minute meant accepting whatever central accommodation we could afford, which is always risky. I will admit that my first impression of our B&B (well a B, really, as no breakfast was actually on offer) was a little bit worrying, as we were confronted with a small door set to one side of a Thai Restaurant, with a sign that instructed us to contact the restaurant if there was no answer to the doorbell. We were also asked to pay up front, which does not inspire confidence, but in the end our room was perfect. The decor was slightly dated (and inconsistent) and the the lighting a little unreliable, but the sheets were clean, the mattress cozy and freeview was on offer. Plus the interior of the house was original and charming, with it's exposed beams, uneven floor and ceiling levels and narrow hallways.
As expected, the weather was cold and wet yesterday, but our spirits were not dampened. We still managed to explore the cathedral and the town. Then we took shelter in a coffee shop, followed by an afternoon of reading, watching television and napping. Why are naps so much better when you're on vacation? In the evening we enjoyed a lovely and locally sourced meal at The Boathouse, on the river, followed by drinks back on the high street in the busiest pub we could find - where we were later joined by a large group of zombies and one Jimmy Savile (linked for any of you unaware Americans).
And this morning, on our way to the station, the weather finally permitted a short walk in the Fens.
It was the perfect little trip away. A nice mix of exploration and rest, which is really what you want, isn't it? And, as Owen noted, this was clearly the kind of little town that would be packed with tourists in the summer, with it's proximity to wild nature and access to water - including a large quay, full of boats even at this time of year. There were so many advantages to visiting it in October. In fact, I think we might make this kind of trip a yearly tradition.