Living with and having to put up with myself on a daily basis, necessity dictates I find a way to tolerate my bouts of spontaneity and/or insanity, thereby establishing a new baseline for “normal” behaviour. Today, however, I seriously questioned my levels of crazy.
It all began in Colchester with seemingly innocuous plans for brunch. Since my train wasn’t till 1:23pm, I had plenty of time to wander about the town and grab a bite or two. After yesterday’s ugh-ness with the hotel, I found this morning’s staff much more amiable, and they had been happy to keep my suitcase. It was yet another sunny and summery day (quite an anomaly here in the UK!), and by the time I left my hotel at 10:30, it was already quite hot at around 23 Celsius.
I’d decided on eating at the Three Wise Monkeys, which had some pretty good reviews and wasn’t too pricey. It was rather quiet when I arrived, which meant I had my choice of seating—I opted for the super comfy couches, which enveloped me in its full glory as I sank into it. When/if I ever end my loltastic and nomadic life, I’d like a pair of those for my library.
Given I wanted a filling brunch, I ordered a Monkey’s Breakfast (£8.50), which is essentially an English fry-up. I also had a glass of orange juice (£1.50–I think this was for half price), and though I don’t usually drink juices, I found my first sip extraordinarily refreshing.
As much as I loved my breakfast, and especially the pub itself, I must admit I’ve been spoilt by my years in Northern Ireland, and have unknowingly developed a preference for the Ulster Fry, which contains the omnipresent soda and potato breads.
Unfortunately, because I am professionally predisposed to read everything, I’d sighted on the menu deep-fried Oreos with ice-cream (£6). Despite being sufficiently stuffed with breakfast, I simply didn’t have the willpower to pass up the glorious notion of deep-fried (!!) Oreos. I ordered, I marvelled, I conquered.
I embraced a mild cardiac arrest for the next few hours.
Thankfully (?), I did so on two trains taking me to Peterborough (£7.90), my next destination. Having a bit of time and lots of table space, I worked a little on the Regency Love spin-off novel. If I’m really honest though, I mostly “worked” on it by gazing out the window at the East Anglian countryside, and snoozing. Both are crucial elements of a writer’s craft, I’ll have you know.
But it was on my second train from Ipswich to Peterborough that I discovered it stopped by Ely, a town in Cambridgeshire with an amazing cathedral I’ve wanted to visit since I wrote about its significance in Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015). As the train approached and then pulled out of Ely station, I looked longingly upon a cathedral I so very much wanted to visit. For a moment, I had contemplated alighting at Ely, before the realities of my advance ticket and suitcase stopped me. Oh well, maybe when I next visit England, though that might be in six months or years or decades…
Try as I did, I just couldn’t put Ely out of my mind! I hazarded a look on its website, and discovered the cathedral also does daily Evensong services. My primary reason for spending such a stretch of time in Peterborough was to attend its 5:30pm Evensong and then have something for dinner before heading off to Grantham and my friend’s place. I knew I could still have a lovely afternoon wandering the streets of Peterborough, but I also knew I’d be lamenting the lost opportunity of Ely…
When I arrived at Peterborough station, I asked the information desk if there might be some place to keep my wee carry-on. Within no time, the super friendly and amazing gentleman took custodian of it, and, at around 4pm, I had three and a half hours to explore Peterborough.
Or I could squeeze in a return trip to Ely, and perhaps even catch the Evensong. A quick search told me an off-peak return would be £8.10, with the 35-minute trains departing at 4:18pm, and back to Peterborough at 6:15pm. I needed to catch the 7:26pm from Peterborough to Grantham (£3.30), so while it was doable, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as leisurely as I’d imagined. But I had my heart set on Ely Cathedral, and the heart wants what the heart wants.
With Peterborough Cathedral only 5 minutes away from the station, I managed to visit the beautiful Norman building, which was spectacular in the sunlight. Since my first cathedral (Durham) is also of Norman build, Peterborough held many familiar hallmarks, bringing quite a smile to my face.
I then embarked on my impromptu Ely journey, still a little uncertain if I’d made the right decision. But all that faded when I walked from Ely station towards the unmistakable building, entered the cathedral grounds, and passed by the Dean’s meadow, its inhabitants luxuriating in the afternoon sun. The cathedral’s gothic spires rose above the trees, and my heart hummed in quiet content at the peaceful and picturesque scene before me.
The interior was just as stunning, with those beautiful marbled floors that echoed with the sound and fury of Michael Fassbender’s recent Macbeth. I had a brief talk with one of the lay clerks, telling him that though I wanted to attend Evensong in the quire, I would have to leave early to make my train. He was more than understanding, and directed me to an optimally stealthy seat.
I didn’t know any of the music today, but I loved how the acoustics carried the voices of the girls’ choir that was singing today. And while I loved the Magnificat (I left straight after), I also came to appreciate the two amazing choirmasters I’ve worked under, whose interpretations of plainsong singing I prefer much more.
Two trains, a half-pint of Red Kite ale (£2.10), and a conversation with an Irishman later (once you’ve lived on the island of Ireland, you basically know everyone in the world), I was greeted in Grantham by my friend George, whom I’ve not seen in three and a half years since we graduated from our MA in Durham. I was (re-)introduced to his parents Val and Steve, who are both incredibly warm, inviting, and interested in awesome things. With tea, wine, homebaked goods, and excellent company, my adventurous day—and indeed, the first week of my Humble Tour—couldn’t end any better.
Accommodation: I’m once again living off the generosity of awesome folks
Food & drink: £18.10
Walked: 12,781 steps; 8.93km