I rarely visit Ely, even though it’s only a ten minute train ride away. Until 10 years ago it felt like a typical Fenland town stuck in the 1960s, albeit one with a magnificent and unexpected cathedral. It’s old fashioned shops catered for OAPs, and only a famed chippy redeemed it. The same 2 or 3 OK pubs made the Beer Guide every year. If Ely was in a Manchester suburb I wouldn’t have spent £30 on a Travelodge to stay there the night.
Then in the mid-2000s the city found some life. New parks and (chain) restaurants sprung up, the whole place looked brighter, and the Rough Guide named it as one of the 30 highlights of England. Aided by continuation of the free parking policy, and the ever-expanding housing developments, Ely’s economy continued to grow. It even got that ultimate symbol of success, a beer café (3 x 3), followed by a micro pub. The Wetherspoons that Ely’s residents really want is still someway off. Whether it can support 4 central supermarkets is another question, however good competition is.
This week I needed a quick 5 mile walk accessible by train that wasn’t Cambridge, so walked pretty much all of Ely in a couple of hours. There’s not that much to see, but the streets around the Cathedral are very atmospheric. The walk through Cherry Hill park down to the river gives the best views back to the Cathedral, and a walk along the Ouse toward Roswell Pits is more interesting than the walk from Cambridge to Ely.
The expanding northern suburbs have little in the way of facilities, and all of Ely’s dozen pubs are in the centre, making the city seem better pubbed than it is. Although not in this year’s Beer Guide due to a change of ownership, I recommend the Drayman’s Son, a nearly micro-pub just east of the market. It might feel a bit cluttered to some, but a bit of memorabilia makes many a pub. Beers on gravity are very local (Wilbraham, Moonshine etc) and very good, if a bit closer to £4 than you might expect.
Beer quality is pretty consistent in other Beer Guide regulars the Town House and Prince Albert as well, though the Fountain is probably the pub I’d recommend to a tourist; a slightly upmarket wet led pub with reliable Adnams.
I can still recommend Alan’s fish bar too.