This is probably one of the best known views in Britain, the Octagon tower at Ely Cathedral. It’s got special resonance for me, to be honest, because I was at boarding school here and we used the cathedral as a playground, short cut, an everyday part of our lives. It is only now that I’m realising just how lucky that was. And how much it has informed my aesthetic as a writer since.
But it’s another artist I wanted to talk about here. One new to me, and it was a joy to come across her work when I was visiting Ely last weekend. In 2003-2004 Elizabeth-Jane Grose was commissioned to create an Eel trail for Ely (once the Isle of Eels, of course) and as I walked round looking for her work, I fell increasingly in love with the way she obviously had researched her subject, resulting in a beautiful mixture of knowledge, sense of place and also sense of play.
Here is the eel art I found, I could find surprisingly little information online, and when I went to the Tourist Information Office, the woman there mouthed through the window that the office didn’t open until 11, despite the fact that it was 10.55 and pouring with rain outside, so I gave that a miss.
First one was the Eel hive, at the foot of Cherry Hill, next to the Cathedral. From the path running through it, it’s obviously well used and well loved, but could do with a bit of a haircut!
Second, is the Yellow Eel mosaic in Jubilee Gardens. Beautifully sparkling in the brief sunshine, and made up of fragments found in a recent archeological dig.
And then there are the Ely Glaives, outside the Maltings. These are based on drawings in the museum, and have been used since Anglo Saxon times to catch eels. The shape of the sculpture matches the Octagon tower. Oh how much I was crushing on this artist and this particular body of work by now!
And lastly, my favourite, a special cheer for Elizabeth Cromwell’s seat, outside the Oliver Cromwell museum. Running round it was the recipe for roast eel, taken from Elizabeth Cromwell’s recipe book (also in the museum). I might have sat here forever, if it hadn’t been raining. But hey, this is Ely and you don’t get eels without a bit of rain… which was probably why the tourist officer was going to make me wait. Just so I could appreciate it more. She probably didn’t realise I’d already had years of ‘appreciating’ it in the past.