The Ely Cathedral: Bones, Bronze, and Broken Glass

Marching through the delicate grass of Cambridgeshire's countryside is remarkably therapeutic, considering my weary eyes and a nasty plane-food hangover.  Wearing less than what is acceptable for a lanky tourist out of California, I tightly embraced myself and peered over the tall mound of glorified dirt to the ancient Ely Cathedral, scraping the horizon line. 

The towering public bus that snaked through narrow streets and brittle trees disposed of me near the bottom of the hill. I had no map, no concept of England's bus schedule or location, and the worst sense of direction that any aspiring travel-junkie could have. The trek to the top was like following a distant star.


As I finally began to curl up the weathered path towards Ely my stomach was twisting with hunger and my knees were knocking together. As my luck would have it, violent hail began pelting my exposed face and hands. My boyfriend and I started up in a sprint, chasing the warmth and shelter just a few hundred feet ahead. 

The wind had it's way with us. My feet were nearly swept out from beneath me as we flew under a enormous stone arch which concentrated all of the winds force in an effort to expunge our laughter. 

There were no signs directing us to the entrance. No signs at all, in fact. I wasn't sure which handle to pull, or if there was a handle, or a door! After much ignorant exploration, a dim light filtered under the creaking wood. The hail and all it's rage disappeared behind us. 

I was met with silence and an eerily unfamiliar feeling. The ceilings were tall and mighty, and every step that I took was met underneath by the foot of a dead man; his life narrated in florid print in a language I do not speak.

I read their tombstones regardless. 

There were sparse congregations of people worshiping, lighting candles under their chins in prayer. A man sat stiffly at the base of an intricate wooden organ, bouncing the keys on his fingertips, blanketing the long hallways and corridors with melody. Some people were touring and snapping photos, others simply admiring like myself. 


Despite the incredible amount of bodies and bones I encountered, the Cathedral was empty. The cold walls that have been erected for more than a thousand years did not falter or moan. The carvings, paintings, and busts gazed inward indifferently. Life was once here, I thought. Life of a magnitude that I could not fathom. 

As I emerged back into the wind, the smell of must was immediately cleared from my nose. The hail had stopped. I clambered to the the third floor of a shanty tea house and sat with good company. I ate homemade tuna and corn, contemplated the unknown, and as fate would have it, missed the last bus home. 

A few years ago I wrote this essay for a Lonely Planet competition depicting my amazing experience traveling to the Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, England. It was Andrew's and my very first time traveling alone, and also the first trip I had ever taken out of the country! As you would expect, it was full of hilarious mistakes, wrong turns, and awe-inspiring discoveries. This post only covers half of the joy and worry we were feeling, but it is still very applicable.

Thought I'd add this endnote because this post is a little more like prose than an actual article, but I really hope you enjoy!