Not for nothing is the medieval cathedral of Ely called the Ship of the Fens. You can see it from a distance rising proud from the reclaimed marshlands of East Cambridgeshire known as the Fens. It is a particularly lovely cathedral famous for its unique Octagon Tower and Lantern Tower and well worth a visit. It is also home to the only national museum dedicated to stained glass.
Close by is the home of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, who lived in Ely for 10 years. Apart from Hampton Court it is the only surviving Cromwell residence and depicts how the family would have lived in the middle of the 17th century.
With its pretty waterfront and interesting array of shops and restaurants it is an interesting city to visit either for the day or as a base from which to explore the fascinating Fen countryside.
Ely is also the home of James Clark and Ely Gin – though now these delicious gins are no longer produced in his kitchen but close by in a professional unit.
Like so many of us James had made fruit wines and like so many of us was somewhat disappointed with the results. He started experimenting with fruit and gin and realised that this might be what he was looking for. It became popular amongst friends and family and he started selling it at local markets. Producing different flavoured gins has now become his full-time job in which he has been joined by his wife Nancy.
Fruit is added to a 95% proof base gin supplied by a specialist company for infusion before being filtered and bottled. (The fruit is not wasted, it gets used to make delicious jams or marmalades.)
Not only are the contents special so are the bottles. James loves the city which is his home and the elegant labels depict Ethelreda an Anglo Saxon lady noted for her chastity who sought sanctuary from amorous advances on the then water-surrounded Isle of Ely. Below the lovely lady a tiny silhouette image of the cathedral.
The gins come in a wide range of dry, medium or sweet flavours – one of the most popular the pink grapefruit. It is indeed delicious but we also loved the raspberry. Anybody who loves the taste of aniseed will rave about the company’s star anise gin. We’ve not yet tried the chocolate version and we also have our eyes on the blackberry, luckily there are still more for us to try! But be warned the gins pack a punch – hardly surprising as they have a minimum content of 30% alcohol.
Prices start from £5 for a 100 ml bottle and are available at several of the Ely shops, and indeed further afield, or online at www.elygin.co.uk