#912. Ely: Gothic Undestination Cathedral Town

By pascaljappy | Travel Photography

Oct 07

We were first drawn to Ely a few years ago after my wife, then the rest of my family, fell in love with Ken Follet’s historical novel Pillars of the Earth. Apparently (I’ve not read the books, French schooling having made me lethally allergic to anything historical) approaching Ely cathedral through the narrow streets of this charming town brings back many memories from the books. All I can tell you is that it – and the surrounding area – make for a glorious photography escapade and is largely free of the mass tourism of other similar sites in Westminster, Winchester or Canterbury!

Does it get more British than this?

Ely sits about 30 minutes North of Cambridge, meaning you can squeeze the two into a busy photographic twofer day if you can’t spare more time on the area.

Really, though, you shouldn’t.

Cambridge alone could keep you photographically satiated for the best part of a week, particularly if you are willing to enrich the colleges by paying the entry fees (many in Oxford are free, just sayin’) to photograph the chapels, stairs, halls and gardens to your heart’s content, and to walk along the river.


And, although it would be a stretch to call Cambridge an undestination, it’s really not that busy if you don’t visit at the peak of the tourist season.

Still, this is about tiny neighbour Ely.

No colleges, no prestigious academia, but one heck of a big church, a canal port for longboats and ducks to parade in, a lovely park and (yes, this is DS) some great nosh to be had.


Inside, the cathedral provides spectacular views and sooo many opportunities for interesting photography. A fundraising banquet was being held on the evening of my visit, so the interior was an absolute mess in many places. But, even so, I had to be pried out after shooting 150 frames by a family whose empty-stomach rumblings were proving a challenge for the poor guys setting up the audio.


To be honest, the cathedral is the main attraction. This is a small town. But the park surrounding the cathedral is gorgeous too, and the little roads in the center are well worth a photographic stroll as they provide lovely houses, galleries, a very nice canal marina, and interesting shops to fill up your memory cards if you’ve managed to leave the cathedral with room on them.


You can now find Ely on our UK maps of undestinations, and I hope you visit someday ๐Ÿ™‚


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  • Sean says:

    Hi Pascal,
    I do think you’ve done this famous Follet structure some solid justice – not through a lengthy tome of words, but visually through images. Your interior images are superb, especially the black and white ones. Having never attempted such an exercise myself, may I ask of you if some images are crafted through a ‘stitch’ process? – just wondering, that’s all. You’ve certainly made this a destination to seriously consider visiting, should the opportunity arise.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Sean. Yes, those images are sticthed. My widest lens was a 36mm eq focal length, so multiple frames had to be assembled for most of those photographs. It truly is a stunning church!

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    OMG – before I read this article, I never imagined it was possible to take such wonderful photographs with a cellphone! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Adrian says:

    Hi Pascal

    Some of the interior photographs are stunning, particularly the vertical panoramas.

    Is it vulgar to ask what they were taken with, and if these are panoramas, and if so, were they created in camera or stitched in post production?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Adrian. It’s only vulgar to ask if I don’t know the answer ๐Ÿ˜‰ In this case it xas the X1D with a 45mm lens and 4 or 5 horizonatal frames stitched in Lightroom. Panoramas are my #1 reason for sticking with Adobe. Why all the other contenders insist on reinventing the wheel but neglect stitching is beyond me. Maybe it’s super difficult to do. But I use it a lot as it allows me to walk about with a single lens and simulate wider ones in post. Cheers

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Affinity makes a good job of stitching too, and can do it with more than half a dozen frames (unlike Adobe). You are well aware that cellphones can too, but they also end up producing weird banana shaped panos with serrated edges that look more like a log cutter’s cross cut saw blade.
        The missing link is something like that Panorama Studio Pro software that you mentioned to me – which unhappily got acquired by another company that won’t market it, as one of the assets in a takeover of some other company that it acquired – leaving the photography world lamenting. It looked as though, with a bit more development, PSP would have creamed the competition and ended up dominating the market for pano software. You can open it – but you can’t really use it, because your pano will end up stamped all over with watermarks, and utterly useless.
        I make panos all the time, now, whenever I feel like it – without a gimbal or pano head – in fact without a tripod. Just blaze away with the D850 and stitch later with Affinity.
        I can’t be certain, I’ve not subject them both to laboratory testing – I couldn’t anyway, I’m not that technical. But I’m reasonably confident Affinity’s pano program is at least as good as Adobe’s (in LR or PS0, and FAR more convenient to use.

      • Adrian says:

        It cant be that difficult – most phones and some cameras do it “in camera”!

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Look, what a big cathedral, and such a small town!

    ( When I was ten (in 1957) my parents and I travelled with a -50ish Dodge and a small egg-shaped caravan through the south of England and Wales for a couple of months, and once we heard a small girl call out “Look, daddy, what a big car and such a small caravan!” – the English caravans were big, mostly stationary and drawn by mini-cars.)
    – – –

    I especially remember Wells cathedral with its inverted arches.
    ( Don’t send Thor to me… , ๐Ÿ˜‰ .)


    – * –

    Lovely photos, Pascal!
    One really gets the feel of the architecture!

    ( I wouldn’t have the patience to stitch – I can well imagine your family getting ever hungrier waiting…
    I’d prefer to have a really wide lens or zoom.)

    Just curious, did you use a tripod for stiching?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Great story Kristian ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s true that sometimes you see a huge SUV pulling a horse trailer or something smaller and sometimes it’s the opposite and you can’t help feel sorry for the Cinquecento dragging along the Queen Mary of caravans. My latest passion is for overlanding, so I’m neck deep into that sort of thing ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks for pointing out Wells cathedral. We toured Somerset (county of origin of my Dad) 3-4 years ago, I can’t believe with missed such a stunning place. We’ll have to go back.

      I didn’t use a tripod but was very careful to remain composed during the pan. I made a few bad panos outdoors during that same trip because I was being hasty. Such a shame … All the best.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        if you do go back:
        Don’t miss Bath and the Cotswolds – but you just can’t have missed them too…

        Interested in churches?
        ( me too )
        Should you go to Sweden, check some of our small medieval stone churches, a few of them still have Albertus Pictor’s 15th century paintings.
        Jonah (bearded!) thrown to the whale (in Hรคrkeberga church).
        On the next painting (couldn’t find it) the whale spits him out – shaved!

        From Germany I especially remember an altar by Tilman Riemenschneider in Creglingen:
        ( Be sure to click on the original file to see the faces properly.)

        In France I sometimes in a church or cathedral had the feeling that it was built with humble faith and love.
        Not (yet) in Germany, rather that it was built as an exclamation mark.

  • Steve Mallett says:

    Pascal, some wonderful interiors there. Youโ€™re getting quite handy with that camera! Youโ€™ve inspired me to give panos a go in LR. To date Iโ€™ve only played with them on my phone and in camera and only treated them as snaps.

    Never been to Ely but lived outside Winchester 30 years ago so know that cathedral well although It was before I got the photography bug seriously, so have no pics. I was however once fortunate enough to be taken on an โ€œafter hoursโ€ trip around the cathedral by a mischievous old boy who had been a fire warden there during the war and I saw all kinds of stuff the general public doesnโ€™t get to see, including getting right up inside the roof. I was certain he was bending the rules but he was desperate to show me all these secret places that obviously had significant memories for him. It was a really special time.

    Those guys sure knew how to build.


    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      What flabbergasts me is the fact these buildings weigh megatons, and were built at a time when there was no soil testing machinery, no earth compacting machinery, no way of strengthening to rectify any deficiencies in the subsoil.

      And then built majestic buildings like this – no computers, no way of accurately calculating loads, probably VERY limited structural engineering knowledge anyway.

      Strasbourg Cathedral completely blew me away – till the Eiffel Tower was built, it was Europe’s tallest building – so much of it consists of columns that are so thin they look pencil-thick – and it’s stood the test of time for centuries.

      And Saint Chappelle – from the inside, the stained glass windows look as if they touch each other, they are so close together – I stood there rivetted to the floor, wondering how the hell they could possibly do that, without the roof collapsing.

      I have at last worked it out – you need to see a pair of 18th century cabinets I have here, and then have a look at both the inside and the outside of Saint Chappelle – before you suddenly realise what they did.

      Like the shelves in my cabinets, the “leading edge” of the columns at Saint Chappelle become VERY thin, just at the point where they become the window frame. Immediately OUTside, out of view (because you can’t see through the stained glass), the columns immediately resume “normal” thickness, so they can take the weight.

      The effect inside the chapel is absolutely mind-blowing. And to think someone in Paris, in the King’s employ, dreamed that one up something like 800 years ago!

      No wonder you were so impressed with your inspection inside the roof, Sean!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Wow that sounds amazing. We were offered a guided tour of the Octagon (the tower seen in the panos) but didn’t have the time to stay. Shame as those visits are always packed with anecdotes that make the historical aspect so much more interesting.

      Haven’t been to Winchester cathedral in decades. Still listen to the song, though ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Pascal, wow, wow, what a great find, its now on our list to visit. Your shots are so life like, love the way you have used Pano’s to show the interior. LR does a great job on sticking in someways I find it much better than PS.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      I’ll leave you both to it, Dallas. I only have LR6 and PS14 – not the later Cloud versions – and the pano program seems to be the same in both. Possibly they’ve done something to improve it in the LR Cloud version. But I don’t think the LR6/PS14 version is a patch on the Affinity pano program.

      I suspect Pascal has worked his way through a great many more pano programs than I have, though, and knows a great deal more about it than I do.

      I think we should also ask him what it was like, lying on his back in the nave of the cathedral, taking all those shots of the ceiling.

      • pascaljappy says:

        I probably need to give Affinity another try. My only experience is with an early version that was great for stitching but horrendous for processing the result. Colours were all over the shop and contrast management was a joke. But that was some time ago and they may have made things much better by now.

        The floor looked comfy as there were plenty of people lying beneath it, but I stood like a man !

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Dallas. You would love that area, it is so peaceful and full of lovely walks around public footpaths ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Oh, Pascal, what a lovely celebration of the majesty and grandeur of Ely cathedral! The town certainly looks to be the perfect un-destination for a weekend or more of photographic bliss. What a delight it would have been to attend the fundraising banquet in such magnificent surroundings. I hope the lucky invitees spent more than a little time staring up at the windows and the ceilings! Youโ€™ve made my shutter finger twitch in anticipation of a plan to visit the UK sometime soon. Thanks for sharing!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you so much, Nancee. Ely is a peaceful little place (it probably gets very busy with school trips sometimes) and with Cambridge so close, it’s really worth the visit. It’s also close to Luton airport, making it convenient for overseas visitors ๐Ÿ™‚ Let’s hook up if you fly over one day ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Lad Sessions says:

    Pascal, These are spectacular photos of a grand structure, especially the b&w (well-suited to the gloomy interiors of Gothic places). Amazing to me that these are hand-held; I would have thought with the Hassy you needed a major tripod. Thanks for sharing.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Lad. The X1D has a great grip and very little vibrations to speak of. It also laps up high ISO very easily. So it’s easy to hand-hold in low-light situations. A tripod would have allowed me to use ISO 100 and get finer grain, but that doesn’t bother me ๐Ÿ™‚

  • PaulB says:

    Wonderful images Pascal. You have added this to my list of must visit places when I do get a chance to cross the pond. Perhaps next summer.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Paul. If you visit the UK, let us know before hand as Paul lives there and I have spent years photographing there. We can help you plan your trip if you want ๐Ÿ™‚

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