For a festive hit in mid-November, there are few places better than Ely Cathedral. Their annual two-day Christmas Gift & Food Fair is an event attended by people from all around the country. In contrast, the #ElyChristmasCracker was all about local people.
Since the Cambridge blogger community – CambMeetUp – began in March 2015, there have been a number of local meetups around Cambridgeshire, and when Lauren decided it was time that Ely held one, I was more than happy to help organise. On Day 29 of #100DaysNoTV I co-hosted a blogger event for the first time!
We were keen to showcase some of the best places Ely has to offer, starting at the stunning cathedral, before visiting some independent shops in the city centre, including a tea and cake stop at one of our famous tearooms.
Our lovely blogger group came from Ely and around Cambridgeshire. Some of us had never met in real life, which added a special element to the day. Everyone got on so well and it was another reminder of the special connection that blogging can engender, even with people you’ve only connected with online.
christmas gift & food fair
The cathedral famously has a gigantic Christmas tree (which has started to feature on my Instagram!) but this doesn’t arrive until later in November, with the lights switch-on in early December. However, there was very much a Christmassy ambience with fairy lights criss-crossing the nave and festively decorated stalls.
We met outside the cathedral and had a coffee from the Rural Coffee Project before heading inside, making a beeline for the food hall. Ely and the Fens are known for a quirky take on alcoholic spirits. More on Ely Gin later! But, I discovered something new: Fenland Celery Vodka! There’s an interesting story behind it, which I thought was worth sharing.
Fenland celery itself is quite unique and has Protected Geographical Indication status – in the same way as do Stilton, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Cornish pasties. G’s farm, just outside Ely, is where the celery is grown. A huge amount of celery is wasted in its harvest, so three tonnes of it was used to flavour 576 bottles of vodka. What a great idea!
We were offered a taster, which warmed us up, and with only 12 bottles left of their first batch I felt compelled to relieve them of one bottle! We’ll open it over Christmas. 🙂
Another highlight of the food hall was meeting Anneeka Ludhra who was signing copies of her new recipe book, dadima’s. Anneeka used to live in Ely and came back to promote the book that she wrote to celebrate grandparents’ wisdom through Indian Cooking; Dadima is the Punjabi word for maternal grandmother.
Rob and I will choose one of her recipes and cook it for #100DaysNoTV, so look out for that!
Back in the main gift hall it was time to start my Christmas shopping. Insanely early for me! There were many, MANY things I wanted, but after buying my vodka I wasn’t left with a lot of bag space! 🙂 I did buy a few presents but can’t share online yet, for obvious reasons!
We left the cathedral and walked to the nearby High Street in search of Ely’s independents. We only had time for a few, so if you visit Ely remember to look out for the others.
cherry hill chocolates
Angie of Cherry Hill Chocolates warmly welcomed us to her little shop, complete with vaulted ceiling; it’s in part of the medieval sacristy. If you’re a fan of chocolate you’ll find it hard to leave! We were offered chunks of hazelnut chocolate, and some hot chocolate drops which were heavenly. I can only imagine the rich hot chocolate drink they’d make.
So many stocking fillers from chocolate flip-flops and stilettos (yep!), lollipops with iced messages, liqueur and cocktail chocolates, any number of chocolate animals. I could go on. This is on top of my favourite part of the shop: a counter brimming with hundreds of individual chocolates to make you drool!
eel catcher’s daughter
Leaving with big smiles on our faces, we went next door to the Eel Catcher’s Daughter. The owner, Helen, has a fantastic eye for style and hand picks such amazing items: contemporary and vintage ‘treasures’, jewellery, toiletries, handbags, scarves, candles. . . I found a beautiful silver snowflake that will hang somewhere very prominent in our house at Christmas.
Every purchase is neatly hand-wrapped in tissue paper and tied with a ribbon – a lovely touch if you’re buying something as a gift. No surprise a few of us came away with purchases of our own. I’ve added a few more things to my wish list too.
only one boutique
Our last stop before a break for tea & cake was Ely’s most unique clothes shop: Only One Boutique. Our little city does most things very well, but not clothes shops which are mostly chains. Step forward Niaz, who created her boutique to sell a small selection of clothes which are added to each week, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.
So, you can buy something safe in the knowledge that it’s unlikely you’ll see someone else wearing it. Genius. This small, perfectly formed shop is such a delight to look around, with its adornment of fairy lights and framed quotes from fashion icons like Coco Chanel. I couldn’t resist a gorgeous grey jumper with sparkly gold star – perfect for the season. 🙂
We’re extremely well served in Ely for tea and coffee houses, and many of them are independent. They’re all very different in size, style and atmosphere. When you visit Ely, make sure you leave time to try at least one of them. 🙂
For the #ElyChristmasCracker we chose The Almonry. A section of it is housed in a medieval undercroft; part of the medieval cathedral precinct. The vaulted ceilings are quite something. We were in a newer (relatively speaking!) part of the building where we spent a good couple of hours chatting about. . . pretty much everything!
If you follow me on Instagram, you will see I make the occasional mention of The Ely Gin Company. . . They started with a stall on Ely Market, and had such amazing success that they now have their own shop. Lauren and I were keen to show everyone the delights of fruit gins and their new range of flavoured vodkas. This was our last stop of the day.
George gave us a quick overview of the flavours and we had the chance to try whatever took our fancy. What a great way to warm you up on a chilly day! They have some lovely flavours and a few that are particularly good at this time of year: sloe & cherry, dark chocolate, and almond & vanilla vodka which tastes of marzipan!
tired feet but happy faces
It was late in the afternoon when our meetup came to a close. I had a huge amount of fun, and everyone left very happy and with a few new friends. There most definitely will be future Ely blogger events. If you’re local, watch this space! 🙂
I want to offer massive thanks to everyone who was a part of our event – the independents mentioned above and the wonderful local businesses who so kindly donated gifts for our goody bags. They were: Red Berry Cards, Only One Boutique, our own Lauren Thomas, Mr Simm’s Olde Sweet Shoppe, Folly Green, Cherry Hill Chocolates and Little Button Nose. 🙂
Why not take a look at what our lovely bloggers are writing about: Lauren – Girl Running Late, Michelle – The Last Food Blog, Pippa – Clashing Time, Jennifer – Feioi, Emily – Mummas & More, Jade – Wing it with Jade, Chantal – Milk & Nappies, Lizzie – Marmalade Pie.
Bye for now!