Ely

Sophie’s new best friend, Henry, has started telling people that he has a new sister named Sophie. They’re adorable together. Today, they chased each other around the giant cathedral at Ely. It’s got an extraordinary nave — that hollowed-out atrium at the center of a church — that seemed as tall as an eight-story building. Henry’s mother and I chatted about how many people must have died building those towers, while our children played tag around the carved marble pillars. Sophie leapt from one stone floor-tile to another, but she wouldn’t sit still for the noon-time Lord’s Prayer. She and Henry ran off through a 12th-century wooden door, eventually ending up in the cozy nook of Saint Ethelwold’s Chapel, were they were less intimidated by any vast vaulted ceiling, and could play safely until they discovered the glass candle-holders tucked underneath Ethelwold’s alter. So we led them outside, where they ran across what had been a medieval vineyard, down to their real goal: a playground. We spent the rest of the outing on the swings and slide.

We had tried to sit the kids down for brass-rubbing before we gave up on touring the Cathedral, but it was mostly Moms who did the rubbing. The whole atmosphere only rubbed off on Sophie once we were herding her out the Cathedral’s side-entrance. Some music had started playing, and Sophie was flinging her arms in the air, hopping, jumping, leaping to accompany the organ. That is travel with children.

The one sight that slowed the kids down was an electric winch which was hauling a plastic bag of six wooden chairs from the ground floor to the first balcony. Sophie and Henry stood in awe of that winch. In this elaborate church, filled with astounding art from 1081 till modern times, what my child really stopped to watch was the workmen moving chairs. And it was fascinating.

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