St Ives (not the one in Cornwall!) is a market town fifteen miles from Cambridge. It has a lovely relaxed atmosphere and is great for mooching around on a Saturday afternoon, exploring its fascinating history and picturesque views. My friend and I spent the afternoon doing just that today.
We took the recently opened Guided Bus route from the centre of Cambridge, travel time is around 20 minutes and is a pleasant journey through the open countryside.
St Ives’ history really began in Saxon times when it was called ‘Slepe’, although artefacts in the local museum (The Norris Museum) show that it was inhabited from The Stone Age onwards. The museum is a lovely little building with some fascinating bits of St Ives’ history housed in it (although the dried rat and dried cat which was kept in a box in someones chimney, for superstitious reasons, was a little creepy!). There were also some gorgeous watercolour paintings of the town which made me very jealous, I would love that to be that good!
The 15th century bridge (pic at the top of this post), which crosses the River Ouse, is an impressive part of the town which has greatly influenced St Ives’ development throughout its history.
Half way across the bridge is St Ledger Chapel, which is a small but fascinating building with a lovely view across the river. Visitors can borrow the key to the Chapel from the Norris museum, a deposit is required to borrow the key. The St Ledger Chapel, named after a french bishop who become a martyr in the 7th century, was once used as a tollhouse. Interestingly it has also been used as accommodation for the last prior of St Ives, a shop, a lock up, an inn of disrepute and, legend has it, as a brothel!
The chapel acts as another smaller museum and is definitely worth a visit. If you are ok with narrow steep steps, it has a second lovely room downstairs.
According to one of the information notices there are four other surviving bridge chapels in the UK, these are in Derby, Bradford, Rotherham and Wakefield.
A statue (pic above) of one of St Ives’ most famous residents, Oliver Cromwell, resides on Market Street, beside the Free Church. The market is at its busiest on Monday mornings, with a smaller one on Fridays. Walking along I noticed that although it was a Saturday and quite busy, it was still a relaxing, quiet place to be. St Ives as a whole felt like that too.
It was a really nice place to be,although at first it was threatening rain with some mist but by the end of our trip it was really warm and sunny. The riverside was an especially gorgeous place to be in the sun. It’s also a very photogenic place, as the number of pictures I took proves!. Lots of ideas for future watercolour projects!
On the way back to Cambridge we got off in the village of Swavesey, drawn by the interesting looking S Andrew’s Church, which can be seen from the bus route. Unfortunately it was locked, as quite a few churches seem to be these days sadly.
I would definitely recommend St Ives and Swavesey to anyone who would like to visit somewhere close to Cambridge, with great views and an interesting history.