The term “hidden gem” gets bandied around a lot in relation to all sorts of places in London – bars and restaurants, museums, galleries and historic buildings. It’s a bit of an overworn phrase, but the subject of today’s post definitely fits the criteria for a hidden gem: small and off the beaten track, pretty and perfectly formed.
Through a little gateway on Fleet Street lies the Temple, the inner sanctum of Britain’s legal profession. It’s a curious name – one that always intrigued me when I was younger, going through Temple Station whilst on the District Line and wondering if there actually was a temple there. There is no temple, but amid the chambers of barristers is a little old church that has a history going all the way back to the Knights Templar.
As I made my way north on the train from Cambridge to Ely, the Fens seemed to stretch out forever. An entirely flat landscape of fields, waterways and even solar panels spread in all directions. The Fens is an alien place to me; I grew up in Lancashire amongst hills, moors and valleys. Until the Fens began to be drained from the 17th Century onwards, the little city of Ely was an island amid a vast watery landscape of rivers, peat beds and marshes.
Atop the highest hill in the Fens – a mere 26 metres above sea level – is a magnificent cathedral that dominates the landscape.
At first, it looks like just another effigy. A man in bishop’s robes carved in stone lies in peaceful repose, one hand raised in blessing, his head guarded by an angel. But beneath the effigy is another figure – shockingly, this is the figure of a rotting corpse, wrapped only in a shroud. This is the cadaver tomb of Bishop Richard Fleming at Lincoln Cathedral, and it is the oldest one still surviving in England.
I first came across the ruined chapel whilst on a wildlife trek – we had stopped near the little town of Salen to watch harbour porpoises in the Sound of Mull. Intrigued as I was by the ruined chapel and its surrounding burial ground, there wasn’t time to stop and explore and I had to return a few days later to get a good look around the site. My stay on the beautiful Scottish island of Mull had been blessed with warm sunshine, but on the final day of my trip – when I finally had time to visit the chapel and the burial ground surrounding it – the clouds had arrived.
This is Pennygown burial ground, and it is still used by the people of the Mull today.