. It is part of the Fen country, a bowl of dark alluvial soil that is rich and fertile. Indeed this prime agricultural land was once regularly flooded and the isle of Ely rising above its marshy surroundings was often marooned in water. The fens evolved over thousands of years from ancient forests
to a lonely expanse of marsh as the sea flooded the land and the rivers drained it in a perpetual see-saw process. The fens are now home to numerous wading and water birds as well as rare plants, and the country appeals to those who like the solitude of the watery scene.
. The county is at its flattest in the north around Wisbech and the isle of Ely. The slow-moving River Ouse cuts across the county and provides a dividing line between north and south. The country around Cambridge is relieved with some hills, such as the Gogmagog range southeast of the city, although most are hardly more than undulations on a pleasant grassy plain.
Origin of name: Originally called Grantebridge (the bridge over the river Granta, one of the sources of the Cam). The Norman name was Cantebruge (the Cam was first called the Cante). Cam is also a Celtic word ascribed to rivers and meaning crooked or winding.
Name first recorded: 1010 as Grantabrycgscir.
County Motto: Per undas, per ogros ("Through waves, through fields").
CAMBRIDGE A jewel of a city: dignified and spacious with beautiful college buildings and bridges.
BURWELL: Once a centre for barge-building and turf- making, this large village has attractive windmills and a fine church with an interior of clunch - hard East Anglian chalk.
CHATTERIS: An ancient manor house stands on the site of a Benedictine nunnery built in 980 by Alfwen the niece of King Edgar in this town with a Domesday lineage.
ELY: Has a Quay area - a reminder of its 'inland port'status before the Fens were drained. The 14th- century octagonal central tower of the cathedral, which replaced a square one destroyed by fire, took only 26 years to complete - that is fast for those days! it remains a marvel of 400 tons of masonry.
GAMLINGAY: Mellow redbrick almhouses date from the year of the Great Plague (1665). A 15th century church also survives.
MELBOURNE: A fine tithe barn, splendid Norman church and yew-lined avenues. Hard to imagine that the touring holiday originated from here, but Thomas Cook was indeed born here in 1808.
SAWSTON: Has a claim to fame of sorts by being the first village college to open in 1930. SOHAM: Five miles from Ely across the causeway a splendid 7th-century abbey was established a few years before Ely (and not rebuilt after the Danes destroyed it).
W1SBECH: Prosperous fruit and flower-growing area with an ancient castle and beautiful merchant houses.
WHITTLESEY: Domesday entry, Roman roads and now Peterborough's eastern dormitory town.
. Cottenham . Fulbourn . Gilton . Great Shelford . Histon .Littleport . March
Cam, Ouse, Nene
Great Chishlll at 480 feet
. The history of aviation is enhanced with regular events at the open air museum at Duxford.
. Many events all year, in and around the Cambridge colleges, in vacations visitors can stay cheaply in college rooms.
. The annual spring boat race between Cambridge and Oxford is held on the River Thames, between Putney and Mortlake, but the Cam has regular boating events too.
. Hereward the Wake fought bravely at Thorney and holed up in a final stand against the invading Normans at Ely. As "the last of the English' he made the Capital of the Fens
. The poet Rupert Brooke put Grantchester on the literary map with a line about the church clock and its indication of tea-time 'and is there honey still for tea?' The rectory is now home to novelist Jeffrey Archer and his wife Mary.
. Cambridge has had many famous residents. For many years the novelist E. M. Forster (Howards End and A Passage to India) lived quietly on his own in a Cambridge college. The Cambridge Footlights have provided stars from Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett to Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Comic author Tom Sharpe, who gave us the marvellous Porterhouse Slue, lives in Cambridge.
. While visiting his wayward student son, the future Edward Vll, at Madingley, the Prince Consort fell ill and died shortly after at Windsor. It's said Queen Victoria never forgave the son whose transgressions unwittingly caused Prince Albert's death.
. The landscape designer Capability Brown, who changed the face of English gardens 200 years ago when he satisfied the current vogue for a 'natural' look was born and is buried at Fenstanton.
The County of Cambridgeshire comes under a two-tier administration: Cambridgeshire County Council at the top level and four District Councils called Cambridge, East Cambridgeshire, Fenland and South Cambridgeshire. Thorney has Peterborough unitary council as its service provider.
If Norfolk is flat, Cambridgeshire is flatter. This large spread of agricultural land shaped like a frying pan lies south of the Wash. Out of this flat fenland rises the beautiful huge Gothic glory of Ely Cathedral, but the pride of the county must be Cambridge.
Everybody seems to be on bikes in the glorious city of Cambridge. This university city only a little less old than Oxford sits securely in the middle of the southern part of the county. Set around quiet quadrangles, several of the ancient and beautiful colleges have gardens along the placid River Cam. Here the wide grassy banks of the Backs furnish an idyllic setting for those who like. to picnic by the waterside, or drift along in a punt. The town itself is a long straggle of venerable buildings, some supremely fine such as King's Chapel, every Christmas the heart-stopping scene of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. To walk through the quadrangles, a mellow parade of English architectural styles, is to enter another era. It's a delight to discover the old town too and wander in the narrow lanes off the King's Parade, and along Magdalen Street where there are groups of medieval houses. The Fitzwilliam Museum, a Victorian porticoed palazzo on Trumpington Street, is world famous for its collection of treasures.
March, a centre of rail and road, is an open and often windswept town. It stands on the Old Course of the River Nene and possesses a particularly fine perpendicular church. The beamed interior of the majestically named St Wendreda is lovely, thick-clustered with wide-winged wooden angels.
Ely appears like an actor on a stage, a vision on a sudden rise in the flat fens, for the small city is dramatically crowned with a vast cathedral of several periods. It is best known for its Norman work, however - this great church's unique silhouette gives it the local name of the Ship of the Fens. As you approach it from a distance over the flat fenland and this huge vision appears you can understand why. The cathedral's fabulous Lantern, supported almost magically by vaults of vast beams of English oak, replaced a tower that tumbled down in 1322. The Lady Chapel is particularly elegant, though its lacy sculpture was scarred by Cromwell's puritanical followers. Around the cathedral are gardens. In the town are many pleasing buildings of several dates and a walk along Waterside gives fine views. Wisbech was once much closer to the sea, which made it rich as a port. Hence the money to build, on both banks of its broad River Nene waterfront, some of the handsomest brick Georgian houses in the country - look for the deservedly renowned Peckover House. There's also a large old church. South of Ely, in a lonely world of its own, the isolated Wicken Fen remains a fascinating repository of rare plants and bird species. It is a unique and ancient undrained bog. The nearby village has some typical charming houses. Villages in Cambridgeshire vary architecturally; some are simple and homely while others have quite palatial brick houses, often lining wide main streets. Most are low-lying so it's the tall church towers and wide-armed windmills that stand out, though these white-painted wooden monuments to an industrial age, once vital, are no longer used.
The Isle of Ely, the part of the county north of the east- west divide of the Ouse - and once an administrative county on its own - is a grey-green misted land of wide horizons, scattered with small fenland settlements consisting of small tile-roof cottages. Yet they are not without a great deal of interest: Thorney appears a lonely place surrounded by thousands of acres of reclaimed fen, but there are two ruined churches here of considerable architectural interest and a pair of fine 17th-century houses. Others include Haddenham, sitting unusually high in this flat country, with large brick houses;
Leverington, with a 17th-century dovecote nearby, a centre of fine houses including an Elizabethan hall; handsome Whittlesey with itsmanor, 17th-century inn and medieval church; and the amusingly named Friday Bridge.
The stretch of Cambridgeshire south of the Ouse is pleasingly rural, with fat brick farms set in wide spreading fields. Close to Cambridge cluster the villages of Madingley with a post mill, half-timbered houses and an Elizabethan hall where Charles 1 hid, Trumpington with its medieval church containing a 13th-century brass reputed to be one of the oldest in England, and Haslingfield with yet another medieval church possessing a fine pulpit.
Swaffham Prior has twin churches and both it and Swaffham Bulbeck have lovely old houses - thatched cottages and a picturesque Tudor manor at the former, 17th- and 18th-century houses at the latter, one a moated farm, another a romantic house fashioned from the walls of Anglesey Abbey. Babraham sports a Norman towered church with a vivid John Piper window within and at Balsham the church has old brasses and medieval carved misericordes. Isleham church is a grand one with many treasures - brasses, misericordes and statues of knights, while the hammerbeam roof is a cloud of winged angels. Conington church has a Grinling Gibbons carving, intricate leaves, swags and fruit in soft limewood. At Longstanton the Hatton family are buried at All Saints and their crest, a golden hind, became the emblem of the buccaneering Sir Francis Drake.
Wandlebury is a circular earthwork fort on the Gogmagog Hills. The original enclosed settlement dates from the early Iron Age. The Romans set to work to drain the fens, area slipped back to marshland until the 17th century when perhaps as many as 700 windmills were at work draining the fens. The steam pump speeded up the process and the windmills declined. At Stretham there is a remarkable and very large village cross dating from the 1400s. and you can see a scoop-wheel machine, a rare survival of one of the engines used to reclaim the land by draining fens in the early 19th century. Cambridge was a market town in the Middle Ages, standing on a spot where the Roman Road from Colchester to Chester crossed the river Cam. Around 1284 a band of students and teachers from Oxford founded a college that was to become the pride of the county In addition to the cathedral, Ely has several fine ecclesiastical buildings with the King's School dating from the 15th century.