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Britain > Cambridgeshire > Peterborough

An ancient settlement and cathedral city

Highlights

Peterborough Cathedral
Peterborough Museum
Flag Fen Archaeology Park
Nene Valley Railway
A 7th century monastery - one of the first Christian centres in central England - was the reason why Peterborough first sprung into existence. Nearly 14 centuries later, the settlement is still focused around its church. Since then, however, it has been transformed into a gigantic cathedral. Despite later additions and refurbishments, the bulk of the building dates from the 1100s. It's one of the most complete Norman structures left in England.
To catch the cathedral at its best, you have to approach from the west side. The Gothic fa├žade, with its three gigantic arches, is still breath-taking today. At the time of its construction, it must have been beyond belief. The arches are crowned with statues of the Saints Peter, Paul and Andrew, to whom the church is dedicated.

The three gigantic arches of Peterborough Cathedral
Photo NotFromUtrecht
This has been an important place for most of its existence. It was prestigious enough for two Queens to be buried here: Katherine of Aragon and Mary, Queen of Scots - although the latter's remains were later transferred to Westminster Abbey.
Don't miss the nave ceiling, which was painted entirely by hand. It's one of only four such ceilings in Europe - and none of the others are in England. Other things to look out for include the informative touch-screen exhibits, and the slightly scary view from the top of the tower.

Inside Peterborough Cathedral
Photo Steve Cadman
The cathedral's collection of historic objects is rivalled by the Peterborough Museum, which has 227,000 items in its possession. The building itself started life as a 19th-century infirmary. By the mid-1900s it had grown to include exhibits on archaeology, history and art. The oldest objects on display are probably the fossils of marine reptiles from the Jurassic period. One look at these toothy beasts is enough to make you a little glad they went extinct.
These monsters aren't the only scary things lurking in the museum. This is said to be the most haunted building in the city. There are occasional ghost walks, so brave folk can hear about the various spectres, and the grim memories that keep them here.
A few decades ago, archaeologists digging just to the east of the city came across an incredible discovery. There was a huge wooden causeway, perfectly preserved in the soil. Altogether there were 60,000 upright timbers and 250,000 horizontal ones, all lined up in rows. In those days, with minimal tools, it would have taken an unfathomable amount of effort to achieve this. It has been described as "the Stonehenge of the Fens". The site has since been turned into the Flag Fen Archaeology Park, where you can also see reconstructed buildings, and ancient artefacts like Britain's oldest wheel.
To see more of Peterborough's neighbouring countryside, hop onto the Nene Valley railway. It runs from close to the city centre, seven-and-a-half miles through meadows, fields and farmland. Unusually for heritage rail lines, they have various European carriages in use. This makes it popular with film-makers, who have come here to shoot - among other things - the James Bond film, Goldeneye. It's unlikely that 007 would be seen on Nene Valley's most famous locomotive, though. It's the original Thomas the Tank Engine - the real-life version of the famous children's television character.

Nene Valley Railway
Photo Matthew Black
Another European influence on the city is its large population of Italian immigrants. You can recognise this fact as you walk through town, counting all the Italian restaurants. Pizza is the Peterborough's particular speciality. "Pizza House" is the oldest; it has been here since 1980, pre-dating most of the international chain restaurants by some distance.

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