With my visit to St Ives – Huntingdon – my spring tour came to an end with a riddle: ‘As I was going to St Ives I met a man with severn wives, each wife had severn sacks, each sack had seven cats, each cat had seven kits: kits, cats, sacks, wives, how many were going to St Ives?’ I suspect Oliver Cromwell – local MP pictured above – would have had the right answer. It takes a logical, cool mind to come up with just ‘one’ – as the riddler met everyone else coming the other way. I wonder what Cromwell would have made of cirme fiction?
I happily gathered local tales on the tour which began in St Neot’s, on the wide River Ouse, then moved to Ramsey out on the Fens – surrounded by wind farms and waterways – then on to Milton Road in Cambridge – just a short walk from Jesus Lock, and then finally to St Ives. (not to be confused with its Cornish namesake – although they do claim that same riddle as their own in West Penwith.
Book lovers are generous with stories. At St Neot’s I read that a local big-wig bought the relics of St Neot from the parish in Cornwall that bears his name. Although their version of events mentions ‘theft’. St Neot’s claims to have left behind an arm – so that’s alright then. At Ramsey – where my first book, The Water Clock, seems most at home I learnt that there is a a real-life waterclock, (standing in the middle of the wide street) powered by an underground river, pictures of which hang in the welcoming nearby Jolly Sailors. (not long ago the river was open to the sky – so there really were a lot of jolly sailors on the wharf) At Milton Road we were within a stone’s throw of the farmland where scientists in the Second World War experimented with anthrax as a chemical werapon – the poor horses which did not survive being buried nearby – a story I borrowed for my Cambridge sleuth Eden Brooke.
Most of all I learnt that people take their books seriously out in the wilds of Cambridgeshire – and they therefore deserve excellent libararies, which they have. Modern, well-equipped, and staffed with professionals who love their books. All the libraries seemed to be thriving – which they should. Other counties take note!