It’s not a city that springs to mind when planning a day trip, and in most cases, rightly so, but it does have some delights to be discovered, some ancient, some modern.
Not that you’d know from the Visit Peterborough website, which spends most of its time telling you about things that aren’t in Peterborough.
Peterborough is a Cathedral City, so not entirely unsurprisingly, it has a Cathedral, a rather big one as it happens. Much of what you see dates from the 12th century although there have been some minor modifications over the centuries. It’s still surrounded by an ancient wall made up of homes and offices for the clergy, as many Cathedrals would have been at the time.
As such, it’s a bit hidden away, peeking over the roofs of the streets, and entry is via a small fortified gatehouse. And what a magnificent building it is – long naves, lots and lots of memorials, to the famous and less so, two Queens, and more Bishops than you could shake a mitre at.
And around the back, an absolutely stunning vaulted ceiling. Also note the heating, massive round radiators that warmed my industrial heart.
Entry is free (hurruh!), and you can buy a photography permit for just £3, so very similar to Southwark Cathedral in London.
Just outside, in the main town square is another decent looking church, but this one had it’s doors firmly locked shut (yes, I tried them), and an old town centre market building.
Like any old city, this one has a museum, and a rather good one, housed in a former mansion that was once on the edge of town, but today pretty much in the centre as it is.
Like a lot of town museums, it’s a mix of the pre-human, the industrial revolution, and in this city’s case the massive post-war boom in its population. The prehistory period, covering the time when Peterborough was covered in a deep ocean is particularly well done, with a very atmospheric design to the galleries.
I made the mistake of thinking a large white room on the ground floor was a modern exhibit, when in fact the group at the far end were having a meeting and I was encouraged to beat a hasty retreat.
The rest of the town centre is a mix of the occasional historic building, surrounded by post-war modern blocks. A shopping centre looked rather empty, but it was the middle of the week, and it’s in the middle of being refurbished right now.
Something I found while wandering and isn’t really on the tourist map was a Roman Catholic church, of St Peter and All Souls with Our Lady of Lourdes (why are church names so long?)
From the outside it’s a modest stone building, but like many Catholic churches, and unlike most Protestant ones, the doors are open and welcoming. That does mean they offer a warm refuge for those lacking normal housing, so the aroma of incense was punctured by a sharper more acrid smell emanating from a pew.
Otherwise, it’s a quite charming little building, plenty of saints, niches and places to drop candles or prayers.
Nearby is a main road, and a Waitrose, which would have gone unremarked save for a small sign nearby that noted that the main road was built in the 1980s on land that had once been a medieval leper hospital, and where hundreds of plague victims were buried in 1349.
Something to bear in mind when shopping for your Waitrose essentials.
Finally, the main reason I came here.
Peterborough has a monorail, or at least a tiny bit of one, which I wrote about recently.
That monorail sits in Railworld and Wildlife Haven — which is mainly a wildlife haven with a small railway museum. Less Railworld than RailHamlet, sadly.
It’s not a bad little collection, a few carriages, a couple of locomotives, and a nice model railway to delight the kids.
The main attraction is however the nature reserve, built on former railway land and turned into a maze of corridors in the planting with small detours and ponds to delight. I quite like getting lost, so while the reserve is small, the maze like layout was quite a treat.
More railway can be found here, with a model railway set-up, staffed by two men who did their best to ignore me, and although most of the roof is no longer in use, there’s a viewing gallery on top to watch the mainline railway that runs beside it.
What I didn’t visit, as it doesn’t run during the week, is the local heritage railway, which I am saving for another day, when I am less hobbling around than jumping for delight.
What you do have to visit, if coming by train is Peterborough Train Station, a building so unremittingly awful that I was mildly surprised to see a plaque inside celebrating its refurbishment.
Peterborough is, just about, a day out — and probably more so if you include the heritage railway.