During his reign in England (1016-1035), it was Cnut's custom to spend the Feast of the Purification at Ely Abbey every year. One year the winter was so cold that ice made the marsh surrounding the abbey impassable, but he declared that he was willing to travel on the ice from Soham to Ely by wagon if someone would go ahead of him. Cnut was not one to be daunted by a little bad weather! A twelfth-century history of Ely tells the story, in somewhat dry clerical prose:
It chanced that standing by in the crowd was a certain large and rugged man from the Isle [of Ely], Brihtmær surnamed Budde on account of his bulk, and he promised to go ahead of the king. Without delay the king followed behind in the wagon at a fast pace, while everybody marvelled that he should have attempted such a great act of daring. When he arrived at Ely he joyfully celebrated the festival there according to custom...From Liber Eliensis: A History of the Isle of Ely from the Seventh Century to the Twelfth, trans. Janet Fairweather (Woodbridge, 2005), p.183.
The king was accustomed to recount that it had so come about and been granted to him by the Lord that a large and rugged countryman had perceived not the slightest hindrance anywhere along the way, so that he himself also, an able-bodied man of ordinary stature, had been permitted to follow after, unswervingly and without fear. And moreover the king, being generous-minded and munificent, and wishing to reward the man’s effort, made a grant whereby he, together with his land-holding, became entitled to perpetual freedom, which rights persist to this day [c.1175.]
Such a wonderful image: the great king Cnut trying to follow along and keep up in his wagon, as the huge peasant charges ahead across the treacherous ice!