Colchester – far more interesting than expected!

Saturday 25 April 2015 – Colchester.

My last post was all about a training walk on Box Hill for the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km walk I WAS going to be doing in July. As the ‘was’ suggests I am no longer doing the walk. After lots of serious thought I knew I was not going to be able to do this walk justice, I have done virtually no training since the start of the year and having done a 55km run I know what a 100km walk is going to feel like without training. I also know how my body feels now and punishing it further is not going to help. So, partly because it was unfair on my team mates who seem to have more time than me, partly as it would be unfair on El if I work half the weekend and then walk the rest, but mainly because I just don’t think I can do it I have pulled out. Luckily it was early enough for my spot in the team to be easily filled.

As always seems to be the case at the moment, the main reason for my life being so busy is work. I had a bit of a slump week this week so decided last night that I was going to take a day out. I have not had a whole day to myself since I went to Dartmouth before Christmas and I just needed some time when the only interactions I had with other humans was to order food and drink.

Not wanting to spend too much money, but still wanting to do something that got me out of London, I decided to go to Colchester in Essex. It wasn’t ideal, there was no beach for instance, but it was close enough, cheap enough and it had a castle and a river.

The other reason for visiting Colchester was there are frequent, direct trains from Liverpool St Station, Walthamstow also has a line to Liverpool St; home to Colchester was therefore not much more than an hour and no hassle at all. In my book that it always an incentive, inner-city travelling at the weekend is too reminiscent of commuting!

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From my limited experience it seems to be the tradition for old towns that are local centres to be surrounded by wide, busy pedestrian unfriendly roads that need to be navigated round and over if you are walking from the station. Colchester was no exception. I had no map, and had only vaguely consulted Google Maps on the train, but when I got to the River Colne and a path that led in the direction of a park I decided to leave the road behind and see where I ended up. Good (not) to see the river is (not) in good health.

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My decision to leave the road was a good one as I found myself at the end of Castle Park, which was going to be my first stop.

Colchester’s main claims to historical fame, is it is Britain’s oldest recorded town (from AD 79) and also has the oldest Roman era city walls in the country. The Romans built their first British fortress in Colchester soon after the invasion in AD43, this became the centre of a colony which was then sacked by Boudica’s army in AD61. Soon after this event London became the capital of Roman Britain, who knows what would have happened if the sacking never took place ? The famous walls were built when the city was rebuilt from AD65-80 and are almost 4 miles long.

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All that remains of Colchester Castle is the keep, the largest remaining keep in Europe. Construction was completed in 1100 and it was built on top of the old Roman temple. Like all such buildings it has a chequered history and while it was serving as a prison in the 1640s it was the home of the Witchfinder General, Mathew Hopkins. I imagine it was not pleasant to be under investigation.

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Like a lot of these old buildings it was built over a few decades using the various materials that were around, including stone and bricks salvaged from the old Roman buildings. I love the randomness of the window openings.

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The castle has an excellent local museum inside, it was 7 pounds to enter, which I thought was good value for what was there. It was interesting and very child friendly with loads of (un-museum like) ‘Please touch’ signs on various activities. It was also pleasing to see that it was quite popular with the Colchester community with a few families looking around.

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I really liked this chariot race game, these two couples were really enjoying themselves Smile Though I will say they dig hog it and I didn’t get a go. Though I am sure that if I had asked…

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There were quite a few things of interest to see inside, I liked this tombstone of Marcus Favonius Facilis, who dies in Colchester soon after arriving in Britain in AD43. This is one of the earliest complete tombstones in Britain.

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And another sculpture from the same period, the Colchester Sphinx.

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I left the museum in search of the next piece of history on my list, St Botolph’s Abbey. Not having a map meant I got a bit misplaced. But I did find this really cool section of the city walls – I love the weeds growing out of this almost 2000 year old piece of history.

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I passed by St Mary’s Church which I had read about in the museum. During the civil war in 1648, Colchester was besieged for many months by the Parliamentarians, the Royalists inside the town placed a small canon on the top of the church tower to fire over the walls, eventually it was hit by return fire and destroyed. When the church was later rebuilt the top of the tower was repaired in brick rather than the original Roman stone.

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After a bit of faffing, some road side Google Mapping and eventually some random good fortune I found the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory. Unfortunately so had some people doing a model shoot who were hogging the place so, much as I like to take photos sans people, in this case I couldn’t and I ended up leaving in a minor huff.

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The priory was the first Augustinian priory in Britain and like the nearby castle was completed around 1100. A long with many of the other leading Catholic orders, such as St Marys in York, it was dissolved by the order King Henry VIII in 1536 and a number of the buildings were torn down. The church as was allowed to remain to serve the local people but it was destroyed during the civil war. it is quite pretty and peaceful.

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It was now past lunch time and my tummy was rumbling. When I was planning the trip last night, I had decided that I would find a nice pub to lunch in, drink a pint of decent ale, read my book, write some stuff, get myself organised with a few lists – I do love a list. Basically relax and unwind. But i couldn’t find a nice pub to lunch in. I did find the new art gallery though.

What a cool building, such a great contrast to the small old tower nearby. The gallery is very nice inside, big, airy and light. The exhibitions were not really to my liking, but the coffee and cake were fab.

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The last thing on my list of things to do was to find Bourne Mill. Resorting to Google Maps again I found my way quite easily to this old building on its man made lake on what used to be the edge of town.

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The building is managed by National Trust, so I finally got to use my membership card for the first time since I signed up two years ago. The mill was originally built in 1591 from stone left behind during the dissolution of the abbeys in 1536 and was built as a fishing lodge on a series of ponds made by the abbeys along a small stream that fed into the River Colne. It was converted into a fulling mill in 1640 and then into a corn mill in 1840 when the gables were added.

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I followed path down the side of the very overgrown stream as far as I could towards the River Colne with the intent of following that back to where I started at the foot of Castle Park. The start of the stream walk was quite nice, at least it was quiet, but it soon popped out on to some busy edge of town roads.

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There was sort of a path following the river, though on this side of town it was not the charming river side walk I was hoping for…

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There is a ton of building going on around here, flats going up everywhere, I am guessing just to fuel the ever increasing fire for cheaper housing to meet the demands of those forced to leave London as it is now too expensive to live in.

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Crossing back into the centre of town, it is clear to see the line between the water haves and have nots, there is a weir at the edge of town that keeps the river running through the parks nice and high and full and far more attractive. Though I am assuming that is due to the river being tidal more than anything more subversive. Still it was nice to be walking through the park again once I passed through its gates.

I headed back up into the centre of town to try and find one of the council website advertised friendly village pubs, but all there seemed to be were large bars with tattooed punters drinking lager outside. Not my thing at all. I wandered around for a bit before giving up and heading back towards the station. My dream of an afternoon relaxing over an ale or two dashed, though I did stop for one in a not too bad pub, but there were no longer serving lunch so I didn’t stay. The one place that looked like it could have been a decent pub in the old Dutch quarter was closed.

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It had been a good day out, I enjoyed the old bits and the new gallery, it was nice to walk by a river, though it wasn’t a nice bit of river to walk by. It was nice to not have to talk or listen to anyone, and I could refocus myself a bit away from the madness and pressure of work.

I shall do it again.

The BEST thing that has happened in the last week is I have finally booked my many times postponed trip to New Zealand to see my family. As it now pretty much winter in NZ I have made it a quick visit with no ‘holiday’ time, just 10 days there and a lot to do. It is my grandson’s 1st birthday so I am really pleased to be able to be there for that, plus my oldest son is coming over from Australia as well. Double awesome, I get to see all three kids together!

About wheresphil

Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, now living in London.
This entry was posted in Blog, Britain, England and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Colchester – far more interesting than expected!

  1. nice read up on my hometown of Colchester, if you are to visit again there is a beautiful local pub just outside the castle park walls called the foresters arms

  2. Pingback: Capturing History Challenge Week 13 | Ed Mooney Photography

  3. great images and history!! Enjoy your trip back home!

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