If you visit anywhere in Essex, it should be COLCHESTER, a busy sort of place with a castle, a university and an army base, fifty miles or so northeast of London. Colchester prides itself on being England’s oldest town, and there is indeed documentary evidence of a settlement here as early as the fifth century BC. Today, Colchester makes a potential base for explorations of the surrounding countryside – particularly the Stour valley towns of Constable country, within easy reach a few miles to the north.
By the first century AD, the town was the region’s capital under King Cunobelin – better known as Shakespeare’s Cymbeline – and when the Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD they chose Colchester (Camulodunum) as their new capital, though it was soon eclipsed by London. Later, the conquering Normans built one of their mightiest strongholds in Colchester, but the conflict that most marked the town was the Civil War. In 1648, Colchester was subjected to a gruelling siege by the Parliamentarian army; after three months, during which the population ate every living creature within the walls, the town finally surrendered and the Royalist leaders were promptly executed for their pains.