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.Read More
The castleAt the heart of Colchester are the remains of its castle, a ruggedly imposing, honey-coloured keep, set in attractive parkland stretching down to the River Colne. Begun less than ten years after the Battle of Hastings, the keep was the largest in Europe at the time, built on the site of the Temple of Claudius. Inside the keep, a museum holds an excellent collection of Romano-British archeological finds, notably a miscellany of coins and tombstones. The museum also runs regular guided tours, giving access to the Roman vaults, the Norman chapel and the castle roof, which are otherwise out of bounds. Outside, down towards the river in Castle Park, is a section of the old Roman walls, whose battered remains are still visible around much of the town centre. They were erected after Boudicca had sacked the city and, as such, are a case of too little too late.