My cooking classes finish around 2.30pm, which leaves plenty of time for you to take a look around Colchester before going home. You may be surprised at what you find, especially if it’s been a while since you last visited “Britain’s Oldest Recorded Town.
Colchester’s buildings span 2,000 years, from the ancient Roman wall and gates, to the medieval castle, the eighteenth century Hollytrees Museum, the turn-of-the-century Town Hall, right up to the present day.
Yes, our town actually has an ultra-modern, space-age building under construction: Rafael Viñoly’s Firstsite arts centre. Some people call it a “white elephant” (we know about THOSE in Thailand), but actually it seems (only “seems”) to be made of solid gold. It is expected to open in October 2011 (cost £26,000,000).
So what can you do in Colchester in the afternoon? I recommend a walk by the River Colne, which flows right outside my dining room window. We have swans, ducks, moorhens, squirrels, and other wildlife, despite being just a quarter-mile from the busy town centre.
At Middle Weir there’s a delightful waterfall on the site of a former mill and near here you can enter Lower Castle Park and stroll up the hill towards the Castle.
If you like museums, you’re in the right place. There’s one in the castle and another one (Hollytrees, above) in the house opposite.
The castle is at one end of the High Street, along which you’ll find coffee shops, pubs, and the classy Williams & Griffin (“WillieGee”) department store. You can’t miss the magnificent Town Hall, completed 1902 (cost £55,000).
Dozens more shops are packed in Culver Square and the other pedestrianised areas to the south of the High Street: Debenham’s, H&M, Apple Store, Waterstone’s, Sainsbury’s, and so on, and yet another museum: Tymperleys Clock Museum, which houses one of the largest collections of clocks in the country. It’s worth a visit – and it’s FREE!
On the west side of town you’ll find the Hole in the Wall (quite literally, a hole in the Roman wall, but next to it is a pub by that name), close to the Mercury Theatre, the modern building between the wall and the huge Victorian water tower, above.
Now there’s an idea! Why not take in a play while you’re here? Of course, you’ll have to book in advance, which is why I mention it in this post.
If you’ve parked near to the cooking class, you can return to your car via the Dutch Quarter, the area on the north side of the High Street that was once settled by the Huguenot weavers. It’s packed with historical interest: a former hot-bed of the Peasants’ Revolt, not to mention the one-time home of Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, and the long-time home of Jane and Ann Taylor, authors of children’s verse including “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
So that’s only a very short walk, just over a mile, around Colchester. There’s much, much more.
Around here is where the Emperor Claudius (remember “I, Claudius”?) paraded when he visited Colchester (Camulodunum), which pre-dated London as the Roman capital of Britannia, in AD 43. Check out the visitors’ sites and plan your own trip. But please be sure to book up a cooking class before you come.