Posting this several months after the event…
We went to Colchester at the end of July – a Roman wall and a chance for some exploring enough to get us out of London for the day and into Essex. Colchester is the first recorded town in Britain, mentioned by Pliny the Elder. The Roman capital, Camulodunum, was the most Roman this island could get – complete with a temple to the divine Claudius. And then Boudicca sacked and burnt it down in AD61, giving the town a lovely touch of drama and passion.
We got off the train and walked around a little lost for a while, going up one street until I figured out we were in slightly the wrong direction. Back on track, we found some of the wall built by the Romans and then headed up to the Castle.
Colchester Castle is a medieval castle, built on the vaults of the ruined Temple of Claudius. What impressed me is that the interior of the castle has been hollowed out, using the space inside for a museum. It’s a decent museum, though it relies pretty heavily on the Roman artefacts and history, including a film about Boudicea’s rage against the machine. There was a pretty cool Green Man carving and lots of evidence of the resourcefulness of the castle builders, evidenced by the Roman tiles & bricks in the exposed walls. I ventured down to the dungeons, a place of dark deeds and misery. The Witchfinder General put his ‘skill’ to the test on some people here and they have a recording that plays as you stand in the room. It’s a bit creepy.
Wandering on from the castle, we decided to try and find the pretty houses I’d been told about. What we found, after following signs, was a CARPARK. Guess Joni Mitchell was right! We did find some pretty-ish houses, but they were not anything specially brilliant. After further sign following, we followed the Roman wall around the town and stopped for a pint at the Hole in the Wall, a quaint little pub that is – built through the wall. the floors were uneven, darkened with age and the ceilings very low, like a pub that has served people through time should do.
Our efforts to find old stuff took us through a pretty shopping street, with people out for a Saturday afternoon browse. (A fair few of them had orange skin and high-heels, it is Essex after all!) Eventually we found St Boltolph’s Priory, Britain’s first Augustinian monastery, founded in 1099. It was damaged in the Civil War (Siege of Colchester) and fell into dissuse. The builder’s, of course, reused Roman brick to build the place. Make do and Mend!
After a long and seemingly fruitless trudge down a less populated road, we finally found the Gatehouse of St John’s Abbey. I really love the way that the ancient & historic are so easily absorbed into the time steam, proving how a town/city/country is as alive & evolving as any living organism.
And then, just before we started our way home, we came across some of the excavation of a Roman amphitheatre. It’s inside a locked building with handy windows for viewing. I think you apply to someone for the key, but it was after five, so we gave it a miss.