Considering I have a husband who went to school in Colchester I had strangely never visited this town in Essex, the very first capital of Britain.
I was given the guided tour by hubby and mother-in-law both keen to show me around their town; the weather for once being exceedingly good helped us to wander and explore comfortably.
On our way into the centre of town we passed a beautiful ornate water tower, a red bricked army garrison and some rather gaudy 1970-80s architecture. I discovered a magnificent mix of ancient and more modern architecture.
We headed to Colchester castle where we plumped for a guided tour of the historic landmark. Our guide although rather frail was very knowledgeable about the entire region and we even discovered he was a fellow alumni from my husbands old grammar school!
He explained the castle was built by the Normans on the foundation of a giant Roman temple that was built to honour deceased Emperor Claudius, back when the town was the official capital of Roman Britain.
Apparently Colchester was soon replaced as capital once the Romans discovered another place at the end of a great tidal river that they named Londinium what is now London. The reason Colchester was usurped as a capital was that the River Colne that passes through the town was tidal and ships could only pass along it at high tide so restricting sailing times. The River Thames on the other hand although tidal was so vast that the centre of the river remained deep enough for ships to sail down it even at low tide.
The temple fell to disrepair once the Romans were finally driven out and this castle was eventually built in 1076 in its place. This is the biggest and best-preserved Norman keeps in Europe. It was even used as a prison during the 13th-16th centuries where it held notorious witch trials amongst other atrocities.
The views from its ramparts are truly spectacular and you can also see evidence from the years it was used as a place of residence as there’s a lovely stain glass roof !
We were also taken into the cellars underneath the castle to look at the foundations close up and also the vast spaces once full of sand, that were used as air raid shelters during the Second World War. Worryingly our guided highlighted that what appeared to be rocks cemented into the walls of the foundations of the giant castle, were in fact just congealed dried mud from the river bed and large cracks are visible in the basement’s arched ceilings – thank god the council thought to add in concrete supports at the end of the 20th century!
Colchester castle is home to the Castle Museum today that reveals many fascinating layers of history to visitors. Archaeological collections of international quality covering 2,500 years of history are beautifully showcased, including of the most important Roman finds in Britain.
For more information see www.cimuseums.org.uk
For information on visiting Colchester see http://www.visitcolchester.com/