Difference between revisions of "Colchester (Essex)"
Revision as of 12:44, 15 March 2010
Colchester is a town in Essex, East Anglia. Home to the University of Essex , the Colchester Institute  and an Army Garrison , and with its attractive old buildings, Roman wall, castle and proximity to Constable country, Colchester is an interesting place to visit.
Colchester is a provincial town in Essex, East Anglia. It is commonly regarded as the "oldest recorded town" in England, with its roots dating back to pre-Roman times, although it was given its current name during the Roman occupation of ancient Briton. Any town which ends in 'chester' typically has its roots in Roman or pre-Roman times (Chichester, Winchester etc). "Chester" literally means 'camp' in latin. What is not often known is that Colchester was regarded as being rather bothersome by the Roman administrators, to the extent that they named it disparagingly "kolos"-chester, "kolos" taken from the ancient Greek κώλος, and meaning "ass" or "bum" in modern parlance. So while the ancient context has long since passed into silence, the literal meaning of Colchester is in fact "ass-town" or "bum-town".
The easiest way to get in/out of Colchester is either by Rail or Coach. All travel timetables both into and around Colchester can be found from the County Council 
Colchester is served by 5 train stations.
The two main operators in the town are First Essex  and Network Colchester , with Chambers Coaches  and Hedingham Omnibuses  among others providing services to surrounding towns and villages. Most services run from the Temporary Bus Station on Queen Street but will pick up at other stops around the town centre.
First Essex  operate the daily/round-the-clock coach service X22 from Colchester Bus Station, the University of Essex and Colchester North Rail Station to Braintree and Stansted Airport.
Colchester can be reached by car either via the A12, which links up with the M25 from the south, or the A14, which links up with the M1/M6 from the North.
The easiest way to get around Colchester itself is by car or bus. Full bus timetables are available from the County Council .
There is an extensive bus service operated by Network Colchester and First Essex. Most routes run every 10-15 minutes between 6AM and midnight. Fares depend on distance travelled but are usually between 1.30 and 1.80 for a one-way ticket or up to 2.80 for a return. There are also 1-day (GBP2.80) and 7-day (GBP11.00) passes available from the driver as well as multiple journey tickets (10 single rides for GBP11.00). The Colchester BoroughCard is a season ticket which is available from the travel centre on Queen Street and requires a passport photo. All fares are paid cash to the driver (change is given but it's always advisable to have plenty of change as most drivers are reluctant to change notes) - state your destination and ticket type and don't forget to take your receipt from the ticket machine as there will often be inspections. Return tickets, day passes etc must be checked by the driver upon boarding and may need to be stamped.
Note that many bus routes are cross-town services and don't terminate in the town centre so there is no central hub for local services. Buses heading north can be picked up along Head Street, eastbound services can be picked up from the High Street, southbound services can be picked up from the bus terminal on Queen Street and westbound services can be picked up from outside the multi-storey car park on Osborne Street or from St. Johns Street. All stops have timetables, route information and the main stops have digital displays.
The only suburban rail service is the hourly Colchester-Walton on the Naze service which serves Colchester North, Colchester Town, Hythe (for the university) and Wivenhoe - however buses are far more frequent, cheaper and often just as fast. Also note that Colchester Town and Hythe stations do not open on Sundays.
Castle Park is a fairly large park in the grounds of Colchester castle. A number of events are held there annually, including cricket matches (There is a cricket week every year when Essex C.C. play visiting counties), music festivals and a fireworks display in November.
Colchester Zoo, . Makes an interesting day out for the family. With some of the best cat and primate collections in Europe, and recent winner of the 'Large Visitor Attraction of the Year' Award, it's well worth a visit.
Museums - Colchester is home to 4 museums, each one housed in a different beautiful old building and offering a different insight into the history behind Colchester:
Mersea Island A small island located on the estuary of the River Blackwater. The northern end of the island is mostly made up of marshland but there are three settlements on the southern half - Barrow Hill (which consisits of several houses along a road), East Mersea (a small collection of farms, a post office, a pub, a couple of tacky holiday parks and an outdoor youth centre) and West Mersea, a small fishing town most notable for it's seafood, fish and chips, countless pubs, a few small independent shops and a Co-op supermarket. It is quite a pleasant place to wander around with many miles of beaches. The island can be reached by car along the B1029 from Colchester (approx 9 miles) and crossing the Strood causeway (originally built by the Romans) onto the island - note that during high tides the causeway is likely to flood which effectively cuts off the island from the rest of society as it is the only road access. Bus service 67 runs every 30 minutes from Colchester Bus Station to West Mersea High Street (some peak hour services also pick up/drop off at Colchester North rail station), although unfortunately as it is the only public transport option the fare is very high (roughly £4 single, £6 return), meaning that it is actually cheaper to travel to Chelmsford from Colchester by bus, which is roughly 3 times as far. Journey time is roughly 30-40 minutes depending on the route taken and the time of day. There are no buses to East Mersea other than school services. During the summer there is a ferry service from East Mersea to Point Clear and Brightlingsea on the Tendring peninsular.
The only cinema in Colchester is the multiplex Odeon on Head Street which comprises eight screens and shows all of the big blockbuster movies as well as occasionally putting on alternative and foreign films. The prices are on the expensive side so take your own snacks.
There is also a theatre, the Mercury, for the theatrically inclined, which puts on shows throughout the year.
Colchester has a large selection of shops, ranging from those you would find in any large town (Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Woolworths etc.) to many small individual shops. The High Street is the place to start - it is here you will find Williams and Griffin's , which is an awarding-winning independent department store (great views from the top-floor restaurant. However if you take one of the small turnings on the right as you go down the High Street you will find yourself in a warren of small semi -pedestrianised roads full of interesting things to buy. You can create and dress your own teddy bear at Build-a-Bear in Culver Square or treat yourself to some chocolates from Godiva in Eld Lane. There are some lovely old buildings and plenty of cafes to refresh the heavy-laden shopper.
If you are looking for appropriate souvenirs of your stay, the shop in the Castle Museum has plenty to buy with a Roman theme. Alternatively you could get some world-famous Tiptree jam, which is made (surprise, surprise) in nearby Tiptree (or take a trip to visit the factory). .
The new Colchester discount voucher scheme can save you money at your local business. Townvoucher.com offers great bargains from your shops, pubs restaurant and events. Find out more on  .
Proclaimed by some as the safest town in the UK, by others as a run-down, crime-infested dump, generally Colchester is safe and you should take the usual precautions. Petty crime is quite rare. Be careful where you leave your car, particularly after dark, as car theft can be a problem. Several downtown multi-storey car parks are open 24 hours and are much safer than the surface lots around the edge of the town centre (which are unstaffed and often meeting points for illegal street racers). The 'loop' road around the town centre (Cowdray Avenue, East Hill, Southway and Balkerne hill) becomes an impromptu race-track for illegal street racers at night - be on the lookout for people driving dangerously. The town centre can become rowdy on Friday and Saturday nights around pub-closing time so try to avoid getting into fights and stay in big groups - fortunately taxis are cheap and easy to find at this time. There are a couple of no-go areas that can be dangerous, particularly after dark. Most notable are Greenstead (a large council housing development in the east), the area around Harwich Road known as 'White City', and the Monkwick estate near the Army Garrisson in the south; however these areas have little to offer for tourists. Try to avoid drinking in the so-called 'Squaddy' pubs near the Army Garrisson in South Colchester as they can be very rowdy and fights involving members of the military can be common. Avoid taking trains from Hythe Station after dark as the station is poorly lit, isolated and has no staff and little CCTV. If you do have to take a train from here, wait by the level crossing on the street and don't enter the platform until the train pulls in - don't wait on the platform.