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Colchester (Essex)

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Colchester (Essex)

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Colchester is a town in Essex, East Anglia. Home to the University of Essex [1], the Colchester Institute [2] and an Army Garrison [3], 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".

Colchester is one of four towns that claims to be the oldest in Britain - the other three are Abingdon in Oxfordshire, Marazion in Cornwall and Louth in Lincolnshire.

Get in

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 [4]

By train

Colchester is served by 5 train stations.

  • Colchester Station, known locally but unofficially as North Station (local buses call it North Station on the schedules) is located about 1 mile north of the town centre and is Colchester's main rail hub. It has approximately 5 services an hour to London (Liverpool Street) taking 50 minutes to 1 hour. Half-hourly expresses between London Liverpool Street and Norwich cover the 50 mile trip in around 50 minutes with 1-2 intermediate stops. Commuter trains take a bit longer and make many intermediate stops and are less comfortable, although tickets are valid on either service. There are also services north to Norwich (50 minutes), Lowestoft and Peterborough (no services to Cambridge - you should change at Ipswich) and local services to Ipswich, Colchester Town, Harwich, Clacton-on-sea and Walton-on-the-Naze. The station has recently been re-developed and has two entrances - the north entrance has a ticket office, self-service machines, ATMs, a taxi stand, long-stay parking and a bus station. The south entrance is smaller and has bicycle parking and self-service ticketing but no staffed ticket booths. You need a ticket to enter and exit the station as it has automatic ticket barriers. To get to the town centre, buses 61 and 62 run from right outside the north exit to Colchester High Street, although most local services depart from North Station Road - go through the south exit and walk down to the main road.
  • Colchester Town Station is more conveniently located at the St. Botolphs road junction in the south-east of the town centre and has a half-hourly shuttle to Colchester North as well as hourly services to Walton-on-the-Naze. To reach London outside of peak hours you should change at Colchester (North).
  • Hythe is a small, unstaffed station in the eastern suburb of Hythe, close to the large Tesco superstore and within walking distance of the University of Essex. There are hourly services between Colchester and Walton plus occasional peak hour services to Clacton and London. Avoid this station after dark as it's often too quiet and isolated.
  • Wivenhoe serves the attractive riverside suburb/town of Wivenhoe and the University of Essex - it has hourly services to London and Clacton, and a local hourly service between Colchester and Walton.
  • Marks Tey is in the western suburb/village of Marks Tey and is the interchange for the local line to Sudbury. It has regular connections from Colchester and London (mostly for services towards Clacton and Harwich as well as occasional services to Ipswich and beyond) and hourly services to Sudbury.

By bus

The two main operators in the town are First Essex [5] and Network Colchester [6], with Chambers Coaches [7] and Hedingham Omnibuses [8] 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.

By coach

First Essex [9] 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.

National Express [10] coaches serve the bus station (and various other stops) on route 484 between London Victoria and Clacton-on-Sea.

By car

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.

Get around

The easiest way to get around Colchester itself is by car or bus. Full bus timetables are available from the County Council [11].

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, [12]. 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:

  • The Castle Museum, [13]
  • The Hollytrees Museum, [14]
  • The Natural History Museum, [15]
  • The Tymperleys Clock Museum, [16]

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.

Wivenhoe Once a small fishing town on the River Colne to the south of Colchester, Wivenhoe is now a suburb separated from the rest of the town by the University of Essex. It has grown considerably over the last few years as it has become a popular place for London commuters to live because of the good rail links. However, the waterfront area and the High Street are still very traditional with lots of small independent shops, restaurants, pubs, a fish and chip shop and a Co-op supermarket. Wivenhoe can be reached in about 20 minutes by car by taking the A133 out of town past the university and then taking the Wivenhoe exit. There is free parking just off of the High Street and outside the Co-op supermarket, as well as long-stay Pay and Display parking at the train station. (Note that cars cannot use Boundary Road at the University as a shortcut as barriers restrict access to buses and university traffic). Trains run every 30 minutes from Colchester North to Wivenhoe, and every hour from Colchester Town. Buses 61 and 62 run every 10 minutes from Colchester High Street to Wivenhoe - note that service 61 takes a very indirect route. Wivenhoe can also be easily reached by foot or cycle along the Wivenhoe Cycle Trail which starts from Colchester Castle Park, runs through the Hythe and along the river, ending up at Wivenhoe Station.


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). [17].

The new Colchester discount voucher scheme can save you money at your local business. offers great bargains from your shops, pubs restaurant and events. Find out more on [18] .


  • Peldon Rose


  • The Abbey Arms
  • The Goat & Boot
  • The Forester's Arms
  • The Fox & Fiddler
  • The Hole in the Wall
  • The Hospital Arms provides excellent real ale, as does The Odd One Out.
  • The Playhouse
  • The Stockwell Arms
  • Wig and Pen


  • The George Hotel
  • The Riverside Hotel

Stay safe

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.

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