Colchester has a rich heritage, with Norman, Roman and Dutch links, depicted throughout its streets, buildings and landmarks. And with so much to explore – a day out here is a must. If you want to soak up Colchester’s heritage, we’ve got a couple of recommendations…
St John’s Abbey Gate
Originally just St John’s Abbey, the gate was built around 1400 to strengthen the abbey’s defences against the local peasant revolt of 1381. It is one of the only few remaining abbey’s in England that would not surrender to Henry VIII during his reign.
Enter this beautiful structure for free and pass through the original carriageway and the abbey will welcome you in. Weave your way around passage ways; take in the sights of the town from the turrets. In parts the roof is now missing but not the main battlement roof which is an impressive feature in itself.
St Botolph’s Priory
Not far from St John’s Abbey Gate is St Botolph’s Priory. This is an impressive example of Norman mixed with Roman architecture and was one of the first religious buildings in Colchester. It held power over other buildings when setting punishments and regulations.
Now, some of its ruins still stand tall and proud, but with little money invested in religious venues, it was left to decline as the more magnificent and stately structure of St John’s Abbey Gate thrived and built its defences.
Just off Colchester High Street you will find some of the most picturesque streets dating back to the late 1300s. The area gets its name from its close relationship with Flanders in Belgium, as many of the refugees who fled here in the war built settlements and houses of Belgium style, some of which can still be seen and are lived in to this day.
It is certainly worth a stroll around this historic area. There is plenty of parking and the cobbled streets are wonderful to explore. You can take a tour from the local visitor centre or explore at your own pace. More information here.
Colchester Roman Circus Centre
Colchester’s very own Chariots of Fire and the UKs’ only known Roman Chariot Racing Track is open to the public and it’s free to enter. Visitors are able to walk around the old ruins, browse the indoor centre full of the town’s roman history or simply enjoy the gardens at your own leisurely place. There is also a play area for children. The site is part of the Colchester Archaeologist Trust.
Roman Wall, Guard Room & Triumphal Arch
If you take a walk around Colchester, you may notice a rather imposing wall that envelopes the town. This is Colchester’s Roman wall, the oldest and longest surviving Roman wall in the UK. The wall can be walked around and leads you to Castle Park where you can really get a feel for the magnificence and history.
Step back in time quite literally as you browse the many clocks showcased at this special museum which celebrates the great clock crafters of the area which date back over 300 years. Set in a Georgian townhouse, clocks and cloth were the main trades in Colchester, but the village also provided a bustling market town for local trade in grain, fish, cattle and sheep as well as bread, wool, milk and leather.
The museum also makes a really educational day out for younger children, who can learn all about the origins of the famous nursery rhyme ‘twinkle twinkle little star’, explore a miniature dolls house, hunt through treasure chests and get their own t-shirt printed as a memento of the day. Admission is free.
In fact most of these attractions are free to look around, but some sites do ask for a small donation which will go towards restoring and maintaining these beautiful heritage sites.
For more heritage days out visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk