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An ancient and historic town, which was the capital of Roman Britain and still full of interesting stories and places

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The south-eastern town of Colchester was directly referenced by Roman writings in 77AD. This is the earliest mention in history of any settlement in England, and thanks to this fact, it claims to be the oldest town in the country. Of course, there are at least three other towns that make the exact same claim, but at any rate, Colchester is certainly the oldest settlement in the county of Essex! It used to be the capital of Roman Britain, when London was still relatively small.
One of the town's main landmarks is its Roman wall, which is England's oldest. Historians estimate that it was built between the years 60 and 85 AD, making the structure around 2000 years old. Incorporated into the wall is part of an arched gateway, which acted as the main entrance to the town.
As well as the walls and gatehouses, the Romans also had a temple in town. It was replaced by the Normans in the 11th century, on exactly the same site. This newer fort became known as Colchester Castle, and it remains mostly complete, and in good repair. Its keep was the largest one that the Normans ever built. Its architect was later responsible for the Tower of London, which uses a very similar design. Over the years, Colchester Castle was used as a defensive fort, a library, and a jail for witches. Now it's a museum, with exhibits covering all stages of this long history.
The castle is just one of four main museums in Colchester. Another, called Hollytrees Museum, also deals with local history. It's housed within a Georgian town house that was built in 1718. The exhibits look at the 300 years between then and now, showing how people used to live. Meanwhile, at Clochester's Natural History Museum, you can find out about the animals that used to live here. Surprisingly, these creatures include mammoths, and hippos! The last of the town's main museums is the Tymperleys Clock Museum. Their collection consists of many beautiful timepieces, some of which are hundreds of years old. The place isn't as popular as Colchester's other museums, but it's still really worth seeing. If you've got time, so have they.
These museums are part of a strong cultural scene that also includes theatres, art galleries, and live music venues. Elsewhere in the town centre, you'll find all the usual shops and restaurants. There's an independent department store called Williams and Griffin's, which continues to prove popular with the locals. Colchester is also home to a twice-weekly market, which is reportedly the oldest in England. Stalls are set up all along the streets, with no two vendors being allowed to sell the same products.
A few kilometres to the west, you'll find another of the biggest attractions in town. This is Colchester Zoo, a 60-acre site with hundreds of species, from aardvarks to zebras. They've got all the usual favourites, like giraffes, tigers, rhinos, and monkeys. Each area has a different theme, such as the African Zone, the Lakelands Zone, and the Valley Zone. At the Wild Animal Theatre, you get the chance to touch some animals for yourself, and there are regular events every day, from feeding times, to falcon flights. The zoo also offers a "Keeper For A Day" programme, where you can meet the creatures properly.
Colchester is an ancient, historic town, full of interesting stories and places. No-one can be sure if it really is the oldest town in England, but it's definitely an important part of the country's heritage. Apparently, it was the originating point of the two most famous English nursery rhymes, "Humpty Dumpty" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star".
Visitor Information
Colchester Castle Museum is open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm (plus Sunday's 11am to 5pm). Entry costs around £6 for adults, £3.60 children. Castle Park, High Street, Colchester, CO1 1TJ. Tel: 01206 282939
Colchester Zoo is open daily, 9.30am to 6pm (closes at dusk in winter). Entry costs around £16 for adults, £10 children. Stanway, Maldon Road, Colchester, CO3 0SL. Tel: 01206 331292

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