Planning a tranquil countryside escape this summer? You don’t have to venture far from London to discover pretty little villages, nature reserves and beautiful hotels…
Did you know that Colchester in Essex is Britain’s oldest recorded town? In around AD77, while describing the island of Anglesey, Roman writer Pliny the Elder wrote the words, ‘it is about 200 miles from Camulodunum a town in Britain’. Camulodunum – the Celtic name for Colchester later adopted by the Romans – is the first known literary reference to any named settlement in this country.
Plus, in AD49, Colchester was the first place in Britain to be given the status of a ‘Roman Colonia’, similar to a city, making Colchester the first capital of Roman Britain.
All of this means there’s plenty to see and do in the area, including many important Roman sites and ruins. Colchester also forms part of Constable Country, an area so beautiful it inspired 19th century artist John Constable to paint some of the country’s most-loved artworks.
With all that in mind, we’ve picked out five of the best places to visit in Colchester this summer…
1 Stay in ‘the Constable hotel’
Speaking of Constable Country, the historic four-star Wivenhoe House Hotel actually features in a painting by John Constable. Wivenhoe Park, Essex, part of the Wiedener Collection, features the original Wivenhoe House and was commissioned by the property’s owner, General Rebow, in 1816. So why not choose this historic hotel for your summer staycation? Located near the pretty quayside village of Wivenhoe, just a 20-minute drive from Colchester, Wivenhoe House offers the ideal base to explore both Essex and Suffolk. The most luxurious rooms are located in the Grade II listed main house and are all uniquely designed and spacious, some with beautiful bay windows, some with timber-beamed ceilings, one is even named after Constable himself. King-size beds, high quality linens, writing desks and contemporary bathroom suites feature as standard. You can even eat Constable Country, since the brasserie champions the freshest local produce, locally brewed beers and a carefully chosen wine list. Plus, there are luxurious lounges where you can enjoy Wivenhoe House’s renowned afternoon tea.
To book see wivenhoehouse.co.uk
2 Go Boating at Dedham
If Wivenhoe House inspires you to go deeper into Constable country, head to Dedham, where the great artist went to school. The High Street is lined with Georgian-fronted houses, old inns and an arts and crafts centre. From here, you can ramble along the River Stour in the heart of Constable Country, where he worked his rustic idylls beneath the vast East Anglian skies. Head for The Boathouse on Mill Lane. Once a boatyard for rowing and sailing boats, it turned tea rooms in the 90s and is now The Kitchen @ Dedham, but the restaurant still facilitates messing about on the water with boats available to hire seven days a week. Hire on the day from the kiosk.
3 Visit Colchester Castle
One of the many highlights of a trip to Colchester is Colchester Castle, the first of the great keeps and the largest built by the Normans in Europe. Built when Colchester was the first Roman capital of Britain, it has been a museum since 1860 and underwent a huge refurbishment in 2013/2014. There are now interactive displays, a projection that transforms the east wall with light and sound, star exhibits like the Colchester Gladiator Vase and Fenwick Hoard of Roman treasure, and the kids can have a go at building a Norman archway, dressing as an Iron Age Briton or steering a Roman chariot.
England’s tallest Tudor Gatehouse, Layer Marney Tower, located between Colchester and Maldon, was built in the reign of Henry VIII and visited by the monarch himself and his daughter Elizabeth I. Dating back to 1520, the palace and gatehouse tower offer impressive architecture, gardens, parkland and a play area, with views to the River Blackwater and beyond from the tower. There’s a teahouse, too, for simple lunches, tea and cakes. You can even stay there – hidden in the woods are six ‘glamping’ tents (they have real beds, running water and proper loos!).
5 Visit Colchester Zoo
A must-do for families, the award-winning Colchester Zoo has more than 200 species spread across 60 acres of beautiful parkland and lakes. There are bears, chimpanzees, elephants, lions and leopards, giraffes, monkeys, lemurs and all sorts, and you can even feed the horses and donkeys. Visit the interactive zone for the chance to make your own landscape out of sand and create your own creature, and don’t miss the Lost Madagascar Express train, which takes visitors across countries and continents. Make the most of your visit by downloading the app, which helps you navigate the park, learn more about the animals, listen to audio talks from the Animal Care Team and find yourself a ‘watering hole’!
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