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Colchester - Britain's Oldest Recorded Town

Following Romans and Victorians along Colchester's ancient walls.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 33ft (10m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Town streets

Landscape Castle, town and park

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 184 Colchester, Harwich & Clacton-on-Sea

Start/finish TM 001253

Dog friendliness Museums, castles and shopping centres aren't usually a dog's idea of a good time

Parking Pay-and-display car parks in city centre

Public toilets Castle Park beside Hollytrees Museum

1 From the car park, keep the wall on your left and follow it along Priory Road to East Hill. Turn left and walk to the top of the hill. Here is the keep of Colchester Castle surrounded by the lovely grounds of Castle Park. Walk through the park keeping the castle on your left and note the obelisk at the rear, which marks the site of execution in 1648 of two aristocratic upstarts, Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle, who lay siege to the town during the Civil War.

2 With the castle still on your left, take the first exit and turn right into Madenburgh Street, where amidst a row of terraced Victorian houses, at No 74, are the remains of the Roman theatre viewable through a glass panel. Continue walking downhill and turn left into Northgate Street, formerly known as Dutch Lane. At the end of Northgate Street, turn left into North Hill passing the timber-framed Ye Old Marquis inn and a row of 18th-century houses. A little way along on the same side of the road, stop and admire St Peter's parish church with its Victorian clock.

3 Walk straight on to Head Street keeping the High Street on your left. After 200yds (183m) posts on the left indicate Sir Isaac's Walk, a pedestrianised area of specialist shops leading to the town centre. Turn left into Trinity Street with its Elizabethan timber-framed cottages and stop at Tymperly's Clock Museum. This early 15th-century house, one of the oldest in the town, was the residence of William Gilberd, physician to Queen Elizabeth I in 1601.

4 At the end of Trinity Street is the Holy Trinity Church, with its Saxon tower, still standing after 1,000 years and incongruously surrounded by the modern shopping precinct. Turn right here into Culver Street West and follow the fingerposts into Lion Walk where the United Reformed church, with its 17th-century portal, stands at ground level while the remainder of the church is hidden above shops.

5 Keeping the church on your left, turn left again into Eld Lane where a lift leads to the market (open Friday and Saturday) and car park. Peer over the side and you will see that you are on the old city walls. Take the lift or walk down the steps and continue along Vineyard Street where you can pick up the old wall again on your left.

6 You are now outside the wall. Cross St Botolph's Street into Priory Street where you'll see the remains of 12th-century St Botolph's Priory, a good example of early recycling by craftsmen who, due to the absence of suitable building material, used the remains of Roman buildings. Turn right and return to the car park.

Imagine yourself back in ad 43 as a lonely Briton trudging across the south east landscape when you spot a huge Roman army marching towards you. They descend on your home town, which they call 'Camulodunum', and before you know it, they make it the capital of Roman Britain endowing it with a theatre, temples and large houses with central heating and running water. Within a few years a fearsome queen called Boudica turns up with her army and razes the lot to the ground before continuing to London and St Albans. The Romans rebuild the town within a thick defensive wall.

Today Camulodunum is Colchester, a modern town on the A12, sited on the old Roman road which crossed what was to become Essex from the south west to the north east and continued to Harwich on the coast. There's little left of those grand houses and the Roman temple is buried beneath Britain's oldest Norman castle in the heart of town, but much of the Roman wall remains. On this walk you can trace the old wall, taking in snippets of Colchester's colourful history along the way.

In the 16th century, Dutch Protestants fleeing persecution at home, settled here and brought their weaving skills with them. You can see some fine examples of these timber-framed houses on the corner of West Stockwell Street.

Later, wealthy Victorian merchants improved churches, built new ones and generally contributed to the town's prosperity with the construction of Castle Park, a public library and schools.

Where to eat and drink

There's plenty of choice, but for a trip back in time try the Quality Hotel, a former mill on the banks of the River Colne in East Street, which offers a wide range of snacks and à la carte meals. If you want to act like a Cavalier, saunter into Ye Old Marquis in North Hill for a glass of real ale and a plate of Colchester's famous oysters.

While you're there

Take a guided tour of the castle and visit the foundations, dungeons and ramparts or let the children play with 'touchy feeley' boxes containing pottery and other surprises which give an insight into what life was like in Roman times. Adults may enjoy the fragrance of the Sensory Gardens in Castle Park.


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