A visit to Essex county must include Colchester, the oldest recorded town in the UK and home to 2,000 years or so of Britain’s history, presented for your enlightenment and enjoyment by the Colchester Castle Museum. In the underlying stones of today’s museum you can literally lay your hands on the foundation of the Roman Empire in Britain.
Once the capital of Roman Britain, the town was razed by Queen Boudicca in AD60, and the original structure, the temple of Claudius, was destroyed along with most of the population. However when that rebellion was crushed in turn, the great temple was rebuilt; hundreds of years later it served as the foundation for a mighty royal fortress built by William the Conqueror.
The castle’s keep was the largest ever built in Britain, and the largest still surviving in Europe. It has served as a prison during much of its history, notably when the infamous Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins used it for confinement and interrogation of suspected witches. Visitors today can enjoy an award-winning museum full of hands-on displays depicting Colchester’s history from the Stone Age onward.
As a differently enticing attraction, the Colchester Zoo is one of the finest in Europe. Encompassing more than 60 acres of parkland and lakes, the zoo has the added cachet of its emphasis on environmental conservation and green tourism. There are now more than 270 species, both familiar and exotic, living in habitats that range from desert to rain forest and from the tropics to the arctic.
To expand your wildlife experience with more flora than fauna, the Beth Chatto Gardens in nearby Elmstead Market are a great spot to relax and soak up the green and peaceful ambiance. The site was transformed from boggy wasteland to a beautifully laid out informal garden, with an outstanding plant nursery, picnic area and delightful tearoom that gets top reviews from locals and tourists alike.