As we haven’t been on a courier run this week, we felt justified in taking a train ride today. (We are still economizing and treating a courier run as that week’s excursion.)
It’s some time since we have visited Colchester, so that seemed a good destination. The day had started grey with a decided chill on the air but by the time our train had rumbled out of London, the sun had appeared to brighten the scene and lift our spirits.
Before boarding the train at Liverpool Street station, we bought baguettes and coffee at the Upper Crust stall for breakfast. This is a practice we developed on our frequent trips to Margate to visit the late lamented Sidney. Breakfasting on the train saves time.
We took the 9:38 Lowestoft train which was, to me, unexpectedly crowded. For once we were unable to get seats together and had to pass baguettes and hand-wash across the aisle to one another. What, I wonder, is the attraction of Lowestoft? We shall have to go there one day and find out.
Camulodunum, as the town was known in Celtic times, has a castle. The first building to occupy the site was the Roman temple to the deified emperor Claudius, quite a substantial edifice, as one would expect from its purpose and importance.
Then along came the Normans and decided to build a fortress on the site. The now ruined temple served as foundations and contributed building materials to the new structure.
With the passage of time, the castle’s strategic importance declined and it entered a period of uncertainty which almost led to its demolition. Eventually it was taken in hand and partially restored. Today it houses the rather impressive Castle Museum which we wanted to visit.
In AD 60, Colchester was a colonia, not a fortified town, and therefore ill prepared to defend itself when Boudicca, queen of the Iceni, together with her Trinovante allies, attacked the town and massacred the inhabitants in revenge for abuses suffered at the hands of the Romans. By this action, Boudicca secured her revenge and assured her place in history despite being destroyed in her turn by the Romans.
The museum has an impressive collection of Roman exhibits, as might be expected of what was a major Roman town and an important port for international trade.
There are other subjects covered by the museum, including a current exhibition of Chinese artifacts called Guardians of the King, terracotta treasures from Ancient China, but I think the Romans take pride of place.
I have always had an ambivalent attitude towards the Romans. Despite the undoubted cultural and general civilizing inheritance we owe them, they were a brutal and often indescribably cruel folk, a paradox that I have yet to see satisfactorily explained.
We walked back into town and had lunch at the Roxi Cafe Bar. By the time we emerged, the sun had disappeared, leaving grey skies and a chill on the air.
Colchester contains a wonderful collection of buildings, representing many periods and styles of architecture. The Town Hall (above) is one example. Another is the Old Library but everywhere you look there are fine examples, often with delicious details that demand to be photographed.
“Let’s go to Gold Teeth,” said Tigger.
Of course, what she actually said was Old Heath, and my dodgy hearing mistranslated once again.
The bus for Gold Teeth wouldn’t arrive for at least 20 minutes and it was getting cold, so when a bus for Wivenhoe pulled up, we needed no persuasion to step aboard and thus it was that we visited Wivenhoe on the Colne or, as I think of it now, Wivenhoe on Mud.
I am sure that Wivenhoe is a very nice little village on a warm and sunny day. It has pubs, tea rooms and a passable collection of shops. It also has yachts and a sailing club and the various services that go with these. On a cold, grey day, however, it tends to be a little drab, especially when you repair to the tea shop only to be greeted with “Sorry, we’re closing in 10 minutes.”
Nonetheless, we dutifully walked around the place, took photos and, as raindrops began to fall, took up station hopefully at a bus stop. The bus duly arrived and carried us back to Camulodunum, to the very railway station, where we boarded a train for London.
Would I return to Colchester? Certainly. There are still things left to see and do, including the Natural History Museum (admission free). Would I return to Wivenhoe? It must be admitted that we did not see it at its best today, so let’s not judge it hastily. Maybe we will go there again another day and make a happier occasion of it.
The train trundles towards London and it is now dark outside. We are encapsulated and might as well be space or time travellers in a separate dimension. Will we arrive at Liverpool Street in our own present or at some other time, past or future? The lights that punctuate the black text of the outside world suggest that we are still firmly anchored to our own timeline, a reassuring if boring conclusion.