Travel Report: Cool Spots Around Colchester, England.
May 2019. No matter where I am in the world I always get a huge kick from seeking out the local cafés. In Colchester though my usual morning ritual was kept in check by my dear old nan, who practically insisted I was fully fed and watered each day before I left the house. She even sent me off with a packed lunch of snacks from the cupboard! Nevertheless, I did manage to treat myself to an afternoon coffee one day at Sip & Tuck on The High Street.
Sip & Tuck is an independent café bistro that does speciality coffees and a wide range of dishes made up of locally sourced produce. I was just in for a latte that day, but they literally do everything from breakfast, lunch and dinner to beers, wines and cocktails. There’s a cosy log fire for the winter months and outdoor seating for that endangered species known as the English summer.
They also have a retro caged tuck shop, which reminded me of my boarding school days queuing up for penny sweets and fizzy pop. The products on offer at Sip & Tuck however are much fancier, from organic cooking sauces and fancy Indian teas to bottles of fruity brown sauce and organic, fair trade sea salt. Staff here are very friendly and attentive, though I was disappointed with the poor Wi-Fi. For more info, check out their website.
May 2019. Somehow I’d managed to resist the temptation of a slice of cake at Sip & Tuck. But any sense of discipline I felt I had that day went straight out of the window when I came across Darcy’s Traditional Sweet Shoppe on Eld Lane. Reminding me of the cosy, Hansel and Gretel style sweet shops of my youth, I headed in to explore…
May 2019. Darcy’s Traditional Sweet Shoppe is a time capsule store of British flags, towering wooden shelves and giant, bulbous jars of assorted sugary goodness. From liquorice toffee, cherry twists, fizzy cola bottles, fudge, bon bons, chocolate bars and bags of mixed jellies, they’ve got it all here. And, in line with the conscientious times we live in, they also cater to vegetarians and have a host of gluten free treats.
May 2019. Darcy’s Traditional Sweet Shoppe is the brainchild of local businessman Jamie Mileare, who admits his little empire is all about bottling wistful childhood memories alongside a sense of traditional, historical Britain. Jamie is no stranger to popping up in the local news, from his excellent charity work to the unsavoury incident when professional thieves came to do a smash-and-grab on jars of jellybeans! Weirdly, Darcy’s Website seems to be unresponsive, though you can check out their Facebook page here.
This Colchester water tower was built in 1883 to provide everyone with access to regular running water. Before that working class folk had to rely on badly polluted wells, while wealthy families got clean water for a few hours every day through a private waterworks company. But the new tower wasn’t without controversy. Many considered it an eyesore and Reverend John Irvine made an official complaint to local authorities that the “jumbo” tower was like a massive elephant overshadowing his nearby rectory. Irvine’s complaints were of course dismissed, but the jumbo nickname remained.
If you’re looking to catch some live music, a play, stand up comedy or even a movie while you’re in Colchester, I’d strongly recommend paying a visit to the highly atmospheric Colchester Arts Centre, lovingly converted from the abandoned shell of the 13th century St. Mary’s at the Wall Church.
Colchester Arts Centre describe themselves as “The little church with the big attitude!” and claims to have promoted the likes of Coldplay, Eddie Izzard and The Strokes before they became household names. They really do have a startling range of entertainment on offer and performances can be booked either online or by simply wandering into their little box office through the front door. If I hadn’t promised to hang out with my nan that night, I would’ve been totally up for a screening of the cult 1971 horror movie Twins of Evil. For more info on this very cool venue, their website is right here.
I’ve talked about Colchester’s best free sights in previous articles. If you’ve got the time and want to go all out, the town’s Natural History Museum is also worth a look. It’s another Colchester church conversion, this time from the Norman period All Saints Church.
Colchester Natural History Museum focuses on the north east Essex area and has colourful, interactive exhibits that feels mainly aimed towards school groups. One can, if so inclined, stroke some stuffed animals, decorate your own flower pot and try crawling through a badger sett.
But for me the highlight was Colchester Natural History Museum’s charming little churchyard, part historical graveyard, part conservation garden. Maintained by volunteers, they’ve gone for a somewhat wild jungle approach, with flowers and plants allowed to grow freely and ivy encouraged to grow all over the brickwork. Apparently it has no damaging effect and helps to protect the old joint from the elements!
Elsewhere, there’s a compost corner and a section of collected deadwood and tree stumps designed to help out the increasingly endangered stag beetle. By all accounts they deserve our help too, as stag beetles eat rotting wood (returning minerals to the earth), their lava is good for the garden and they don’t eat plants!
For more on my adventures in this pretty English town, check out my other travel reports from Colchester.
Or maybe search further afield with my articles from all around England.
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