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Counties > Essex > Colchester


COLCHESTER People have time for Colchester, the oldest town in Britain, with a show-stopping Norman castle built on the foundations of a Roman Temple. The medieval alleyways in the old quarter harbour specialist shops such as a doll’s house emporium, while the two pedestrianised shopping centres serve up all the usual chain stores. A farmers’ market is held once a month. Three-bedroom terrace houses in town cost £130,000 to £280,000. A five-bedroom period semi in one of the best areas such as Lexden will cost £340,000 to £570,000. There are any number of societies, including archaeological, jazz and folk, and choral. The town has two theatres – the Mercury repertory company and the Headgate Theatre for amateur productions – the Colchester Arts Centre and an eight-screen cinema. Colchester Leisure World is an impressive multi-sports stadium. Annual events include summer concerts in the park and the Oyster Feast in October, at which assorted media figures are invited to gorge themselves. Colchester farmers’ market is held once a month in the Colchester Arts Centre. Gourmet mushrooms are grown at Morants Farm where around 20 different varieties are grown.

The Colchester bag is brimming with goodies. The Colnes (see Sudbury via Chappel and Wakes Colne and Bures ) are handsome but not glamorous and all have a gas supply – no dreaded oil tank lurking in the garden. Earls Colne, two miles away, is the biggest and is self-contained, with a supermarket, restaurants and individual shops in the period High Street. A 16th-century, Grade II listed, four-bedroom town house will cost from £385,000, a three-bedroom cottage will fetch £200,000. White Colne is merely a ribbon settlement along the main A604 to Earls Colne, with a mobile shop three times a week. Properties along the main road cost about 10 per cent less than those on quieter roads. Colne Engaine is the most desirable of this group. It has a classic village green framed with period houses, a shop, pub, church and primary school. You need £210,000 for a two-bedroom terraced house and over £270,000 to start looking for a family house here.

Eight Ash Green is also highly prized. The A1124 cuts through the centre, skirting the green and the little houses that circle it. It has a village store, primary school, church, petrol station and a gas supply. There is a mix of houses, from ex-local authority selling from £175,000, to small peg-tiled timber cottages, or new four-bedroom detached houses for £265,000 within reach of Marks Tey station. Fordham, on the River Colne, is rather more dislocated. It does a kind of vanishing act half way along the main street, then gives you a second helping as you turn the bend. Children travel up to 20 miles to Colchester Royal Grammar School (boys) or The County High (girls) if they can get a place.

The Horkesleys will give you more for your money - you could pick up a cottage in Great Horkesley for £200,000. Stoke-by-Nayland, however, eight miles from Colchester, is where the poetry begins and drunken timber-frame houses splashed with Suffolk pink wash colour the landscape. It is set high on a ridge over the Stour, with a church that commands a giddy view of Constable country in all directions. Boxford, a couple of miles further out, is as pretty and quieter.

Good for: grammar schools, oysters, busy town and pretty villages.
Local knowledge: The Company Shed In West Mersea Coast Road is meant to be one of the best places to eat oysters in the area. Fishermen land their catch daily and bring them straight in here from the sea.
London terminal: Liverpool St
Journey time: 51 mins
Season ticket: £3960
Peak trains: 8 per hour
Off-peak trains: 5 per hour