Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Read all about it! Colchester’s got plenty to feel good about

North Hill, Colchester

North Hill, Colchester

Last week I received an email from a newspaper editor in London. He said a friend had recently moved to Colchester and asked :“Do you think you could draft out a brief, no-nonsense guide to Colchester? Just a few good pubs, clubs and places that are fun?”

This was not, in modern parlance “a big ask”. It was easy to dash down some suggestions. The following day however, having read letters in a number of regional newspapers along with various online comment spaces, I suddenly realised what a miserable, dangerous place I’d been living in for all these years. I was shocked to learn that Colchester is a gridlocked, down-at-heel, crime-ridden place, with a nightmare of a transport system.

In addition, those of us who aren’t busy being injured or arrested, are only not doing so, because we’re all still waiting to see a doctor. Even as I write these words, I can hear the disapproving rustle of dust covers being yanked hastily from typewriters as my critics hasten to defend the town. According to many correspondents something needs to be done – and fast. Could I, therefore, sell Colchester to a newcomer on a good news story alone? Well let’s see...

Local couple enjoyed a ‘great night out’ - shock

A couple, who’d recently moved to Colchester were treated by paramedics after having experienced what they described as an “enjoyable and culture-filled evening out” in Britain’s oldest recorded town. Brian Carlton and Julia Devlin, both in their mid-thirties, denied that they’d acted rashly in walking from North Station into Colchester town centre early on a Wednesday evening.

Said Julia: “My father, who is an army colonel, offered to lend me his light armoured vehicle for the evening, but as my mother was late returning with it from a shopping trip in Braintree, we decided to walk into town.”

The first shock the couple received was how pleasant some of the pubs were. Having left the first pub after only one drink, traumatised by the fact that it was “friendly and relaxed” the couple hurried up North Hill, where, to their astonishment, without even having booked, they found themselves seated in a restaurant. “The service was fast, the food was excellent and the bill came to less than 30 quid.” gasped Brian. What followed next, however, shocked the pair further: “Somewhere off Head Street, we stumbled upon an arts centre. A highly-competent young band were playing the type of music which I can only decribe as ‘not embarrassing cover versions’,” said Julia, still trembling at the recollection.

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Upon leaving the venue, the shaken couple read leaflets which openly promoted theatre productions, exhibitions and classical music concerts. The concerts were advertised as taking place in a church only minutes away from the Town Hall.

Julia said: “The church is in an area better-known for its fast-food shops, vodka bars, loud music, and late-night fighting. There ought to be a warning or something. Supposing a stag or hen party wandered in by mistake?”

When asked about the alleged “music” concerts, an un-named night economy spokesman admitted: “We’ve been aware for some time now of ensembles performing baroque, or even, early music in this part of Colchester. Unfortunately, until new legislation is passed, this sort of thing is no more illegal than lap-dancing.

“The Arts Council claim that they’re powerless to act. We assumed that is because they’ve had to allocate so much of their annual budget to devising exhibitions which will discourage people from visiting their flagship arts gallery, just nearby.”

Mr Carlton and Miss Devlin both said they won’t forget their ordeal in a hurry. “We didn’t see one clumsily-executed street brawl during the whole evening, nor did we witness any scantily-clad drunk girls with panda eyes screaming “Aow naow! Troy! Leave ‘im alaaown!

“We’re trying to put this whole experience behind us and rebuild our lives,” she said. “Brian’s still suffering cultural flashbacks. Ever since it happened, he keeps randomly wandering into museums and galleries.”

Based on this damning account, therefore, if you’d like to approximate Brian and Julia’s evening out, start off at the Victoria pub in North Station Road for an early one. You might also try the Hospital Arms, another civilised little drinker for grown-ups, which is in Crouch Street, one of Colchester’s finer streets.

Just along the road is the China Chef restaurant which is perfect. Alternatively, why not try one of the many good restaurants on nearby North Hill. Also in Crouch Street is The Bull, the town’s well-managed music pub, featuring many high-quality local acts.

Definitely give Colchester Arts Centre a try or the nearby Mercury Theatre. During daytime, stroll down historic West Stockwell Street. On your left, just past the Town Hall, is the former Carnegie Library where the author Ronald Blythe once worked. On your right, the ancient church of St Martin with its huge and handsome old conker tree. There are many elegant Georgian and medieval buildings here too.

On East Hill have a look at the “widely disliked” Firstsite Gallery, since it’s actually OK and is an impressive space. Don’t, however, forget to visit The Minories, nearby, there’s always something of interest there.

Maybe I should start running feelgood tours or something? Now, can we all stop moaning please?