It’s 7pm on a Saturday and I’m reading in my dorm room. I’d wanted to go on a trip this weekend—every weekend somewhere different, that was the goal—but a trip to Yarmouth on the coast with my flatmates got called off because of the pitter-patter growing ever more aggressive outside my windowpanes. So here I was, toying in the back of my mind what to do about tomorrow, when one of my American friends also on exchange messages me on Facebook. Colchester. Tomorrow. An hour or less by train. Cheap prices. What’s in Colchester? I’ve no clue, so I ask, but before the history-major Americans even start explaining, I give a resounding yes.
I grew up being told by adults to meticulously plan everything for maximum success: have a set itinerary, do research, go to places that are “worth it”, strike these things off your list. But a little spontaneity can go a long way. Having no expectations can let you have an amazing, stress-free time rather than being disappointed with something you’ve previously hyped up in your head. Of course, planning things like how to get somewhere and how to get back takes off the worse of anxiety (and after my nightmare in Stansted Airport, I will hereby be at airports 2 hours prior my flight like they tell me, thank you very much!), but being spontaneous lets you be flexible and live in the moment.
Our spontaneous trip out to Colchester turned out to be one of my most memorable trips, even though it was relatively low-key, just a day trip, and I got feverish the morning of the trip. The town was a small one that we covered satisfactorily in one day and was teeming to the brim with neat historical ruins left over from the Romans—yes, that old, that far back—and locals just walk by them without a second glance!
We visited a castle with Roman temple foundations, a central layer commissioned by Normans, and additional layers from prison to personal estate and more. We burrowed in the basement once used as a bunker to the rooftops now sometimes used as a wedding space. Dressed up as jousting knights with the costumes and toy swords they leave out for kids and built an arch out of foam blocks. Walked around the city, found a few neat (and free!) museums, and this otherworldly and majestic place called St. Botoph’s Priory:
There’s a grandness to places like London, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen (big capital cities I visited whilst in Europe this trip), but there’s something fleetingly precious and memorable about tiny off-the-beaten-road gems like small towns too. They too can have richly delicious plates of history to taste, arches and tunnels just as magical to scurry through. Maybe because small towns are quieter, with less distractions, but it’s much easier to breathe in the place and appreciate that you’re actually there when you’re there. And of course, wherever you are in England, you’ll always get cream tea (tea and scones with jam and cream) to round off any travel day.