I have to be perfectly honest here and say that I hadn't exactly planned a trip to the Colchester Natural History museum but rather it was through 'divine intervention' that I ended up taking a nosey about the place. In other words, I was out shopping and had taken the scenic route past the castle to get to a litte new age shop down one of the numerous side streets and it had started thrashing down with rain. I would also admit to having no clue of this place's existence before the heavens did indeed open up and force me to look for immediate shelter, in fact, I had previously thought that this was a church of some kind and shunned it like I tend to shun everything that looks like it may have something to do with organised religion...but thats another story. ;o) Of course, anyone as observant as me would be forgiven for thinking that this place is indeed a church because up until 40/50 years ago thats exactly what the building had been used for. In fact, despite the fact that the doors are now more like those of a shop front and their is a big brown sign outside proclaiming its status as a museum nothing much has changed - right down to the churchyard still being full of graves and headstones and undoubtedly their inhabitants as well. Now forgive me if I'm the only one this seems a little odd to, but wandering past a bunch of graves to enter a place of entertainment wasn't the best start to the experience...but then maybe thats just me. Again, once inside and realising that 'Natural History Museum' actually means 'Dead Things Behind Glass' piled another strange feeling on top of the first and despite not being in the slightest bit 'religious', the idea that a place once used for worship, and still very much looking like a church I might add, was now filled with dead things in various stages of decomposition(or at least looking that way) posed a few more 'interesting' questions. Then again, I suppose I
should be thankful because thats about as interesting as the visit got. You see, the problem is that either Essex's natural history just isn't very interesting at all, or the people who have designed the exhibits here haven't exactly gone out of their way to make it so. You'll notice an over-riding theme of dead birds and small animals, stuffed, preserved and shoved behind glass, but aside from that and a few fossils thats all there is to see. Its interesting to see how a glance over the associated website makes it look all very glossy and exciting because once inside its anything but. The exhibits all look a little worse for wear, the fox is the most mangy moth-eaten creature I've seen on show for example and some of the exhibits are enough to give kids nightmares. Someone explain the purpose of the 'Gamekeeper' Catch'(or whatever it was called) which is basically a section of wooden fence with various small animals in various states of advanced decomposition nailed to it. I would also be interesting in hearing what goldfish have to do with the natural history of Essex but there was no information on this or the slimy green algae ridden water snail tank either. In fact, information is rather sparse on the ground here, so its not somewhere you could claim serves as a place of education either for that matter. The fossil wall stands as the one area of real interest, filled with various fossilised fish and small creatures - and a mammoth tusk which was interesting to think that mammoths once mooched walk about the Essex countryside. Another relatively interesting section is on the salt marshes, where a small, very authentic looking scene has been recreated behind glass and some of the wading birds, such as the avocet, placed about it. Other than that, you get things like slimy green snails in a small glass tank and some dry, crusty looking seaweed shoved in another similar looking dirty glass tank. The whole place
look s as though it could do with more than a little renovation and the uneven flooring and musty lighting doesn't help that impression much either. I can't speak for kids as its been a while since I was one young enough to maybe appreciate this, nor do I have any of my own to gauge their reaction by - nor were there any in there at the time of my visit, just bored looking adults(probably sheltering from the rain as well) so I can't say whether they'd get a kick out of this place or not. According to the museum's website the grounds are full of stag beetles during the summer months, which would be interesting to see - but I'm not sure what 'grounds' they are talking about. The only grounds I saw had headstones tightly packed together over them and I'm not sure thats the ideal place for a beetle hunt for kids or adults. In terms of interactive exhibits to hold their interest again, there were none other than a very small exhibit where you lift up a fossil flap to see the animal as it would have looked when it was alive. The website claims there is an exhibit where your smaller children can get a badger's eye view of the world by crawling through a set, but either thats not there anymore or I missed it. I was in there for an hour, I may have been bored enough to try it out... ;o) I suppose one redeeming feature of this place is that it is not only free, but that it is also in very close proximity to the far more interesting Colchester Castle, the biggest Norman keep ever built, which is literally less than a minute away. My advice would be to plan a trip to the castle which isn't free, but won't break the bank either(£3.60 for adults, £2.60 for children aged 5-15 and under 5s free) and pop in here on the way out. Getting here is dead easy by both car, bus and train. Expect a 10 minutes walk if you come by train whilst most buses into Colchester will drop you in the main High Street and all at the b
us station , both of which then puts both castle and Natural History Museum a 5 minute walk away. Keep following the flow of traffic down the one way system and you can't really miss either - one is an enormous castle, and the other is the church(OK museum) opposite - it kinda 'stands out' if you know what I mean. ;o) Finding a parking space for cars is impossible unless you're willing to fork out for the privilege and there's a variety of multi-storey car parks in abundance about the town willing to help you do so which will put you around 5-10 minutes walk away depending which one you choose. If asked whether I would recommend a visit here then the answer would be no - although(sad as I am) I'll probably wander in to see if they have any stag beetles about the place when it gets to that time of year - never seen one and they look cool. :o) Its hardly the kind of place you'd choose for an outing and if you're looking around 'historic Colchester' then there's plenty of more interesting things to see(I'd recommend the Ghost Walk - but only because it visits so many pubs hehe). On the other hand, if you are visiting the castle then you have nothing to lose by dropping in for a nosey around. It does look like it could do with a little 'life' injected into the exhibits and a little spring cleaning wouldn't go amiss, but things like the fossil wall are quite interesting and younger children will no doubt get a kick out seeing badgers and foxes up close(moth-eaten or otherwise!) as well as the bird exhibits. Personally I feel it could be made more interactive to be more interesting and its small size means that you can see everything there is to see in less than 15 minutes and still have time to get bored. Useful Info. Location: Priory Street opposite the main castle gates, just off the Eastern end of Colchester High Street. Access: 5-10 mins from local bus and railway
s stations. Eas y access from three major car parks in St. Botolphs, Britannia and Osborne Street. Opening Times: Mon-Sat 10am - 5pm, Sun 11am - 5pm although last admission to the museum is at 4:30pm. Admission: Free to all ~Links~ http://www.colchestermuseums.org.uk/NatHist_html/default_NatHist.html The main site for the museum including opening times, some of the exhibits etc. Be aware that a little 'creative photography' has been used here to make things look a little more glossy than they actually are - note the lack of real exhibit photographs for example...