Castle Park

Get your skates on!

After months of waiting it was finally happening, the Gala Opening Night of Colchester’s first ever Winter Wonderland and Ice Rink was about to get under way, and the man behind it all, Ben Payne, had kindly invited Colchester 101 along for the evening. And what an evening it was to be!

Winter Wonderland

After entering Castle Park, an area I know so well, we made our way round to the side of town’s Norman castle where our first site of the upper park’s transformation awaited us. Right there, in the shadow of the castle, as promised, was an ice skating rink, looking more magical than we could have imagined, and certainly over delivering on our expectations.

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After spending a while taking in the sight we made our way into the bar and skate hire area where a glass of Prosecco awaited us, before we set off to the rear of the castle to explore the rest of Winter Wonderland with its market stalls offering everything from hog roast, pizza, crepe/coffee and burgers to speciality fudges, Aspalls cider, custom printed Santa sacks, and The Bear Garden where young and not so young alike can build their own teddy bears. There is even a Colchester United Club Shop.

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After a ride on the carousel and a quick go down the helter skelter it was time to make our way back to the rink for the official opening, with speeches from Ben Payne and Colchester’s deputy mayor Julie Young, followed by breath taking skating displays from television’s Dancing on Ice stars Vicky Ogden, Frankie Poultney and Mark Hanretty, followed by skilful performances from local skaters.

Then it was our turn!

Now, my family moved to Canada when I was an infant and I was ice skating almost as soon as I could walk, so this should have been easy, right? Wrong. I haven’t been on skates for many years and, unlike riding a bicycle, I had forgotten how to do it. But I got out there and gave it my best shot and was pleasantly surprised that I could at least make it round the rink, albeit with a little bit of wall hugging, and with each circuit it got easier and my confidence grew. Even a hard fall, which resulted in a sore knee for a couple of days, didn’t put me off, and before long I was feeling pretty pleased with how I was doing. On my travels I spied Will Quince, Colchester’s MP, and Councillor Darius Laws making their way onto the ice, and both looking suitably nervous. Soon they were off, with Will showing what a good sport he is skating lap after lap with the rest of us, but it was Darius who was the revelation, quickly finding his confidence and putting in laps that reminded me of James Caan in Rollerball.

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A little later, after a near fall brought about by overconfidence – although I was very proud that this time I managed to save myself as I began to stumble – it was time to leave the ice and return to the bar for a couple of pints of German lager before heading home after a fantastic fun filled night. Ben and his team have worked wonders, not only with the transformation of the park and the building of the ice rink and other attractions over the past few weeks, but also the months of hard work that have gone into planning and getting the necessary permissions to put on this event that runs right through December and Christmas until January 2016.

Ice

There’s a real buzz about Colchester in recent times, with events like the annual August Free Festival in Castle Park being extended to Sunday as well as Saturday, the change in fortunes at Firstsite under the leadership of Anthony Roberts, the Halloween festivities on the High Street which included a stunning 3D image-mapping show beamed onto the Town Hall, Colchester United putting on superstars like Elton John and Lionel Richie at the Community Stadium, all bringing people into our town for pleasure, as well as to work and to shop. And now we have the Winter Wonderland and Ice Rink to add to the list of why Colchester is such a great place to live.

One thing is for sure, I will be back for another go on the ice before too long, and I hope that this will become an annual event for the town and will grow as the years go by.

Winter Wonderland & Ice Rink is open from 10am to 10pm until 3rd January 2016. Tickets can be bought on their website.

Simon

 

 

 

 

Simon Crow

Parklife

Dragon Colchester Castle

When I was a teenager I lived in Riverside Estate, with Castle Park right on my doorstep, so I have many memories of playing football in the lower park, being chased on our bikes along the riverside path on our way home from school by the park keeper in his little Bedford van  – Colchester wasn’t so cycling friendly then and riding a bike in the park was forbidden – not forgetting sledging down the hill from the upper to lower park and trying to avoid a collision with the Roman wall at the bottom. I think maybe that familiarity at the time prevented me from appreciating what an amazing asset the park is to Colchester, and it is only since returning to live in the town after nearly twenty years spent in Wivenhoe, and living almost by its gates once again, that I truly understand the important role Castle Park plays in the town.

Park Smaller

Park

Over the past few months since my return I have really grown to love this wonderful green space that begins right in the heart of our town centre, behind the magnificent gates by the war memorial in Cowdray Crescent where the High Street meets East Hill, greeting us with its ornamental gardens, before sweeping down the hill to the Roman wall, then the wonderful green space beyond it that stretches along the river, with further grassy areas beyond the gates creating a swathe of green almost from East Mill, past Riverside Estate and Leisure World, taking in the cricket ground then onwards almost to North Station Road.

Castle Tower Reduced

Band

The jewel in the park’s crown is of course Colchester Castle. Built on the orders of William the Conqueror, the castle is the largest Norman Keep in Britain, and was the blueprint for its smaller relative, the Tower of London. The sheer size of the castle always amazes me, as does the thought that it stands on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius which was built by the Romans after they invaded 2000 years ago and made Colchester the country’s original capital. What a breathtaking sight that building must have been! And these days there is something special about seeing people sitting on the grass, enjoying the sun, just feet away from those castle walls that have stood there for nearly 1000 years.

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Canoes

 

Weir

Living so close to the park these past few months, since the weather has become warmer it’s been a pleasure to take the longer walk home from town via the park after a Saturday afternoon lunch or shopping trip, with the occasional Sunday afternoon walk along the river thrown in. And in recent weeks there always seems to be something going on, whether it’s a brass band providing free entertainment in the bandstand, or the Food and Drink Festival bringing locals and other people into the park from the surrounding areas. And of course we still have the Free Festival to come, which this year we are promised is to be held over two days. But for me the park has really come into its own this past week since the giant television screen has been stalled for the duration of Wimbledon. What a wonderful idea this has been. Watching Wimbledon for free while sitting on the hill in the sun, armed with a picnic, a bottle of wine or couple of beers. Although I’m sure that hill has got steeper as I’ve got older! On days when I’ve been working from home it’s been hard to resist the temptation to slip off for an hour or so to watch the tennis with a cold drink. And, in even better news, Illuminate Design, who provided and installed the screen, are hoping to put on Colchester’s very own Winter Wonderland over the Christmas period to rival the one in London’s Hyde Park, complete with, yes they are serious… an ice skating rink. Fingers crossed they get the green light for this ambitious event which will bring people to the town from far and wide, many of whom will also spend money in the town’s shops, restaurant and pubs, putting money into our local economy.

Drink

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Burgers Reduced

Fence

Ducks

As the weeks go by I find I love Castle Park more and more. New York’s Central Park may be the most famous public park in the World, but it’s got nothing on Colchester’s Castle Park.

Simon
 Simon Crow
Simon runs Media48 sponsors of Colchester 101