There is nothing more romantic than islands in my opinion, and I have one almost on my doorstep - Mersea. Situated between the estuaries of the Colne and Blackwater rivers with a population of 6500, it is an island of contrasts. The West is a beach hut lined coastline with views out to the now decommissioned Bradwell power station. I know this sounds dreadful - but it isn't - the view is vast beyond this landmark, and picturesque boats and sails illuminate the foreground. The East is a mud flat haven for walkers seeking solace in a landscape which has water in almost every direction, and a shell covered beach with is literally more shells than sand. For me it is a place of great escape from the suburban environment, and the hustle and bustle of the towns of the county. It is a rural landscape on one side, and a maritime haven on the other, offering visitors the chance to experience both aspects in one day.
The island itself is seven miles from Colchester and is reached along the B1025 with access via the artificial causeway known as The Strood. In very high tides this causeway floods and access to the island becomes impossible and the islanders, have the place to themselves for an hour. They are lucky - it's a great island and this review is intended to introduce you to what I think is a gem in Essex. The name Mersea is derived from the 10th century word called meresig which means "island of the pool". The island is five square miles in size.
If you don't drive then there is a reliable bus service - just take the number 67 or 67A from Colchester and you will be there within the hour.
When you arrive across the Strood a choice is offered - left to the salt marshes and wetlands of East Mersea, and right to the harbour front and the beach of West Mersea. Right is a good choice for the visitor who comes for the first time, as it offers a glimpse of the island in its more bustling form. However don't leave without a drive to the East - for here is real Mersea in my opinion- easily forgotten- but beautifully understated.
The West has seen quite a growth in recent years with new housing development, but once you see and smell the sea you enter a different world
As you enter West Mersea beach front the huts which line the front are stunning, some have been painted in the most gorgeous pastel shades, and there are several holiday parks along this coastline. Facilities for tourists are good, with some car parks offering a free service - which is rare for Essex. In many ways a day out here if you have young children is ideal, because it lacks the hustle and bustle of the larger resorts of Essex such as Clacton and Walton.
The beach is a mixture of sand and pebble, and shells are copious- giving that seaside feel to it. It is quintessentially English with rows of beach huts curving into the distance one way, and boats and nautical landmarks the other. It is a simple seaside step back in time British day out, and it lacks the tourist trap identity of some larger resorts.
Mersea isn't just a tourist attraction it has an oyster producing industry- evidence of this is littered on the beach as oyster shells are everywhere. Boat repair is in evidence, and several businesses are flourishing now since the island obtained broadband in 2003.
You don't need to be worried about the island being cut off as it has resident doctors and a dentist, and all the usual needs are provided for with banks and supermarkets stocking daily needs well. There are many cafés and restaurants including the lovely Art Café, where not only can you enjoy wonderful food and drink, but also view local art work. www.islandartcafe.co.uk. The owner is an islander himself who has a passion for the place and the people.
Walking along the coast there is even a resident seal who keeps an eye out for any fish left behind by the boats. The sailing side thrives with an annual regatta, and there are wind surfing opportunities. So that is West Mersea but don't leave the island before you catch a glimpse of the other side......
East Mersea is my favourite place on the island because it is nature haven. A rural place of peace and tranquillity where farms give way to the coastal salt marshes which are literally bursting with wildlife. East Mersea is also home to an Essex vineyard and a strawberry picking farm and nursery, which is the best place I have found for bedding plants anywhere in Essex.
The walks along this coastline are simply stunning and there is a nature reserve called Cudmore Grove Country Park, which has walks down to the marshes. After a saunter amongst the wonderful countryside you can pop into the local pub-The Dog and Pheasant for some much needed refreshment. Another treat I love on East Mersea is to head for the village Post Office where they serve cones of goat milk ice cream made by Caprillate - a superb home made treat made on a local farm a few miles away on the Colchester road.
This time of year in spring the sky is littered with birds and the air is filled with their song. Wildlife is in abundance, from oyster catchers and nightingales, to foxes and adders, this place is a haven for creatures of every variety. It's a great time to walk. We usually drive as far as the road will take you, and then follow the public footpath which leads onto the sea wall. It's then a lovely walk along the coast to where the foot ferry leaves for Brightlingsea and Point Clear at set times during the weekend. It's a dial-a-service during the week for those wishing to pop over to the other villages over the estuary. This walk allows access onto the beach and here the sand is pure shell. It is possible to be totally alone on this meander if you are lucky, save for the odd walker with dog in tow. The sun illuminates the beach huts over the water in Brightlingsea on the horizon, and the sound of the water gently lapping is beautifully relaxing. This place is an escape and the clouds seem vast giving a feeling of space and calm.
So there it is - an island with a charm of its own waiting for you to visit. Just check the tides first at http://www.mersea-island.com/tide-tables.cfm so you don't have to wait around too long to get on or off!
It's an island of two contrasts-the Quintessentially British seaside village fringed with beach huts, and the rural farming side which leads to peaceful walks and is a birding haven. These attributes marry together to give scope for all interests, whether they be on the wildlife environmental side, or whether a visitor yearns for a day just being by the sea, it's all there waiting just across The Strood!.
This review is also published on Ciao under my user name Violet1278.