Sailing and Sandcastles

PUBLISHED: 16:59 07 August 2009 | UPDATED: 16:10 20 February 2013

The view back towards West Mersea

The view back towards West Mersea

Life on Britain's most easterly inhabited islandis, unsurprisingly, dominated by the sea. Nicky Adams goes exploring

FOR AN hour or so every day, when the tide washes over the Strood - the causeway that links it to the Essex mainland - Mersea is truly an island.

'The sea affects the lives of all who live on Mersea,' says Tony Millatt, a long-time Mersea resident who also oversees the collections at the Mersea Island Museum. 'Everyone has a tide table and it is useful to consult it before any trip to the mainland. Otherwise, you get to the road to find the tide is over it and you can't leave.'

But not that many people want to leave Mersea. There have been civilisations here since before the Anglo-Saxons, who gave the island its name, and the Romans were fond of the local oysters and used Mersea as a port from which to trade them.

The museum, opened in 1976, staffed by volunteers and located in a handsome red brick building in the town of West Mersea, is packed with artefacts that tell the story of Mersea's close connection with the sea, including a reconstruction of a typical weather-boarded fisherman's cottage.

With its Victorian esplanade, beach huts, ice-cream shops and playgrounds, Mersea is a place for families

But there is plenty more to give an insight into the island's long and interesting history. 'This year we have on display the Zeppelin that crashed nearby during World War I,' says Tony, 'and we have an extensive collection of old photographs that are always on show.'
Today though some 6,500 people live on the island, many of them still making their living from the sea - through oysters, fishing and sailing - and looking after the tourists who come to admire it, sit by it
and enjoy it.

Even so, Mersea's shoreline is mercifully undeveloped - there are no gaudy amusements. Instead, people come to enjoy the sand and shingle beaches, sail, kite and wind surf, walk and enjoy the fresh air and the quiet. 'It is nice to lie in bed at night and hear just a few sea birds and nothing else,' says Tony.

With its Victorian esplanade, beach huts, ice-cream shops and playgrounds, Mersea is a place for families. At the village of East Mersea, the grassy Cudmore Grove is perfect for picnics and leads down to a soft, sandy beach just right for cricket and sandcastles. The shallow waters slosh across Mersea's famous mudflats towards the beach and are warmed by the sun in the summer months to a comfortable bathing temperature. At the island's town of West Mersea, swimmers enjoy the water where the River Blackwater runs into the sea and the jetty is good for crabbing.

Spotting the wind and kite surfers is another popular Mersea pastime, and as the sea is nearly always decorated with their brightly-coloured sails, it
is not too hard to do. The island is home to the Mersea Windsurfers club and the southern shores of the island and the Blackwater Estuary are more often than not dotted with adrenaline seekers pitting their wits against the elements.

August is a particularly good month for sail-spotting in Mersea and this year, on Saturday, August 22, the island hosts its annual regatta, which comes at the end of a week of hard racing known as Mersea Week. One
of the favourite events is the famous round-the-island race - despite the fact that it is not actually possible to sail all the way around the island, because of The Strood. So, the sailors have to enlist the help of friends to stand at the causeway and lift their boats across the road before setting sail again.

The regatta was established in 1838 and, although there are many serious sailing races, as well as an outboard motor balloon race, a swimming race and a very popular assault boat race, there are some traditionally less sensible ones too.

Popular annual challenges are a race that involves a dozen men paddling a boat with spades, and 'walking the greasy pole', which entails laying a greased telegraph pole in the water off the side of a barge and seeing if anyone can walk its length to claim a flag at the end.

As well as the water events, there are displays and stalls on the shore, fairground rides, souvenirs and refreshments and a grand firework display at dusk.

As ever, Mersea's link to the sea provides the island with its life,
and its soul.

Mersea Island Museum
High Street, West Mersea
01206 3852191

The museum is open during the summer season until the end of September, from 2pm to 5pm weekends and weekdays Wednesday to Friday inclusive, as well as Bank Holiday Mondays. Admission costs £1 for adults and 50p for senior citizens and children (under-fives are free).
The museum also runs Guided History Walks in West Mersea - tours start and finish at the museum and take place on Saturday afternoons at 2.30pm until 26 September (there is no walk on Regatta Day). Tickets cost £1.50 and are available from the museum on the day.

Getting to Mersea
Either via The Strood, part of the B1025 road to Colchester, or the East Mersea Foot Ferry, which provides a service between Brightlingsea,
Point Clear and East Mersea for foot passengers which operates from April to October.
For more information, go to

In focus

Mersea Island is in the estuary of the rivers Blackwater and Colne

It is just nine miles southeast of Colchester and reached via The Strood, a half-mile artificial causeway that links the island with the B1025 road to Colchester

The island is approximately five miles by two miles, has a perimeter
of 12 miles and an area of about
five miles square

Mersea Island has one town - West Mersea - and a village - East Mersea

The name is a derivation of the Anglo Saxon word 'Meresig', which dates from the early 10th century
and means 'island of the pool'

For more information on
visiting Mersea, call 01206 282920 or go to

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