What is it about Mersea Island that makes it so special?
PUBLISHED: 11:27 31 August 2020 | UPDATED: 15:33 16 September 2020
The Romans knew a good thing when they saw it, and they say Mersea Island as a very good thing. Perhaps that’s why there is so much to celebrate even today on this special island | Words: Petra Hornsby - Photos: Chrissie Westgate and VisitEssex
Whatever the time of year, there is one special spot on the Essex coast that makes for the perfect day away from the daily grind of life and the stress that it brings.
Mersea Island is an idyllic location found nine miles south east of Colchester and covering seven square miles, with a glowing reputation for beautiful scenery and historic charm.
Divided into East Mersea and West Mersea, the island has many features and hosts several events throughout the year that make it a tourist hot spot, but also a highly desirable place to live too.
The island was very popular with the Romans who were big fans of the native oyster, still farmed to this day off the Mersea coast and famous around the world.
Archaeological evidence has revealed the extent of Roman occupancy and a ghostly vision of a Roman soldier is said to haunt the Strood - the main causeway on to the island.
There is no evidence of any kind of construction made to access the island until the Saxons settled there. The causeway built by the Saxons was necessitated by the rising tides across the 'saltings' (or flats) that surround the island.
Workmen digging to build a water main unearthed two parallel rows of timber, buried deep along the causeway. The oak posts may be a fraction of as many as 3,000 to 5,000 such posts which are thought to have been necessary for building the causeway.
Dendrochronology experts have dated the posts as being around 1,300 years old. It is thought that such a construction would have involved considerable labour and points to the importance of the island even then.
One of the posts can be seen in the Mersea Museum, along with other ancient artefacts and finds from the area.
Today, the Strood is subject to high tides covering it for up to an hour at a time and making it unsafe for cars and vehicles to cross, although some still try and often have the emergency services to thank for their rescue.
The Strood has its own camera and, via its website, users can arrange to have texts sent to their phones advising them of tide times.
Anyone wanting a thorough leg stretch, especially those with four legs, will be quick to take up the challenge of the 13-mile round island walk which includes an opportunity to see the many great aspects and natural sights of Mersea.
Again, high tides can make part of the walk a challenge, so timing is important, but if a shorter walk is preferred, then head over to Cudmore Grove Country Park on East Mersea.
The park is a haven for families and nature lovers, with plenty of opportunities for bird-watching. The East Mersea flats are a food source for over-wintering birds and those looking out across the Pyefleet Channel have also reported seeing seals.
The cliffs, having suffered erosion over recent decades, have surrendered their secrets of 300,000 years, with bones and fossils discovered at their base making it an exciting place to explore with children. There is also a foot ferry which runs across to Brightlingsea and is visible from East Mersea's shore.
West Mersea has a different feel to East Mersea, with a small town centre including cafes, restaurants, shops and a sailing club. In fact, sailing and fishing lend this town much of its character and is a very strong feature of the community and arguably the attraction the island holds for so many.
Mersea Island Fresh Catch still bring in their catch of the day for sale on the jetty and every year in August, the West Mersea Yacht Club and Dabchicks Sailing Club host regatta week with competitive sailing races and fun events for participants and spectators alike.
Alongside the popular regatta, Mersea Island seems to be something of a magnet for festivals.
Lovers of seafood (especially oysters) are fully indulged in Mersea with great places to eat fresh produce in a setting that completely complements the experience.
The Mersea Island Food, Drink and Leisure Festival (that takes place in May every year) continues to celebrate this by bringing together people, local produce and plenty of entertainment for good measure.
The setting, appropriately, is close to the Mersea Island Vineyard, with stunning views across the Blackwater Estuary.
Essex Outdoors, otherwise known as East Mersea Youth Camp, hosts the annual Mersea Island Festival, a camping experience for children, young people and adults living with or without a physical disability.
Participants can take advantage of a number of activities which aim to provide challenge and stimulation, while offering an opportunity to build self-confidence at the same time as having fun in an outdoor setting.
The camp is popular with families and youth groups, and although the more challenging activities are better suited to older participants, there is plenty for younger children to do.
Although one-to-one care is not provided, there are more than enough volunteers around to help the 300 or so people who travel from across the UK and abroad to attend the event.
Events and entertainment include archery, a zip wire, wheelchair basketball, circus skills, live bands, African drumming and an It's a Knockout competition. This year there are two camp dates, August 18 to 23 and then August 23 to 26. For more information visit merseafestival.org.uk
Another popular annual event held at Essex Outdoors is the Mersea Island Scooter Rally which takes place from August 30 to September 1.
The first rally took place in 1993 and this year will be the 27th. Organised by the Colchester District Vespa and Lambretta Club (Colchester DVLC), the festival features live music, scooter games, a custom show, a scooter ride-out and scooter traders. Up to 2,000 people of all ages attend the event, from across the UK and Europe.
Amid the celebrations and festivals which seem to be in abundance throughout the summer, the community has plenty going for it away from the water, camps and shoreline.
The Mersea Island Players put on two productions each year, including a pantomime, while the Island Artists exhibit throughout the year and take part in open studio events. Meanwhile, the long-standing tennis club is popular and offers coaching for all levels and ages.
If Mersea Island needed an advertising campaign it would be an easy sell. Mersea Island for history, nature, fresh fish, adventure, water sports, beautiful scenery, music, fireworks and fun!