Notes on Mersea Island

A remote and unspoilt island

A trip to Mersea Island is always quite exciting for non-locals. Approached by a causeway from the mainland, the island can be completely cut off from the mainland at high tides, so the journey starts with checking the tide tables. The best site for this is www.peldon.org which has a "traffic lights" indicator system showing you when it's safe to cross – green – or the causeway is likely to be submerged – red. But weather conditions can also have an impact: if the water is choppy it is more likely to cover the causeway. It's obvious, but remember: be aware of the tides when you plan to leave the island as well as when you arrive. Generally the high tide covers the causeway for about half an hour either side of the high tide mark, although this varies with the height of the tide and of course, the weather conditions.

Once on the island, there are two towns, West and East Mersea. Most visitors head straight for West Mersea which has the more obvious attractions of shops, guesthouses, oyster bars, restaurants and pubs. In addition there are beaches and boatyards, and the town contains some lovely architecture including ancient fishermen's cottages, traditional weather-boarded houses, the Norman church, and the famous Mersea beach huts. And everywhere you go you see the wide skies and views of the estuary.

The eastern side of the island is quieter and more rural. Although its history belies this tranquillity. East Mersea's medieval church is built on the site of a Viking Fort, from which Hasten led raids as far away as Chester. There was once a Tudor fort on the coast, built by Henry VIII after the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, when there were fears that France would invade. The fort was used to protect against the Spanish Armada and against a threatened Dutch invasion during the early 16th century. And there are several WWII fortifications both on the cliffs and on the shore (showing how much land had been lost to erosion since that time).

East Mersea has a pub and a country park but the pleasures here include walking along the sea wall, taking in the views across the water, watching the wildlife on the shingle beach at Mersea Stone, looking for fossils in the rock fall from the cliffs and enjoying the quiet beaches which are littered with oyster shells. If the tide is out you can wander for long distances out on the mud flats, but keep an eye on the returning waters: the tide comes in faster than Mo Farah can run. In the centre of the island, near the south coast, is a vineyard, brewery and restaurant complex.