The route to Mersea Island feels more like a jaunt than an epic ride, but the tiny, humble seaside village is like a dream that seems to come from nowhere. With a calm seaside road full of restaurants, beach-strewn boats and a strange feeling of being mentally miles from anywhere, it’s an unusual sort of bliss.
The route itself, from London to Mersea in Essex, has its stunning moments. Mostly, it takes you through roads that lack the city traffic and feel safe but for a long time it doesn’t have the blindingly empty country roads that a trip to Brighton will spoil you with. It does however, somewhat importantly, take you through TipTree, mystical land of jam production, and a few other strange places like this.
The real joy comes when you suddenly arrive. Turn off one of these fairly unremarkable roads, somewhere between a Co-Op and a petrol station and seconds later you’re on a country lane that feels like it’s plucked straight out of Devon, miles from anywhere. The grey roads behind you disappear in what feels as sudden as stepping through the wardrobe in Narnia into a totally different land. It’s a small road of white-washed houses and honeysuckle that disappeared into a thinner alley at the end. At the end of the alley, almost alarmingly sits the sea. And there you are, suddenly now in this tiny, humble little place having rounded the corner from the alley. Immediately the grey roads are gone; a memory you’ve already forgotten from seconds ago.
This place is humble and breath-taking in its own strange, isolated and effortless way.Standing in the middle of the one road that runs through the village along the sea, it’s so quiet and so surprisingly simple. You’re surrounded by tiny boats beached on the mud, and a tiny little hut. One that’s rumoured to serve the best seafood in the UK – so we hear. This place is humble and breath-taking in its own strange, isolated and effortless way. There are no cliffs, no seaside steps or winding roads down to some mighty roar of crashing waves. Across murky mud flats, the sun glows and fisherman’s boats with cracked paint patiently sit, waiting for the tide. Break the silence with a camera shutter snap.
I’m converted to a life of seafood, only to be told I’d better enjoy them because from hereon in all oysters and most seafood will be incomparable.The seafood is ridiculous. Note that by this point, I’ve declared the cheap baguette from Co-Op some of the land’s finest bread. But the salty crap, lobster, prawns and oysters that come out of the restaurant kitchen, reminiscent of a village fishmonger, are stunning. And I don’t even eat seafood. I’m converted, only to be told I’d better enjoy them because from hereon in all oysters and most seafood will be incomparably bad elsewhere and taste like they were cooked in a Wetherspoons. (It seems inconvenient to have discovered a new love, only for such a threat to be made.)
Having panned the route for being ‘grey’ there really are some serious hints of beauty on the way. It’s not all about the tired legs and craving for a pint.
On the way out – just as the roads get a little monotonous, suburban, and you might be forgetting why you wanted to go and see England – a tree-covered route that suddenly develops. It sucks you away from the A roads and bend off towards Tiptree. There are a few of these moments as you go, but really there’s a benefit to travelling through these very typical British ‘burbs. It makes the distance – close to the London to to Brighton distance – feel a lot less disturbingly epic as you do it. It feels more like a jaunt than a huge challenge, and it’s only when you reach your destination does it suddenly hit you.
The stunning little island can only be reached when the tide is out and the final section of the routes takes you over the bridge that crosses vast mud flats with huge puddles lying everywhere.Then, before you cross to the Island, comes another absolute stunner of a moment. One of the moments of the route that will be stuck in my head for years to come. The stunning little island can only be reached when the tide is out and the final section of the routes takes you over the bridge that crosses vast mud flats with huge puddles lying everywhere. Suddenly the strange view clicks. It’s fascinating to think that for some of the day this is the section that floods intermittently. A quick Google shows you what this looks like on a an average day. Not only are you crossing into it, but it’s a temporary crossing. For a second it feels quite cut off in the way The Wickerman’s a totally separate society and requires its own tiny place to drop you off before you’re burned alive by the village (the lugworms we meet later being carried on the bus don’t shake off this village feel either.) Getting the bus back across the sometimes-flooded space to the train station, if you have weary legs instead of an hour’s energy remaining, requires some careful timing or a little patience.
Before you goCheck the tide timings. Find a tide guide here, using the tide website the locals recommend (tends to show tide on the day) or this alternative tide site which features the ability to look into the future.
EatEat in the strange little restaurant hut by the sea; The Company Shed. You’ll love it. Salad for the veggies.
Eat at The Company Shed. Reviews abound – have a gander on the Telegraph and Jay Rayner gives it his rating over on the Guardian: “No wine, no waiters, no finery… just a weatherbeaten BYO beside the briny. But with seafood this good there’s no better place to be stranded at high tide.” A seafood platter will set you back about £20.
DrinkAt one of the pubs that overlooks the sea, just along from said Company Shed.
If you’re particularly anxious to find out more about the area or arrive with time to spare and don’t fancy spending it in the pub, head to The Mersea Museum.
So, here’s the 65 mile jaunt. Grab the map yourself – London to Mersea Island, via Tiptree (or there abouts). No set guide on this one.