Food and Travel (UK) - - Immortals -

The most ac­ces­si­ble is­land on our list, Mersea is reached by an an­cient cause­way which floods at high tide. Its sit­u­a­tion in the Black­wa­ter and Colne estuaries to the south of Colchester in Es­sex makes it a nat­u­ral habi­tat for shell­fish. Oys­ters and Mersea go to­gether like bread and but­ter, al­though shrimp, brown crab and lob­ster are all in plen­ti­ful sup­ply. Mersea na­tive oys­ters are among the most prized in the UK, renowned for their plump silk­i­ness, and some of the oys­ter beds in the Colne were awarded to the lo­cal author­ity by Richard the Lion­heart in 1189. Even the lo­cal foot­ball team is named Oys­ter FC.

The Haward fam­ily has been cul­ti­vat­ing and har­vest­ing oys­ters from the Black­wa­ter es­tu­ary since the 1700s. You can taste their catch at their fam­ily restau­rant, The Com­pany Shed, which is on the wa­ter in West Mersea. Bring your own wine (al­though lo­cal wine and beer is on sale) and slurp na­tives when they’re in sea­son (Septem­ber-April) and rock oys­ters the rest of the year. You can also take a 20-minute jour­ney with Lady Grace Boat Trips round Pack­ing Shed Is­land, where oys­ters were sorted un­til the 1950s.

It may only be 18sq km but Mersea’s two vil­lages and their sur­round­ing ar­eas have very dif­fer­ent at­mos­pheres. West Mersea is the is­land’s cap­i­tal and will re­mind you of child­hood trips to the sea­side. The Vic­to­ria Es­planade is lined with candy coloured beach huts, the wa­ter off Mon­key Beach makes for lovely swim­ming and you can catch whop­ping crabs off the cause­way. The yacht club is the cen­tre of the is­land’s so­cial life.

East Mersea is lit­tle more than a ham­let and its sur­rounds feels much more wild. Cud­more Grove’s wild­flower mead­ows are home to 15 species of but­ter­fly in sum­mer and make for great walk­ing. Be sure to pick up a few bot­tles at Mersea Is­land Vine­yard. Mersea Me­hala is a dry white burst­ing with el­der­flower aro­mas which make it a great pair­ing for the lo­cal fish. The ad­ja­cent mi­cro­brew­ery serves a tra­di­tional stout, the Is­land Oys­ter, made with malt and oys­ters.

Mon­key Beach Cot­tage is a ro­man­tic 300-yearold build­ing with a red-tile roof and vines twist­ing around the front door. There are even views over the es­tu­ary. From £600 per week. Sleeps up to seven. mon­key­beach­cot­tage.co.uk

Greater Anglia great­eran­glia.co.uk has sev­eral trains an hour from Lon­don Liver­pool Street to Colchester from £20 re­turn. The 67 bus runs from Colchester High Street to West Mersea from £6 re­turn. bus­times.org.uk

Clock­wise from top left: stall at West Mersea; Colne Es­tu­ary; crab is a prime dish in lo­cal restau­rants; beach huts along Vic­to­ria Es­planade; fresh oys­ters

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