ENGLANDIsland MERSEA ISLAND,
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