Imagine living on an island. It seems just an idyllic dream for so many of us! Well it might not be that unattainable, because just off the east coast of Essex, England, lies a small island known as Mersea. The name is a derivation of the word meresig which dates from the early 10th Century and means 'island of the pool'.
Mersea Island is located in the estuary of the rivers Blackwater and Colne, approximately nine miles south-east of Colchester. It has a resident population of 6500. Its area of five square miles includes the town of West Mersea and the village of East Mersea.
Mersea is the most easterly inhabited island in the UK. It is linked to the mainland by The Strood, an artificial causeway about half a mile long which forms part of the B1025 road to Colchester. The Strood is liable to flooding at high tide and, when a large high tide is forecast, there will often be an ambulance brought over in advance, to deal with any accidents that may happen.
The beach surrounding the island is mainly sand and shingle, turning into mudflats as you wade further out. In summer the waters on the main beach are warm, as the tide comes in over the dark mudflats, which have been heated by the Sun to a comfortable temperature.
The island's town, West Mersea, has increased in size over the past few years. Many new housing estates have been built, and road networks constructed. These can be seen on the official map1 on the Mersea website.
There are various nature reserves on and around the island, especially for wading birds. And Mersea has always been an important player in the oyster market, bringing in the famed 'Mersea Native Oysters'. Even now, oysters are still one of the main industries of the area, along with fishing, farming, boat-building, yacht design and sailmaking.
Mersea is very much a tourist area. On a hot summer's day you can wander along the Hard (where the boats are stored in large boat parks) and see many a Grockle (which is what the natives have been known to call tourists) buying ice creams and wandering down the floating jetty. They buy their souvenirs, then return to one of the caravan sites to relax and watch the Sun set over the water.
Mersea is quite a large community, with local shops and other amenities necessary to everyday life. There is a primary school that is expanding its numbers rapidly mirroring the growing population of the island. Many of the youngsters form the large Scout group that is present on Mersea. It is one of the few to have both land and sea Scout troops within the same group. Both the primary school and the Scout group have active links with East Mersea Youth Camp, where the children often go to practice outdoor activities.
There is a thriving sailing community, with both the Dabchicks Sailing Club and the West Mersea Yacht Club strong in members, and very active.
Each year, towards the end of August, there is the regatta, which comes at the end of a week of hard racing. During Mersea Week (as it is known) there is a round-the-island race, which is always fun to watch - because you cannot actually sail the entire way round the island due to The Strood, so waiting at The Strood are hundreds of trailers and helpers ready to carry boats across the road!
The Regatta involves some sensible races - such as:
Row from this buoy to that one
... and some not-so-sensible races - from:
How fast exactly can 12 men in a boat paddling with spades actually go?
If we put enough grease on this telegraph pole, lay it horizontally, and put a flag on the end, do you think any one will get the flag?
There are two parish churches, at east and west, also Methodist, Free Church, Brethren and Catholic churches. These often join together to form Churches Together In Mersea (CTIM).
Mersea enters written history when the Romans settled in Camulodunum, now known as Colchester. This settlement, initially built for retired veterans, soon became the hub of the Roman civilisation, and remained so until they decided that London was better placed. Even today the plan of the old town resembles a typical Roman layout of straight, intersecting roads.
Mersea's most famous relic of the Roman occupation can be seen every day by people arriving at or leaving the island. It is not a building, it is the Barrow, which stands off East Mersea Road, a short distance from The Strood. The Barrow is a typical Romano-British burial mound, which originally stood 60 feet high and 300 feet in diameter. Its contents were excavated in 1912, and the relics from the dig can be seen in Colchester museum.
It is not known whether The Strood was built by the Romans or (as some think) the Roman road was actually further to the east of the island. It is reckoned, however, that The Strood in its original form was built circa 700 AD.
Mersea has had its fair share of the famous and the notorious. The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gouldwho wrote the hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers, was Rector in East Mersea. His most famous book, the novel Mehalah published in 1880, is set on and around the island. Stories of smuggling in East Mersea also exist, though definite proof is not easy to come by.
Colchester Oyster Fishery, North Farm, East Mersea is open to the public. There is also Cudmore Grove Country Park, a grassland with adjoining beach, for those who like to take relaxing walks. This also leads onto the sea wall which encircles the entire island (give or take a few hundred yards of beach huts and boat parks).
Mersea Island Museum in West Mersea includes everything about local, natural and social history.
This area is a small resort offering a number of sailing activities and, for those who would prefer to relax, a beach. One can also taste local oysters and seafood in the restaurants near the coast.