Rupert Parker upgrades his tent to a luxury caravan on this Essex Island.
It’s blowing a gale as we make our way to the sand spit facing Brightlingsea. The wind is whipping up the water, yachts are bouncing in the surf. I can see our ferry, nothing more than a rubber inflatable with an outboard, trying to make its way across. It changes direction, perhaps better to combat the swell, but no, it gives up and returns to the harbour.
Mersea Island sits in the Blackwater estuary, a few miles south of Colchester, and is connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway. It’s not on the way to anywhere and is the UK’s most easterly inhabited island, five miles long and two miles wide. There are no hotels here, just a handful of rooms and caravans, lots of them.
We’ve been here many times but always camped. Now we’ve upgraded to a luxury caravan in East Mersea, courtesy of Away Resorts. It comes with a fully fitted kitchen, two bedrooms, one en-suite, a bathroom and large lounge. Add central heating, a couple of TV’s, free Wi-Fi and a veranda for those early evening drinks and we have everything we needed. We can’t see the sea, but the beach is only five minutes away and there’s even a heated swimming pool.
The Cudmore Country Park is right next to the caravan site, ideal for letting dogs run wild or even children. The beaches are not great on Mersea – at low tide, they reveal a long stretch of mud with most of the sand disappearing at high tide. Still, the water in the Blackwater estuary is warmer than the sea and if you get your time right, it’s excellent for swimming.
Water sports are big here as the sea’s usually calm – choose between paddle boarding, windsurfing, kayaking or Jet Skis. There’s even a six-acre inland lake where you can learn to sail.
Our part of the island is the quieter end. On the other side, West Mersea has pubs, shops, cafes, even a jetty where fishing and sailing boats are moored. Here you’ll find sandy beaches lined with rows of pastel-coloured bathing huts and bathers sheltering behind windbreaks.
The big attraction here is the food, specifically seafood. Mersea oysters are some of the best we’ve ever tasted and the crab’s not bad either. Normally, you can sample these seafood delights at the Company Shed, a simple shack by the sea, where you bring your own bread and wine and sit at communal tables. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions mean it’s closed so we order one of their magnificent seafood platters and take it back to our caravan.
And we also discover Mersea’s very own vineyard, hidden away in the centre of the island. Their crisp white wines, made from German grapes, go well with oysters and they also make their own gin and beer. You can eat here and they also have a handful of rooms.
So back to that ferry trip. A second attempt is successful and we cross the River Colne to Brightlingsea on the other side. This was once a busy fishing port with extensive oyster beds but that’s all long gone. The harbour has reinvented itself as a yachting marina and there’s been much development. We don’t linger, however, but go on an hour’s boat trip upriver to Wivenhoe
This was once the port for Colchester and had a thriving shipbuilding industry, even turning out two dozen minesweepers during WW2, but finally closing in 1986. The old quay is lined with attractive wooden houses and the narrow lanes behind are home to arty shops and quaint pubs. Our boat trip includes lunch in the Black Buoy, one of the oldest, dating from 1712, and reputedly a meeting place for smugglers and pirates.
Back on Mersea, we spend a couple of days exploring the island on foot. It’s possible to do a complete circuit in a long day but better to explore in sections, stopping off at the handful of pubs, even taking a dip. On our last day, we’re told that we have to get off the island by lunchtime as the tide is going to be exceptionally high. We don’t panic, however – I can think of worse things than being marooned on this Essex island.
Tell More About luxury caravanning on Mersea Island
A four-night stay at Away Resorts on Mersea Island in a luxury caravan costs £768
Greater Anglia has frequent train services to Colchester. Then it’s a forty-minute bus ride to Mersea.
Visit Essex has information about the county.
A return river cruise from Brightlingsea to Wivenhoe, including lunch at the Black Buoy, costs £26.