Relax On This Hidden Gem English Island With Pretty Pastel Huts And Beautiful Beaches

In A.D. 49, Camulodunum (now Colchester) became the Roman capital of Britain and the nation's first city. With its magnificent Temple of Claudius, senate house, theaters, and chariot-racing circus, it was a thriving town with a Mediterranean vibe, populated by many retired soldiers from the Roman legions. It sounds like it was a pretty happening place, but even old centurions just wanted to get away from the action sometimes. In the years before Queen Boudicca attacked and burned the city down, Camulodunum's residents would take time to unwind on the wild and remote landscape of Mersea Island, around 10 miles south.

Fast forward almost 2,000 years. The country may have changed somewhat, but Mersea Island's status as a hidden gem of a seaside getaway from the capital remains the same. People seeking a day trip from London are spoiled for choice, and resorts on the south coast and Kent remain perennially popular, many within a 90-minute train ride from the center of London. Yet while the likes of Brighton, Margate, Folkestone, and Rye draw the summer crowds, Mersea Island retains a sense of isolation that appeals to holidaymakers looking for sparsely populated beaches and big open skies. At around a two-and-a-half hour drive northeast of the city, it is relatively far-flung, but it makes for a refreshingly serene coastal destination a world away from the millions of visitors that descend on Brighton each year.

Things to do on Mersea Island

Mersea is the United Kingdom's most easterly inhabited island, with a permanent population of around 7,000, although it doesn't look much like an island at first glance on a map. Tucked away in Essex, overlooking the Blackwater Estuary, it is separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water. The only way to access the island by car is via the Strood, a causeway built in Roman times. Nowadays, the modern Strood is sometimes flooded twice a day at high tide, during which time Mersea is briefly cut off.

Facilities for vacationers and day trippers never grew much beyond the iconic row of pastel-colored beach huts stretching along the shoreline of West Mersea, popular for its wide sand and shingle beaches. There are a few holiday parks dotted around, but it is all very low-key compared to more lively UK seaside towns such as Clacton-on-Sea to the east and Southend-on-Sea to the south. This lack of development is a big part of the appeal for those who come to Mersea. With its broad, flat landscapes and sea views, Mersea Island is ideal for walkers and cyclists. The circular coastal path, which runs for 13 miles along the Island's edge, is an excellent way to see the best of Mersea and take in the fresh air. Birdwatchers are drawn to Cudmore Grove Country Park, and Mersea Boating Lake is a good spot for water sports, including kayaking and sailing.

Eating and drinking on Mersea Island

Mersea Island might not be the type of U.K. coastal resort you want to visit if you're looking for funfairs, penny arcades, and cotton candy. The pace of life is relaxed, and it's more a place to meander around before stopping off for a nice pint and spot of lunch. In East Mersea, there is the 19th-century Dog and Pheasant, an inn with a spacious garden and a menu offering traditional pub grub like scampi and chips and Hunter's chicken. Also on the east side is Mersea Barns, a modern, family-friendly café and shop serving breakfasts, Sunday roasts, and delicious cakes.

Lovers of seafood should perhaps save their appetites for West Mersea. Here, you will find the harbor and marina lined with yachts and several family-run businesses serving fresh catch of the day. One of the most popular is The Company Shed, a quaint wooden shack serving oysters, crab platters, and a variety of other delicacies. Booking is strongly recommended. If you can't get in there, another good option is The Dukes Seafood. It's another shack with outdoor seating, estuary views, and a resident fishmonger to prepare your meal exactly how you want it. If fish isn't your thing, check out The Coast Inn, a bright and welcoming restaurant that offers land-based and veggie options as well as a kid's menu.