Mersea Island is the most easterly inhabited island in the UK, located marginally off the coast of the county and 9 miles (14 km) to the southeast of Colchester. It is situated in the estuary area of the Blackwater and Colne rivers and has an area of around 8 km².
The name 'Mersea' is derived from the Old English meresig meaning 'island of the pool', with the island hosting a population of approximately 6,500. It is joined to the mainland by a causeway, first constructed in Roman times and crosses the waterway known as The Strood (constructed by St Sæbbi, a King of the East Saxons who ruled from 664 to 694). This carries the Mersea-Colchester road which is covered at high spring tides.
The main industries on Mersea are farming, fishing including oyster cultivation, tourism and servicing the leisure boating industry. There are two main settlements on the island, the small town of West Mersea and the village of East Mersea, plus a small hamlet at Barrow Hill to the north of West Mersea. Most of the population of Mersea live in West Mersea, this is where nearly all of the shops, guesthouses and restaurants can be found.
South from West Mersea across the River Blackwater can be seen the now decommissioned Bradwell Power Station. From East Mersea, looking across the River Colne, Brightlingsea can be seen. The main beach at West Mersea is designated a 'Bathing Beach' although there are several other sand beaches around the island.
East Mersea is sparsely populated and is virtually all given over to agriculture. By most standards of today the Village of East Mersea is a thriving community which boasts also a church and a vineyard. Although the number of residents remains small, the visitors to the caravan sites swell the numbers during the summer months.
Historically, East Mersea has influences going back to Celtic times. In the Middle Ages Colchester Borough granted oyster dredging and fishing licences to East Mersea men. During the Civil and Napoleonic Wars parliamentarian forces captured the Mersea Blockhouse and garrisoned the island. In the twentieth century East Mersea had a golf course which was subsequently closed during World War Two. Many defensive structures were built during the war both above and below ground. An Admirality owned underground structure is believed to still exist below the footpath at the end of Shop Lane.
Several famous people have lived in East Mersea amongst them the Reverend Baring Gould and Dr Harnack who was one of the first workers with x-rays.
East Mersea's most famous rector was the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (28 January 1834 - 2 January 1924). He was an English Victorian hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist and eclectic scholar. He is particularly remembered as a writer of hymns, the best-known being Onward, Christian Soldiers and Now the Day Is Over.
St Edmund, King and Martyr church in East Mersea was one of the few moated churches in the country, enclosing five acres, parts of the moat still remaining. The area is thought to have been the camp of the Viking Hasten, who spent two winters in Mersea and plundered the country as far as Chester.
Parts of East Mersea are sites of importance for nature conservation. Cudmore Grove Country Park is being managed sympathetically for wildlife, fauna and flora. The Colne Estuary is also of international importance especially as a waterfowl habitat. There are some interesting geological exposures in the eroding cliff at Cudmore Grove.
Passing along the sea wall at Cudmore Grove Country Park, at the island's eastern tip, you might be lucky enough to met enthusiastic ranger Dougal Urquhart with Monty his four legged terrier companion. And if he has some time to spare he can point out the geese, flocks of golden plovers and widgeons that regularly graze on the fields behind. At the highest cliffs on the island, a mere fifteen feet, fallen oaks litter the beach below, signifying their retreat by a metre a year. The river gravel in the low cliffs is 300,000 years old and is the site where bones of elephant tusk, narrow-nosed rhino, bears and giant deer were discovered early last century.
If you are a keen walker why not explore the island by using our walking map of the island. Click here to download the map.