If you’re keen to get away from it all but don’t want to travel too far from London, consider Mersea Island. Just nine miles from the ancient Roman town of Colchester, Mersea is one of my favourite places to escape to. My family have been visiting this little island for years so I may well be biased but if it’s peace and quiet you’re after, it can’t be beat. The burgeoning food scene is an added bonus.
WHAT ARE THE MUST-SEES? It depends what you’re looking for. West Mersea is home to the hub of the island but the East is much quieter. The town centre has its own museum, not to mention a library and a whole host of independent shops – many of them selling antiques and quirky home furnishings.
Get a feel for the island by taking a 20-minute boat trip on Lady Grace with Mersea local, Stacey Belbin. These run all day, every day from the jetty in the harbour and cost just £3. Dogs are welcome aboard, too. In fact, this is where Ernie first put his sea legs to the test!
A trip to Mersea Island Vineyard is a must. I’m a big fan of the Mersea Mehala (it’s a dry white) but if you visit before it’s Wine O’Clock, a coffee and cake at Maria’s Vintage Tea Room onsite is just as nice. Dogs are not allowed in, but there are tables outside. You can also stay at the vineyard, which is also home to a brewery and often hosts weddings.
It’s worth checking out the foot ferry over to Brightlingsea from East Mersea too, which takes just nine minutes. You can catch the boat to this quaint seaside town from Cudmore Grove Country Park during the summer months. The journey (£2 for adults and £1 for both children and dogs) certainly beats the 40-mile round trip by road.
WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? Cudmore Grove Country Park is pure dog heaven. This lovely park hugs the coast and has great year-round walks. There’s a lovely family atmosphere here – and the new nautical-themed kids’ play area only adds to that.
When we’re on Mersea, we love to stroll along the beach by Cudmore Grove and search for fossils – incredibly, a 300,000-year-old artefact was recently unearthed by the cliffs. The park aslo has historic World War Two pillboxes to explore and birds to spot but if the weather isn’t great, opt for a stroll through the meadows or along the sheltered path by the reservoir.
The wonderfully-named Monkey Beach in West Mersea is also great. After you and your four-legged friend have stretched your legs, there are whole host of pubs and cafes along the front where you can stop and refuel.
BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE? Where do I start? Many of the pubs on the island are pet-friendly – including The Fox Inn, which has its own section for dogs and their owners and plenty of treats behind the bar. The Coast Inn, right on the waterfront, is also well worth a visit and dogs are allowed in the shabby chic-style bar area but not the restaurant. The Victory at Mersea is another popular dog-friendly destination and you can also stay over – keep reading to find out more.
One of the latest eateries to open on the island is Cowabunga Pizza. If you like pizza, you’ll love this place, which caters for everyone from carnivores to vegans. Dogs aren’t allowed in the restaurant but takeaway pizzas are available. It’s just over the road from Coastal Coffee too, which is a great spot for brunch. It also has plenty of outdoor tables if you’re visiting with a pooch.
Mersea is famed for its seafood, however, and if it’s crab, lobster or mussels you crave, head to The Company Shed. It’s not dog-friendly but it would be wrong not to mention this family-run restaurant as it is almost an attraction in itself. The Shed, as it’s affectionately known, has been reviewed in many national newpapers and travel guides so is always busy. It doesn’t take bookings so arrive early to avoid disappointment.
A local secret, however, is Mehalah’s – a seafood and game restaurant run by the same family that own the Shed. In my opinion, the food here is just as good as The Shed, but without the crowds. Dogs aren’t allowed in the restaurant, unfortunately, but there are several tables out front. And just next-door you’ll find Mersea Barns – a lovely café cum gift shop where dogs are welcome in the garden and patio area. I thoroughly recommend trying the Sunday roasts – they’re great!
WHERE SHOULD I STAY? The Victory at Mersea has reasonably-priced rooms – one of which is dog-friendly – but there are a whole host of holiday parks to choose from. Most have fantastic facilities and are close to the island’s main attractions. Whenever I visit the island, I stay at Mersea Island Holiday Park, which is operated by Away Resorts – but I may be a bit biased as my parents own a holiday home there! Read my review of the site here.
GET ME THERE: Mersea is approximately one hour away from London by car. Head towards Colchester on the A12 and from there, pick up the B1025 Mersea Road and follow it all the way to the island. By train, Colchester is your best bet and from there, a 20-minute taxi ride will take you to the heart of the island.
FIND OUT MORE: See visitmerseaisland.co.uk. And if you don’t want to get stranded on the Strood (Mersea gets cut off from the mainland twice a day at high tide), make sure you check the latest tide timetable before you travel.