West Mersea, The Stars Hollow of England

24 Hours in Mersea Island

T says that West Mersea is the Stars Hollow of England. I’m not overly familiar with Gilmore Girls, but I know enough about it to think that T is likely correct.

West Mersea is part of Mersea Island, where I chose to stay for one night on the way from Suffolk down to Hampshire. We had 24 hours to spend, preferably somewhere I’d never been. Colchester would have been a great choice as well, but we’d decided to focus the trip towards the seaside as much as possible. We were leaning coastal. And if you’re gonna lean coastal, you may as well eat some delicious seafood while you’re there.

The Duran Duran interpretative dance opportunity from West Mersea Beach is located here. It deserved its own post.

English seafood is actually amazing and delicious – some of the best, in fact. And it’s plentiful – they are the British Isles, after all. There is no lack of sea or ocean. But the British didn’t eat seafood for years, for a few reasons: it was viewed as food for a lower social class, people didn’t know how to cook it (besides frying it), and fears of food poisoning ran rampant (still do).

Thankfully the tide is turning, and I found so many great seafood destinations up and down the Suffolk and Essex coasts.

P.S. the restaurants are pretty great in England! Seriously! I started going in the early 1980s, I know how it was. I know about the “salad cream.” And the gravy made from Bisto. And the jacket potato with shrimp on it (okay, that one is delicious), and that ONE sad veggie lasagne on every pub menu. I’m here to spread the good word: England has good food now. Get into it.

I researched train stations in various seaside villages, then bookmarked all of the restaurants within walking distance. I calculated travel times and read a lot of reviews. I narrowed it down to Wivenhoe (still wanna go tbh), Felixstowe (my nostalgia choice) Aldeburgh (often regarded as having the best fish and chips in the UK, but ya know, everyone has opinions), and West Mersea.

Once I read about The Company Shed, the choice was clear. Then when I found the adorbs White Hart Inn with its built-in pub and scenic-view Mehalah room? My credit card was out and ready. Yolo bitches, we’re turnin’ 50!

Full disclosure: this leg of the trip was not the easiest to plan. The Company Shed is only open certain days, the transit only runs certain hours, check-in and check-out times are in the mix, plus the tide times. You gotta pay heed to those tide times, because the road over from the mainland will flood and the only bus will drop you at a pub in Peldon to figure out the rest of the journey by yourself.

Nevertheless: she persisted. I emailed the lovely (and I mean LOVELY) folks at White Hart Inn (shout out to Emily, a bona fide STAR, and also to Jack and Beth who are no slouches), and they gave me early check-in. I wrote to The Company Shed months in advance to make a booking (as usual, only like 8-10 tables in the joint) PLUS I reserved the dressed crab & oysters – which have to be pre-ordered.

Some people might say I am a little extra. But so help me, nothing was gonna get between me and those freshly-caught prawns that are so tender and sweet you think you’re eating lobster. Ya girl is not gonna travel 4,000 miles for a “Closed” sign.

The planning paid off, everything timed out perfectly – even with the rail strikes (once again, Rich to the rescue), and after a mere 4 hours on the island we found ourselves once again dying. Of. Food.

And while food was the impetus behind choosing it, apparently West Mersea is a delightful town full of characters and quirkiness and a special kind of magic. Their biggest “attraction,” per se, is a large open one-room museum featuring a talking mannequin exhibit, Roman ruins, and very eager volunteers who would love to tell you about the famous local burial mound. (And they will take you there personally, if you would like, it’s no trouble. They can get you in. They have connections.) We met Heather, the retired owner of The Company Shed (her daughter has taken it over), who has lived in West Mersea all of her life, now volunteers at the museum, and takes no crap off of anyone. (Heather is #goals.)

I think out of everywhere we’ve visited, T and I have the most stories about West Mersea. Which is crazy, because there really wasn’t that much to do…? I doubt it gets very “exciting” in West Mersea… This is not the place to come if you need to be constantly out and about doing-doing-doing, although we did-did-did anyway. It’s just that what we did-did-did might not be everyone’s cup of tea. And what we did was a lot of walking, eating, and chatting up locals.

We were there on a mostly gloomy overcast day so… perfect. If you’re gonna do the English seaside, you want it to look like a Coldplay video.

The coastline is typically English, so it’s quite rocky and pebbly. One end of the island has more boats and fishing… It feels a little more industrial but that’s where most of the oyster and seafood restaurants are, alongside a longstanding community of houseboats. The other end is more residential and “beachy.” The rows of beach huts are super cute; I still don’t understand why we don’t have those here.

Eventually we settled in for dinner at The White Hart Inn. This was the big surprise. Our meal was excellent. I don’t wanna over-use italics here, but that dinner was all italics. On paper: we had a tomato salad, spaghetti and clams, steak and potato, gin and tonics… But the simple dishes are often hardest to do, and good lord they executed. And they had stellar cocktails! Experimental gin! They even use Punt e Mes in their Manhattans! On top of all of this magnificence, we were staying at the inn, so after dinner we were mere steps from our room. And and and, the rooms! The decor, the detail… all impeccably done.

The whole town is just a vibe. We felt genuinely welcomed by all we encountered. We started picking out our houses and discussing what businesses we could start there (in the running: therapy or taxi service). One of our servers told us that even though she’d gone away for uni, she’d just graduated and came back to West Mersea to make her home. She said, “Why live anywhere else?”

Yep. I get it.

xoxo, Lavinia

Re: the video. I don’t own the rights to the music, which is Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys. None of this is for commercial gain. Photos and video by T and me, unless otherwise indicated.