184. Mersea Island

May 2007

Continuing my theme of visiting all the islands as well as walking the mainland coast, I decided to walk around Mersea Island too. It could be done in one day and I’ve found all the islands I’ve visited so far to be lovely and very interesting.

I drove from home via the M25 and A12 and around the edge of Colchester to reach the causeway over to Mersea Island, known as The Strood. Mersea Island is not a full island but a tidal island, connected by a causeway meaning you can reach the island at low tide without needing a boat. In fact the causeway does not flood at all most days. Generally there is around 1 week a month where the tide comes in high enough to flood the causeway, for up to 90 minutes at a time. I hadn’t bothered to check the tide times, but when I approached the island the causeway was clear and a sign warned not to proceed if the water is above the pavement.

The main settlement on the island is West Mersea, so I headed there and followed the road to the end to reach a car park on Coast Road. I was pleased to find that it was free to park (it isn’t any longer but at least the charge is a fairly reasonable at £3 a day at the time of writing).

From the car park I turned left and followed the road, the aptly named Coast Road. Mersea Island is known for it’s Oysters and sea food and I was soon seeing evidence of this, as I passed two sea food restaurants.

On my right, the map showed “Oyster Pits” and just past these I passed another sea food restaurant and an Oyster bar. It was clear sea food is big here, so it’s rather a shame I don’t like sea food.

Once past this I was now alongside an area of marshland which was dotted with numerous boats, most of which looked to be house boats, connected to the land by wooden jetties over the marshes.

House boats at West Mersea

Soon I come to a short spit of land, not marked on the map but which I suspect once connected Cobmarsh Island with Mersea Island.

The coast at West Mersea

Cobmarsh Island is now a marshy island only around 100 metres from the edge of Mersea Island. I could not find much about the island, but aerial photos showed that the island is all marsh, most of it flooded at high tide. These marshes are dotted by a few abandoned boats with a couple of small areas of sandy beach around the coast. There is not any public access that I am aware of and in any case you’d need your own boat. So I was not able to visit this island.

Onwards along the coast road there was soon a footpath pointing to the right. I checked the map and realised this was a dead-end so didn’t follow it and continued on the road. A later check on Google Earth revealed it actually crosses the marsh, is in quite good condition and would have allowed me to join the beach later, but I didn’t know it from the map at the time.

A couple of hundred metres later though there was another footpath signed off to the right and this time it was a proper footpath that continued right along the coast. So I joined this, crossing the grass at the end of the marsh to reach the beach.

The coast at West Mersea

It was lovely to be on a beach – it is such a long time since I was last on a proper sandy beach (Foulness Island, in fact). The beach was a mixture of sand, shells and shingle and as the tide seemed fairly high it was a bit harder than some to walk on as it was soft underfoot, but I didn’t care as at last I was back by the sea. In the distance, and around 2 miles away, I could see the coast of the Dengie Peninsula near to Bradwell where I had been a couple of months earlier.

Ahead I could see some sort of old concrete structure with some more rocks visible in a line in the edge of the sea. I presume this is some sort of remains from World War II. Behind it I could see the church of West Mersea.

I had to be careful walking on the beach now because there were areas of clay sticky clay appearing along the shore line.

The coast at West Mersea

On reaching the concrete structure it had a round circle on the top suggesting that it was indeed something from World War II – probably a gun was mounted on it.

The coast at West Mersea

I liked the coast here, the houses of West Mersea were separated from the beach by a line of trees and bushes which made it feel more rural than had been suggested from the map.

The coast at West Mersea


Ahead it was feeling more like a resort as I was seeing something else I had not seen in a long time – beach huts!

The coast at West Mersea

Though as it was an overcast day few seemed to be in use, but I liked the differing colours and designs, adding character.

The coast at West Mersea

West Mersea does not seem to be known outside the local area and I suspect it is a popular place for the residents of nearby Colchester to come for some fresh air and relaxation of a weekend.

I did have a few small wooden groynes along the beach to negotiate, but these did not stretch far inland so it was not a major problem, and I preferred to stay on the beach.

Near the end of the beach huts I came to some newer huts. These were all uniform in design but had been painted in differing bright pastel shades which added a bit more colour.

The coast at West Mersea

I suspected these were still in the process of being built because there was a gap in them where a section of beach was fenced off with a digger on the beach behind the fence.

At the far end I could see a section of sea wall with more diggers at work so I hoped my way would not be blocked. Looking on the other side of the estuary I could see another landmark I had not seen for a long while, the hulking remains of Bradwell Nuclear Power station.

Bradwell Nuclear Power Station from Mersea Island

As I approached the area of sea wall on which work was taking place I was able to stick to the beach so I never did find out if the path was closed, as I was not actually on it.

The south coast of Mersea Island

A short distance past this though the tide was far enough in I couldn’t continue on the beach so I headed up the sloping beach to the path, now past the area where work was going on. The path was now a slightly raised bank soon running along the coastal side of a large caravan park.

The south coast of Mersea Island

At the end of the caravan site there was a sandy slipway which I crossed to continue along the beach. Just past this there was low mud cliffs to my left.

The south coast of Mersea Island

The south coast of Mersea Island

These seemed to be eroding quickly and I could see a sign on the edge of the field on the top here with some sort of warning I suspect either about erosion or that the footpath was closed. Just past this there had been some attempts to shore up the coast with wooden piling, areas of rocks and a large shingle bank leading to a sea wall.

The south coast of Mersea Island

Again I was not sure if the footpath was open so I continued on the beach as the tide was now going out and I could see I could get to the end of the sea wall ahead.

At another little slipway ahead the low cliffs soon ended and so I could see inland again where I could see a number of rather odd tents. All the same colour and size, in neat lines, but with no back or front and nothing in them. It was a bit odd and I suspected some sort of scout or guide camp site which was not currently being used.

Old fashioned tents on Mersea Island

At the end of this area I joined the path again which was now along a concrete sea wall alongside an area of marsh on my left, while to my right the beach had gone to be replaced by mud. Ah I was back to the more familiar Essex landscape of mud and marsh!

Sea wall on the south coast of Mersea Island

Marshy coast at Mersea Island

This did not last long and soon I began to have beach again rather than mud on my right. As soon as this started there was another caravan site on my left, so I dropped down onto the beach to avoid it.

The beach however soon became muddy again so I had to return to the proper footpath along the sea wall at the front of the caravan site. Once this ended it was back to sandy beach for a while, so I returned to the beach. This only lasted for a couple of hundred metres where the coast returned to marsh again.

Oddly there are two footpaths here one of which goes on mud banks beyond the high tide line whilst the other turns inland to the road. The beach was too muddy to walk on ahead so I entered another caravan park on the left and walked through this, following the route of neither path, where I could cross a small stream ahead, go around the back of the marshy area and back to the coast.

The beach now was a bit odd, mostly sand but with some muddy “islands” in it.

The coast at Cudmore Grove Country Park, Mersea Island

It was clear that Mersea Island is not quite the open sea, but a sort of transition between a sandy beach and the marsh and mud flats I’ve spent much of the rest of my time in Essex walking alongside.

A warning sign inland warned “Falling cliffs please keep to the beach” so I’m not sure if the footpath marked on the map even exists here. The sign wasn’t lying either since ahead the cliffs got a little higher (they were now perhaps 2 metres high) but were clearly very soft with freshly crumbled clay and earth at the bottom of the cliffs.

The coast at Cudmore Grove Country Park, Mersea Island

The coast at Cudmore Grove Country Park, Mersea Island

I was now in Cudmore Grove Country Park and here some wooden groynes had been erected presumably in an attempt to reduce the seemingly rapid erosion. These didn’t stretch all the way to the back of the beach though (perhaps they did reach the cliffs once) so I was able to get around them without problem.

The cliffs became increasingly high here backed by an area of woodland which seemed to be eroding and falling onto the beach fairly frequently so I kept near to the shoreline here.

The coast at Cudmore Grove Country Park, Mersea Island

The coast at Cudmore Grove Country Park, Mersea Island

There was more concrete remains too, probably more World War II structures now fallen off the cliffs and being slowly destroyed by the sea.

The coast at Cudmore Grove Country Park, Mersea Island

The country park was quite busy now and I soon had to follow a slip way off the beach onto a brief section of sea wall where a sign informed me that various bones of animals have been found in the cliffs which are thought to date back around 300,000 years.

The coast at Cudmore Grove Country Park, Mersea Island

This brought me to another area of beach which was near the eastern end of the island.

The coast at Cudmore Grove Country Park, Mersea Island

Ahead I could see more beach huts but these were not actually part of Mersea Island but were the other side of the River Colne which I was now nearing. This river flows through Colchester and I have to had almost to the centre of this town in order to get around it – but that is for another day.

The beach ahead was backed by marsh but a sign informed me that the way to my left was “Sea Wall Walk” and there was also a foot ferry, so I followed that as it was a good path just behind the marsh.

Near East Mersea

At the far south eastern tip of the island I had reached Mersea Stone where the ferry marked on the map is supposed to run.

Near East Mersea

Here another footpath left the sea wall path I had been following and headed over the shingle beach to the shoreline and the far tip, which I followed.

I didn’t see a ferry here but perhaps the map is either wrong, or I missed it. There was no jetty either so I’m not sure where this ferry is supposed to land. It does seem still to exist so perhaps it was just not running on the day I was here for some reason.

Rounding the corner I was now entering the more usual Essex scenery of mud and marshland which makes up the north shore of Mersea Island, running alongside the Pyefleet channel that separates the island from the mainland.

Near East Mersea

Over the other side of the river Colne I could now see the town of Brightlingsea and Batemans Tower on the sea wall there.

Brightlingsea from Mersea Island

Returning from the path out over Mersea Stone I returned to the sea wall path which was still good and ran along the top of the grassy sea wall. A short distance ahead I reached what I presumed was the end of the country park as there was a sign pointing back to the visitor centre and to the end of the road at East Mersea.

Here there was also a slipway but no sign of any ferry from here either.

Slipway near Mersea Stone

It was an easy walk along the sea wall for around half a mile to reach the Colchester Oyster fishery where there was some sort of pool and sections of the muddy estuary fenced off.

Old Oyster beds near East Mersea

Old Oyster beds near East Mersea

The marsh continued beyond this and about half a mile ahead the path briefly left the sea wall according to the map, to go around a marshy area. However there was a well walked route along the sea wall ahead so I stuck to this missing out a seemingly unnecessary diversion a few hundred metres inland.

I continued now past the marshy area and continued along the sea wall alongside rather featureless flat farm land on my left and the muddy creek of the Pyefleet Channel now more or less completely empty of water.

Mersea Island

After about a mile of walking along this sea wall path I was now reaching another area of marsh. This is unnamed on the map but a wide channel of water cut inland here, which I walked alongside. However as the tide was low there was no water, just mud flats and some odd wooden groynes whose purpose I couldn’t work out.

Marshes on Mersea Island

At the mouth of this I continued along the sea wall for a while, but soon I had a problem. The footpath ahead headed over an area of salt marsh. It is clear there used to be a sea wall here but it had been breached long ago, flooding the land. The path is still marked on the map but it goes over gaps in the sea wall that are now just boggy muddy marshes interspersed with deep water channels. I later read that the sea wall had collapsed some years ago. So there was no way through on the official right of way.

Thankfully although not a right of way a Permissive footpath continued along the newer sea wall – further inland, but at least it avoided a longer diversion inland to the road.

Marshes on Mersea Island

Soon I reached the end of the path at the road and turned right. This was not very pleasant because the road lacked a pavement. However I soon reached the main B1025 road that leads out onto the island which does have a narrow pavement. Sadly this soon gives up too and I’m left in the edge of the road.

This does irritate I mean, why build a pavement that suddenly ends before you’ve reached anywhere, any buildings or junction? The road is very busy, as all traffic on and off the island has to use it. Thankfully I only have to follow the road for around 300 metres until I come to the footpath off to the right. Peace from the traffic at last!

This path follows the sea bank again and soon I stop to take a photo looking back to the causeway, The Strood.

The Strood

Ahead there are the wooden posts that mark a former Oyster bed. Oysters are big business on Mersra Island, I’ve come to realise.

Old Oyster pits near West Mersea

Inland there is a drainage channel and beyond large fields of crops growing.

Fields near West Mersea

As I near West Mersea the channel becomes packed with boats of varying sizes and colours which makes for an attractive scene.

Old Oyster Pits, West Mersea

Strood Channel, West Mersea

Ahead I can now see the buildings of West Mersea and soon I am back at the car park where I parked this morning having completed my walk around the island.

West Mersea

I had enjoyed taking in this circular walk around Mersea Island. It was quite a varied coastline, with areas of sand and mud beaches, low eroding cliffs topped with trees and of course many areas of marshland. It was clear that sea food is an important industry of the island as I passed numerous Oyster beds, sea food stalls and restaurants, even if I did not partake. It was good too that the island seemed to have some sort of path all around it, even if, as I found, it is not quite where you think it should be in places!

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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2 Responses to 184. Mersea Island

  1. Owd Jockey says:

    Hi Jon, Happy New Year. I must congratulate you on building up a comprehensive description of this coastal area, and an area that I suspect most walkers would simply bypass. I understand your frustration re: footpaths/pavements that simply stop in the middle of nowhere. Last year while walking out of Stranraer I encountered a section of footpath that simply stopped.
    Hope to get myself back to Ardnamurchan next week, its been a frustraing couple of months.

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks Alan and a Happy New Year to you as well. Thanks for your kind comments. I found the Essex coast a bit patchy some parts lovely, but a lot of mud and estuary but I’m still glad I did it and look back on it fondly, even if it is not my favourite counties coast line. Hope your next walk from Ardnamurchan goes well and the weather is kind.

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