Follow Anna Fox’s life on Mersea Island, where she moved suddenly 14 months ago. Island life for Fox isn’t always simple, and she shares the obstacles, adventures and joy she has experienced in this time.
“Where are you from?” A simple question that is so often thrown around in introductory conversation, and that when pondered upon can have more than one interpretation. Mersea Island has been home for 14 months, departing from the City of Cambridge, where we spent the previous seven years, working, studying, and immersing ourselves in the rich culture and history that enrobed the city. Intrigue and fascination often diverge precursory conversation, with customary small talk blatantly side-lined by the obligatory remark; “you live on an island?”.
Flanked by notorious mudflats and sandbanks, Mersea Island is located nine miles south of the historic market town of Colchester. Priding itself as the most easterly inhabited and publicly accessible island in the United Kingdom, Mersea is connected to the mainland by the Strood causeway.
Hails of madness were exclaimed upon the discovery that we were to move to an island, family and friends sighed in disbelief that they were to plan their journey around the tide, “How absurd.” Despite farcical claims, the Strood causeway only usually floods twice a day for only one week during the month and will only cover the road if the tide is above 4.8m. During the summer months, many of our family and friends ventured to the island, ringing up to twelve times to ensure that they were not about to be featured on an episode of Saving Lives at Sea when crossing the Strood. Tide timetables are scattered around the house, often used as a reference before a trip to the “Big Tesco” (we do have a Tesco express on the island!). However, to much amusement during high tide (above 4.8m), when cars are advised not to cross the Strood, my family and I collectively pile onto Strood Cam, a wonderful website providing a live stream to the road, where we watch brazen drivers boldly face the flooded causeway, anticipating who will cross and whose engine will give way to a cocktail of seawater and seaweed.
Island life encompasses much more than a road ruled by the tide. Spanning seven miles long, the island is separated into East and West Mersea. Up East, as inhabitants will gesture with a complimentary finger point, is comprised of vast farmland, which is studded with attractions such as Cudmore Grove Country park, Mersea Barns and Mersea Vineyard. If you’ve heard of Mersea Island, and you live outside of Essex, you have either; tucked into a Mersea native oyster, visited Jamie Oliver’s favoured island eatery, The Company Shed, or your Instagram feed has been adorned with images of an influencer perched on the famed pastel-coloured beach huts, all of which are located in West Mersea. Boasting two yacht clubs, numerous pubs and eateries, souvenir outlets, and two fish and chip shops, West Mersea is undoubtedly the social heart of the island.
Community is the lifeblood that fuels the island, with volunteering second nature to many locals. Islanders are frequently witnessed abandoning their current tasks to respond to RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) call outs or medical emergencies. When the tide covers the Strood, emergency services are unable to cross, leaving the team of 15 voluntary medically trained first responders to stabilize the casualty before their arrival.
Upon returning home from university, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, I applied to be a community COVID volunteer, delivering shopping and prescriptions to the elderly and those shielding. Eleven months after accepting the position, I am an active volunteer, frequenting Lidl, ASDA, and Boots regularly to shop for two elderly couples. Island life has taught me the significance of selflessness. Propped up by comradery and convivial community, Mersea Island is teaming with quintessential charm.