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The magic of Mersea Island

The tiny estuary island of Mersea is a place of pilgrimage for seafood fans and families who love its old-world charms. But, as Essex girl Joanne O’Connor discovers, it’s even better when the day trippers go home

If you’ve heard of Mersea and you’re not from Essex, the chances are it’s because of the Company Shed. Until it was discovered by restaurant critics seven or eight years ago, this unassuming seafood shack, on the shores of a muddy creek, was something of an insider’s secret. For the natives of east London and Essex who converged on this small estuary island at the weekend, it was a place of pilgrimage where they would eat their own bodyweight in oysters, rollmops and prawns, then high-tail it back across the Strood – the ancient Roman causeway that links Mersea to the mainland – before sunset.

I grew up in Essex and the seafood run to Mersea is a well-established family ritual. But like most of the day trippers who visit, I’ve never ventured much beyond the harbour in West Mersea where the yacht club, lifeboat station and a handful of cafés and pubs are clustered. I suspected Mersea had more to offer than half-a-dozen Colchester Natives and a glass of white wine, but it seemed too close to home to justify a longer stay.

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England’s forests: a brief history of trees

We had lots of trees, then came selfish kings and war. But now our forests are resurgent again

Not only did William the Conqueror have the nerve to, well, conquer, he also nicked our woods. England had always been a paradise for trees, covered from the end of the last ice age in increasingly dense forests of oak, hazel and birch, with some pine. When early islanders began farming, the tree cover slowly began to give way to pasture and cultivated land, but under Anglo-Saxon kings, the forests still belonged to the landowners and their subjects.

William, however, introduced “Forest Law”, which claimed the woodlands as the hunting grounds of kings. Anyone stealing or killing a deer or boar would be in a whole heap of trouble: by the end of Richard the Lionheart’s reign in 1198, that punishment was mutilation, including the removal of your eyes and other unmentionable parts.

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