Living on Mersea Island:this estuary enclave near Colchester in Essex is perfect - as long as you don't have to commute

This unusual enclave - where fishermen and City workers rub shoulders on an estuary island near Colchester in Essex – is an ideal spot for home workers who don’t have to commute too often.

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Few commutes involve leaving mainland Britain but the 7,000 or so people who live on Mersea Island must cross a Roman causeway to reach their homes — and enter what feels like a different world.

This estuary island of eight square miles, south-east of Colchester in Essex, has been a holiday destination for the Roman middle classes, a refuge for monks and a haven for 16th-century smugglers. Today it is a most unusual enclave, where fishermen and financiers rub shoulders.

Commuting into London from the island is neither swift nor cheap, so it is an ideal spot for home workers who only have to make a reluctant trip the capital once or twice a week.

Diane Argent, director of Game Estate Agents, says: “We’ve got beaches all around, but we don’t have any arcades. It is unspoiled. You don’t have to drive anywhere once you are on the island, and it has all you need.”

In summer, the Mersea Island lifestyle revolves around messing about on a beach, windsurfing, kayaking, or sailing with the island yacht club. Mersea — pronounced “Mersey” like the river — is popular with tourists, which means it can sustain a good range of seafood restaurants such as The Company Shed, which sells fresh shellfish and lets you bring your own booze, and the West Mersea Oyster Bar. Or if you just fancy a coffee and a chunk of homemade cake there is The Artcafé.

Immerse yourself in island life: West Mersea Yacht Club organises the popular annual regatta


Community spirit is strong with over 100 clubs and groups to join, catering for film fans, dancing, photography, sports, or, via a supper club, you can get to know the neighbours. May sees the annual Mersea Island Food, Drink & Leisure Festival, a feast of local oysters and wine.

A major issue for parents is education. Mersea Island School, the island primary, was downgraded in its most recent Ofsted report from good to “requires improvement” and senior children have to bus it to Colchester or Tiptree.

May’s the month: Mersea’s Food, Drink & Leisure Festival

Reaching the island involves a 46-minute train journey from Liverpool Street to Colchester, and an annual season ticket costs £5,988. Mersea is eight miles from Colchester, which means a further 15-minute drive or a 40-minute bus ride. Parking at Colchester station costs £32.10 a week.

The island is split into two districts. East Mersea offers big, detached homes with open countryside views. Prices start at about £450,000 for a three-bedroom detached post-war house in half an acre of garden. For £600,000 you could get a four-bedroom detached Victorian house, while at the very top end, £950,000 to £1 million would buy a five-bedroom detached period house with a couple of acres.

A feast: Mersea Island Gold beer and oysters harvested from local waters


By comparison the “raging metropolis” of West Mersea, four miles away, has a high street of shops, the main beach, cafés, restaurants, and plenty of pubs.

Zavek Orrin, director of Blackwater Estates, says: “It is a very friendly place with a real cross-section of people. You have got fishermen who have been here all their lives, farmers, and commodity brokers who go off to London.”

Houses in West Mersea range from 12th-century timber-framed cottages to Victorian and Edwardian terraces, Thirties houses and a smattering of new build. A modern house with three bedrooms would cost from £260,000 to £280,000, while a four-bedroom Victorian semi would cost between £320,000 and £375,000. 

For about £600,000 you could buy a large four-bedroom, detached Thirties house a few minutes’ walk from the beach.


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