Saturday, 15 August 2009

Day 32 - England East Coast - West Mersea - "Sitting on the dock of the bay, wastin' time..."

Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch 'em roll away again, yeah

I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

Otis Redding's famous song "Dock of the Bay" could have been inspired by Mersea. This island is only 70 miles from London, but it might as well be a 1000 miles. If you're looking to get away from the capital, it's a good bet. At 6pm you'll leave your desk job, sober and serious, in suit and tie, fretting over your mortgage, and by 8pm you'll end up amongst osyster farms, boozed fishermen, delapidated fishing boats and a superb sunset- all of which can be seen while sipping an ice-cold beer on the lookout deck at The Victory. And after two beers (or G&Ts), you'll want to move to Mersea to join the fishing fleet.

Although the island sits just offshore from the mainland (connected by a half-mile causeway), in a river estuary, there is a sense of separation that extends beyond the tenuous geographical isolation; the "island way" lifestyle is reassuringly disparate from that in the nearby cities and towns. It might have something to do with the pungent smell of the sandbanks when the tide goes out, or the harbour men who seem to have spent more time on the bottle than on the boat. But it's great, because it's real. After travelling through some brash and ballistic theme-park resort towns on the east coast (as fun as they are - if you're in the mood), Mersea is a dreamy reminder of how fishing villages should be.

And once again, I find people who've moved away from the madness of the cities to the "backwaters". Peter and Gill Tydie at The Victory ditched their corporate jobs in advertising and sales, and spent a "gap" year sailing the canals of France. They figured there was an alternative to an "8 to 6" day in the office, and after a spell at a pub in Hertfordshire, they bought the Victory on the shorefront in West Mersea. I have met plenty of people on my trip who have done very similar things...(are we city folk missing something here?)

The beach at for a full screen version. (Sorry about my shadow!)

Upstairs in the two-storeyed Victory are three decently comfortable rooms, and below is a very good contemporary restaurant (have the tuna steak salad), bar and separate sports pub. Sleep with the porch door open - the rooms look onto the many yachts and fishing boats in the harbour.

There's a good sense of humour in the service too: Peter and Gill are always up for a good chat, and the waiters and waitresses even more so. And the motto of The Victory ("a great place to sink a few") ties in nicely with the menu's battleship theme (starters are "take aim", mains are the "big guns" and desserts are "extra ammo".)

An aside...The HMS Victory was Lord Nelson's flagship which gave the French a wallop at Trafalgar - and is the oldest naval ship still in commission! It sits in a drydock in Plymouth as a museum ship...(looks like a worthwhile visit).

Mersea is famous for oysters, and The Company Shed is the most famous place on the island to eat oysters. Proudly non-chalant and low-brow in its atmosphere, this is the place to come for a fish-feast. But because the Shed is so wonderfully focused on fresh sea-food, you'll have to bring your own bread and drinks!

And coming up soon on the 22nd August is West Mersea's sailing regatta, which has been running every year since 1838...check out more info here.

Some more videos of Edinburgh Tattoo 2009...

Okay, here are some more videos of the 2009 Edinburgh Tattoo! Some are up to 10 minutes long, and you'll need a decent broadband connection to view them. But they're definitely worth a look! My favourite is Swiss Top Secret Drum's brilliant. And The Last Post with The Lone Piper is also very atmospheric. And of course the fireworks are probably one of the main reasons people go to the Tattoo.

If you are going to Edinburgh next year in August, do yourself a favour and go to the Tattoo.

Swiss Top Secret Drum Corp

RAF Massed Bands

Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and Royal Regiment Band of Scotland

Fireworks display, including "God save the Queen" and "Auld Lang Syne"

"Abide with me", The Last Post and The Lone Piper

"Amazing Grace"

Highland Spring Dancers

"Going Home"

She Hou Cultural Act Xi'an from China

Burns Vocal Vignette

Traditional Bag Pipers!!