Tags: Anne, Brompton, Caprilatte, Company Shed, ginger beer, Julian, Mersea Island
Bicycles, an island, ginger beer. Pretty FF, huh? Yesterday I went with my friend Mike, hereinafter referred to as ‘Julian’ (apologies, Mike), to Mersea Island, Essex. We caught the train from London Liverpool Street to Colchester, a journey that takes just under an hour. NB the London to Norwich train is good for bikes as you can put them in the guard’s van rather than awkwardly propping them up in the carriages.
I always thought that Essex was pretty flat but that’s actually not the case. To get onto the Mersea road you have to cycle up a massively steep hill to the centre of the town. I thought of Anne’s dilemma – to cycle painfully and slowly to the top, or to get off and push (Reader, I cycled slowly and painfully to the top). After this the road gently undulates all the way to the sea, with a few long slow hills that keep things interesting and challenging. This was my first long-ish distance ride on the Brompton and I confess that it was pretty hard work. Having wheels the size of jam jar lids means you have to pedal almost constantly and I felt very much like Anne as Julian sped off ahead with minimal pedal revolutions. If I was George I would have sulked.
When we were halfway there we paused for a brief rest and an extremely refreshing ginger beer (Enid definitely got that one right). Sadly this meant we weren’t quite ready for another stop shortly afterwards when we passed Butterfly Lodge Dairy and Farm Shop, home of delicious sounding Caprilatte goat’s milk ice cream. There were several other pretty looking places to stop off along the Mersea Road – the Peldon Rose, a fifteenth century inn complete with duck pond and climbing roses, and just after this, a farmshop advertising local asparagus and Tiptree strawberries. By this time, however, we were determined to reach our destination and kept on cycling.
Mersea is connected to the land by a long causeway called ‘The Strood’. The Strood offers expansive views of the mudflats and surrounding countryside, and the road surface is dotted with clumps of seaweed because at particularly high tides the Strood gets flooded and the island is cut off from the mainland.
Our plan was to head to the Company Shed for lunch – an amazing seafood place where you have to take your own bread and wine – so we made a brief diversion to the Mersea Island Vineyard and picked up a bottle of local sparkling white. The Shed gets very busy at lunchtimes so it is best to get there 40 minutes or so before you want to eat, put your name down for a table and then pop off for a walk or a quick drink in the local hostelry (the staff at the Shed are very lovely and will keep your wine cool in their fridge). You help yourself to glasses and a corkscrew from a shelf in the corner and then choose from an impressive selection of hot and cold seafood. I had some grilled tiger prawns with salt, herbs and garlic mayonnaise and Julian ordered some glorious scallops with bacon and roasted vine tomatoes. We also shared a salad and selection of crevettes, smoked mackerel pate, dressed crab, peeled prawns and smoked cod’s row (the entire bill came to just under £30 – an absolute bargain). A lot of food admittedly, but well-earned after all that cycling, especially with the return journey still to come. The Famous Five’s huge appetites suddenly seemed completely understandable.
Tags: Billy Coke hat, Billycock hat, bowler hat, E McKnight Kauffer, Five Go to Billycock Hill, London Transport posters, Mersea Island, West Mersea, Whitsun
Ah, Whitsun week, a holiday that provides the backdrop for one of my favourite FF adventures, Five Go to Billycock Hill. At the start there is much excitement as the Kirrins set off on bicycles and make for the titular hill, so called because it is shaped like a Billycock (‘Billy Coke’, or bowler) hat. They plan to indulge in a spot of camping and meet up with Julian and Dick’s schoolfriend Toby who lives on Billycock Farm. Luckily for them, it is gloriously hot and a jolly time is had by all – well not quite all as Toby’s airman cousin Jeff is suspected of treachery when both he and an important aeroplane disappear one stormy night. As you can probably guess, everything comes right in the end. Jeff’s name is cleared, the boys are promised a trip in his aeroplane, and a massive celebratory feast is consumed.
The Five are not the only ones to venture away from home at this time of year. A number of London Transport posters from the 1920s and 30s extol the joys of out of town travel at Whitsuntide. This E McKnight Kauffer poster is one of my favourites and dates from 1933. ‘Whitsuntide Holiday Off to the countryside by Bus Coach Train Tram’. Indeed. If you travel from London to East Anglia at the weekends it is certainly quite possible that all four of these methods will be utilised in the course of one journey. Tomorrow I hope to catch a single train and take my bicycle to Colchester. From there it is a mere 10 miles or so to Mersea Island, a place renowned for its oysters, sandy beaches and tendency to get cut off from the mainland at hightide.