Places to stay: The White Hart, Mersea Island

    Creidt: Lilla Szanto

    This revived historic Essex pub with rooms on England’s most easterly inhabited isle has quickly established itself as the hub of the community

     Sandwiched between the estuaries of the Blackwater and Colne rivers, Mersea Island is what you might call an occasional island – cut off from mainland Essex only at high spring tide and at all other times accessible by a causeway.

    Credit: Lilla Szanto

    It’s not a huge place and yet it has developed its own unique identity, shaped unsurprisingly by its deep-rooted fishing community.

    East Mersea, little more than a hamlet, is the quieter side of the island, but even the comparatively bustling village of West Mersea and its surrounds is far from built up.

    It’s a place where time seems to drift lazily on the sea breeze. A beach-walk can be broken up with a stop at one the oyster sheds set back from the beach – oysters have been harvested from these waters since Roman times – and locals and visitors alike seem to think nothing of laying a blanket on the sand between the upturned boats and watching the sailing boats bobbing on the water as the sun slowly sinks over the horizon.

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    Credit: Lilla Szanto

    Boardwalks weave between the sand and reeds, jetties are utilised for crabbing, and there are endless skies to gaze upon – Mersea Island seems a place with designed with slow-paced living in mind.

     For post-beach meals, the newly revived White Hart Inn, a 15th-century pub that stands opposite West Mersea’s village church, is the place to be. The pub is the latest venture of Piers Baker, the man who has been lauded for his revival of both The Sun Inn in Dedham, and Colchester’s Church Street Tavern.

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    The White Hart Inn exterior. Credit: Oliver Suckling – CliQQ Studios

    For decades this village pub lay derelict but following Baker’s intervention, which included a huge refurbishment project to bring the building up to 21st-century standards, in spring 2022 the White Hart reopened as a pub with rooms.

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    The Cobmarsh Room. Credit: Oliver Suckling – CliQQ Studios

    There are six comfortable rooms designed in a seaside chic style, with fun splashes of colour, local artworks on the wall and super-king beds with Egyptian cotton linen – The White Hart is so confident in the comfort of its beds it even offers direct bed sales – and luxury bathrooms with walk-in showers and soft, fluffy towels.

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    The bathroom in the Strood bathroom. Credit: Oliver Suckling – CliQQ Studios

    Like Baker’s other properties, however, food is of the essence and with a kitchen run by Eliot Craven, who’s worked with Baker for years, you can expect good things.

    This writer is allergic to oysters so had to steer clear of the local delicacy and opt for grilled mackerel to start instead. Large fingers of the fresh fish were served with some creamy homemade taramasalata, a delightful little salad with shavings of radish, with a drizzle of dill dressing. It was honestly one of the best starters I’ve ever had.

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    Our writer’s starter

    For main I opted for pork chops from Dingley Dell Farm in nearby Suffolk, which were beautifully succulent, and a pot of tartiflette potato gratin alongside my seasonal vegetables.

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    Our writer’s main course

    The White Hart Inn’s menu changes seasonally and draws on produce found locally, with seafood and oysters a mainstay, as well as island-grown fruit and vegetables. Slow-grown and rare-breed meat from farms throughout East Anglia speak of quality and there are also lots of locally brewed ales from the likes of Adnams and Crouch Vale, plus English wine, to wash it all down with.

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    Seafood is the White Hart’s speciality. Credit: Oliver Suckling – CliQQ Studios

    For guests who stay the night, you can look forward to a full cooked breakfast in the morning, with much of the produce sourced from local farms. A true taste of east England indeed.

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