You don’t often find the seaside like it used to be. And I’m not talking knotted hankies, Larkin or Margate. More like the world of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes. Estuarine mud flats where fishing is the lifeline and where livelihoods are governed by tides and currents. Here the uric smell of seaweed and mud lime mingle in the nose and on these spring days the sun cuts through the cold of winter, larks rise above the furze, burbling their welcome to warmer days.
Of course, Essex has a bad name. Unfairly really. For some of the most important moments of history were enacted on its muddy, shale shores. Romans, Gaels, Angles, Normans and Royalists battled on this front line of England. And today outside the conurbations of 60s modernity and aspirational shopping malls, parts of Essex have a pleasing restraint. Nowhere more so than Mersea Island. Linked to the mainland by an ancient Roman causeway, it feels other worldly. It feels as if here exist some lives unchanged for centuries.
Needing clear air, I make an annual pilgrimage here with my sister. No more encouragement needed than the promise of lunch at The Company Shed.
If you love seafood and no fuss, it’s worth taking any form of transport to get here, they muster from miles around. It’s just a weather board shack on the shore by the boats and the oyster beds.
I think of oysters as more ritual than food. Something you do for the sheer pleasure. Slippery, salt jellies nestled in mother of pearl. Teeth against lime and a fishy, lemony swallow. Outer and inner in one glorious gulp. Consecrated with bread and wine. This is indeed a eucharistic feast. With just a dash of Tabasco. The holy and profane, incorporate.
All the frills here are reserved for the tastebuds and there are many to sample here. Gorge on razor clams, scallops, lobster and crab. All prepared simply, never letting the flavours ebb far from the sea.
That’s it. And when you have licked the last drip of mayonnaise from your fingers and paid the bill, there is a spring walk to be had. What could renew more fully than ambling along the shores where the plaintive curlew pipes her call, digesting lunch on the fringe of the salt marshes in the raucous company of terns?
Sunny days sail in the sky and the wintry mood finally lifts.
The Company Shed 129 Coast Road, West Mersea, Essex. Tel 01206 382700. No reservations. Bring your own wine and bread.