Mersea Island, Essex
After a night of insomnia I finally got up at 3.45am yesterday. The weather forecast was for rain and thunderstorms all day but I decided, on the spur of the moment, to take Jesamine and Molly to Mersea Island – just 40 minutes away.
Now, I have spent a lifetime planning and I’m gradually learning to let go and just go with the moment. Thankfully I haven’t completely forgotten my Girl Guide moto of ‘Be Prepared’ and Jesamine is loaded with supplies, so the thought of a cuppa by the sea in the rain (with nothing to do but get in and drive) was most appealing.
Visiting Mersea Island is always exciting. The journey takes you through little villages where the road sometimes dwindles to one lane. Chocolate-box cottages line the lanes and straw bales lay in fields. The road meanders through Tollesbury (known as the village of ‘plough and sail’; and a filming location for Great Expectations and Liar), through Goldhanger (you remember Jeremy Bamber and the White House Farm murders? – I always give a little shiver as I drive through), Great Wigborough (where I volunteer at Essex Wildlife Trust‘s headquarters).
Mersea Island sits in a creek as it opens out to the sea, and is connected to the mainland by a low bridge, called The Strood. It often floods at high tide, completely cutting off the island. Somehow, that sounds rather magical and Agatha Christie-esque!
I’ve only visited the island by car before, and never this early in the morning. No parking is allowed by the waterfront and the car parks I usually use had locked gates, or a barrier that poor Jesamine couldn’t limbo under. It felt rude to park outside someone’s house on a double-yellow line, so I drove around and around – there was nowhere. No room at the inn to put the kettle on and let Molly stretch her legs.
Then I remembered an App I’ve got for my phone called park4night which shows places where campervans and motorhomes can park. Ha-ha! There was one spot that had four parking spaces. It was a long-shot, but…success! It was just a five-minute walk to the sea, and so worth it.
The sky was misty and heavy. Oyster shells crunched underfoot. The tide was out and sailing boats sat listlessly in the calm water. I stood where the foot-ferry usually waits to take passengers across the water to Point Clear and Brightlingsea. I’m not sure if I was too early or if they’re not running at the moment but it wasn’t there. On the opposite side of the creek, the pretty beach huts of Brightlingsea lined the shore, their seaside colours muted by the mist.
Campervan James, as he’s saved in my phone – the lovely man at Keen Kampers, Oxon who partnered me with Jesamine – has kept in touch. He gently pushes me on and encourages me to embrace life with a campervan. He shares playlists and tips, and suggests things that seem to be way out of my comfort zone and yet makes me think I might give it a go (wild camping, traveling through France and Switzerland). I’ve joined a Facebook group called Connecting Campers: Solo adventures for women around 50+ (give or take a decade) and I’m in awe of the journeys some of these women make. I’m amazed by the friendliness of the campervan community and I hope, when I really hit the road next year, that I’ll meet up with some of these inspiring people.
It didn’t rain yesterday. And I had my cuppa in a tiny car park looking out at a footpath and hedgerows. I hadn’t planned the trip, and it didn’t end up quite how I’d thought but it forced me to visit a part of the island I haven’t been to before. This is what it’s all about isn’t it, this not planning? Grabbing what life throws at me and finding my own path. I’m not going to lie, it’s lonely and scary having only myself to rely on. The old me would’ve seen yesterday as a failure – unable to get into a car park, I probably would’ve just driven straight home. The new me sees yesterday as a success (a small one – I didn’t climb a mountain, or anything) but it’s giving me the confidence to make longer journeys next year. And I drove home happy and thankful.