The White Hart Inn, Mersea Island

mersea island
Sailing boats at Mersea Island. Credit: Lilla Szanto

Our writer visits Mersea Island in Essex for a stay at the wonderfully cosy White Hart Inn

Words by Kate Lott

Twice a day, Essex’s Mersea Island experiences a high tide which can flood the only road linking it with the UK mainland. After a memorable overnight trip to Mersea, I was rather hoping a flooded causeway might force me to prolong my stay for a few more hours. 

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

No such luck. I hadn’t heard of Mersea Island before visiting the White Hart Inn, a recently renovated pub with rooms in the village of West Mersea. It’s probably fair to say that the island with a population of 7,000 people – which lays claim to being the most easterly inhabited island in the UK – flies somewhat under the radar when it comes to Essex coastal tourism. Those looking for a weekend getaway from London are more likely to head to the kiss-me-quick favourites of Southend, Clacton or Leigh (all -on-Sea), or venture up the coast to Aldeburgh or Southwold in Suffolk.

Mersea Island is altogether calmer and quieter than its coastal cousins, and you get the impression that’s just the way the locals like it.

Mersea Island
Sunset on Mersea Island

On arrival we were shown to our room in the eaves of the Inn, passing a number of eye-catching paintings and sculptures on the way (created by local artists, on sale to guests).

The White Hart Inn is the third venture by Piers Baker, a former London pub manager who ventured to Essex in the early noughties to set up The Sun Inn in Dedham (2003) and then the Church Street Tavern in Colchester (2014).

Little Ditch Bedroom. Credit: Oliver Suckling – CliQQ Studios

Baker clearly knows his stuff when it comes to mixing comfortable accommodation with tasty gastronomic fare. The White Hart’s six rooms are all painted in Farrow & Ball hues, have super king beds, soft cushions and blankets: relaxed, yet refined.

It’s clear little expense was spared in the renovation of the Inn. From parquet flooring to plush sofas, Baker and his team did a wonderful job turning a derelict building into a place you want to spend plenty of time in. The bedrooms, with views of the sea or village green, have well-appointed bathrooms – large showers, bespoke tiling, Bramley products and soft dressing gowns. (A minor watch-out for those looking to soak weary bones after a brisk beach walk: none of the bedrooms has a bath.)

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Cocum Hills Bedroom. Credit: Oliver Suckling – CliQQ Studios

Downstairs, guests can pick from a variety of spaces to unwind in. The snug area, with its velvet armchairs and low-level lighting, is perfect for an early-evening aperitif. The bar area welcomes locals and out-of-towners with a pleasingly large selection of wines, beers and spirits. We enjoyed sampling some fizz from the Digby Estate (West Sussex) and beers from the Burnt Mill Brewery (Suffolk).

The main dining space, painted in bottle green and cosily lit in the evening, has a wonderful ambience – soft lighting, quiet background music and smiley staff.

the white hart inn
The main restaurant

In the kitchen, Ed Campbell oversees a talented crew of chefs, delivering dish after dish of locally sourced, expertly cooked food. The small, seasonal menu reflects their confidence in producing only the best, freshest dishes. 

We started dinner with beetroot tartare and parsnip soup, followed by celeriac wellington with truffle and mushroom. The menu also features locally caught fish such as salt baked cod and rock oysters, plus an array of moreish meat dishes – from pheasant pie to pork ribeye.

the white hart inn
Asparagus fitters with pea ailoi at The White Hart Inn

Breakfast was another treat. Guests can select from a menu including mackerel and scrambled eggs, avocado on sourdough, Suffolk sausages and more.

As for Mersea Island itself, the rugged shingle beaches and barren coastal paths are just the ticket to shake off the big-city grind. You can walk round the entirety of the island when the tide is low, a distance of some 13 miles. Guests of the White Hart can also venture out on bikes supplied by the Inn.

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A beach path on Mersea Island. Credit: Lilla Szanto

For those more in need of laid-back R&R, there are several welcoming cafes to while away the time in West Mersea. It’s the west where most locals and tourists gravitate towards, with its independent shops, supermarkets and pubs, plus the yacht club and harbour.

There’s a small-yet-proud Mersea Museum (re-opening in May 2024) housing historical artefacts from the island’s heritage as a fishing hotspot. And down on West Mersea beach you’ll find an Instagram-worthy row of pastel-coloured beach huts.

Mersea Island, and the White Hart Inn, are definitely worth a weekend of your time. Just make sure you check the tide times before setting off…

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