With such a diverse coastline, from tidal salt marshes and creeks to huge estuaries and sheltered harbours, it’s no surprise that the East of England is renowned for its shellfish. And foodies keen to savour some of the finest cuisine in Britain need look no further than this seven-day seafood lovers’ itinerary.
Located a short drive from Colchester, the estuary island of Mersea is a place of pilgrimage for oyster lovers. Once visitors are across the Strood, the ancient Roman causeway that links the island to the mainland, they’ll immediately feel their worries ebb away and have their appetite whetted by the salty tang of coastal air.
The unassuming Company Shed is the place to head, and the seafood platter the dish to order. Described by food critic Jay Rayner as ‘the star of the show’, the platter can be adapted to visitors’ tastes, with a wide range of fruit de mer to choose from, including whole cooked lobster, shell on prawns and crevettes with garlic mayo. (Please note, the venue is currently operating a takeaway and delivery service only).
Just 100m along the Coast Road is the West Mersea Oyster Bar, where foodies can indulge in some Colchester Native Oysters and a chilled glass of white wine. Located on the shore and fully licensed, the restaurant takes bookings and also has classics such as fish and chips on the menu.
On the east of the island is the Mersea Island Vineyard. The creators of four white wines made from grapes grown locally, it also houses a brewery. If visitors have got a bit more time, they can take a 20-minute sightseeing trip around the bay with Lady Grace Boat Trips. In winter there are fishing expeditions for sea bass, cod and whiting, and there are also special trips to see the wading birds.
Accommodation: Located in the heart of Mersea Island, Lee Wick Farm offers 20 luxurious glamping pods and two self-catering cottages with wheelchair accessible options. Surrounded by glorious island countryside, the accommodation is also just a short drive from historic Brightlingsea and Britain’s oldest recorded town, Colchester.
Located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Orford is a charming villages that is well-known for its 12th century castle built by King Henry II. But it’s the local food offering that is the highlight. Pinneys of Orford have been growing oysters at Butley Creek since the 1950s. Their traditional smokehouse supplies freshly smoked fish every day, with their boats bringing in a variety of local fish too. Visitors can taste their fabulous wares at the Butley Orford Oysterage, a cosy venue serving the finest local fish, or buy from the shop. There’s also great regional food to be found at The Jolly Sailor and the Crown and Castle. Diners seeking sweet treats need look no further than Pump Street Chocolate, while those keen to explore as they dine can enjoy a cruise and meal on the Lady Florence.
Accommodation: Situated on the seafront at Aldeburgh, the luxurious Brudenel Hotel is an excellent base for nights two and three. It offers eight elegant room styles ranging from Single Bedrooms to Superior Deluxe Sea View Bedrooms with sea views (which can also be arranged to sleep families), with facilities including the Seafood & Grill restaurant.
The Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival in September is probably the best of its kind in the East of England, but Aldeburgh itself has plenty of food options all-year-round, not least buying straight from the fishermen’s shacks on the shingle seafront, perched next to the boats. There’s great seafood at The Regatta and The Brudenell, but the star here is Aldeburgh Fish and Chips on the High Street, with queues frequently stretching along the road. Visitors can get their ‘fish suppers’ wrapped in paper and enjoy them al fresco on the seafront or grab a drink from the pub next door and eat them in the beer garden. Afterwards, they can indulge in dessert from Ives Ice Cream Bar or Harris & James.
While they’re here, visitors shouldn’t miss the nearby fantasy village of Thorpeness, built in the 1920s as a recreation of ‘Merrie England’ with mock Tudor houses and a boating mere with Peter Pan’s Neverland at its heart. To find it, they can just head to the House in the Clouds.
Accommodation: Brudenel Hotel, Aldeburgh.
Preserved as a characterful, picture-postcard seaside town, Southwold is the home of Adnams, an award-winning brewer, hotelier and wine merchant. Foodies can tour the brewery or distillery, take in artisanal food on the High Street, or enjoy one of Adnams’ many pubs and restaurants. Options include The Crown, the Swan and The Lord Nelson, where it’s said the best pint of Southwold ale is served.
If they prefer the road less travelled, they can head down to Blackshore Harbour. As they stroll along the rustic track lined with boatyards and marine services, they’ll find some excellent fish shacks and diners, including the Southwold Harbour Café, The Sole Bay Fish Company, Samantha K’s Fresh Fish and Mrs T’s Fish & Chips. Long gone are the days when The Harbour Inn had a chip shop deep fat fryer in the galley and served in newspaper wrapping, but there’s still nothing better than a cod and chips and a pint of foaming Adnams bitter in this traditional old fisherman’s pub.
To walk it off, they could head over the bridge and saunter to quaint Walberswick, which for many years hosted The World Crabbing Championships, and then get the rowing boat ferry back.
Accommodation: The award-winning Swan Hotel is located in the centre of Southwold just a short walk from the seashore and a few steps from Adnams Brewery. Their 11 light and airy bedrooms include twins, doubles and garden doubles, with facilities including the Still Room restaurant, which boasts a seasonal menu filled with local produce.
As an alternative to the artisanal, visitors could take a trip to Great Yarmouth, the east coast’s premier seaside resort! With its Golden Mile of amusements, rides and attractions, it’s a kitsch slice of English seaside tradition. As an alternative to all those oysters and shellfish, they can try freshly-cooked donuts, candyfloss, a 99 ice cream or sticky rock – they can even see it being made at Docwras Rock Factory and Shop on Great Yarmouth’s Regent Street.
Staying with our seafood theme, not to be missed is the award-winning Time & Tide Museum, built in a Victorian curing house when Great Yarmouth was home to a huge herring fleet. In fact, there were so many vessels – 1,163 in 1913 – it’s said that you could walk across the River Yare boat-by-boat. Such was the scale of the fishing operation, on October 23, 1907, fishermen brought in nearly 80 million herring in one day!
Accommodation: The Palm Court Hotel in Great Yarmouth has a heated swimming pool, restaurant and bar and 70+ bedrooms, including wheelchair-accessible rooms on the ground floor. Situated in a Victorian fronted-building on the seafront, the hotel also offers live entertainment during the summer and free Wi-Fi.
Three things to know about Cromer. Firstly, its hinterland has the highest point in the East of England, specifically at Roman Camp. Secondly, it’s home to the last end-of-pier theatre in the world, which has superb variety shows in the summer and at Christmas. Lastly, just offshore is the world’s longest chalk reef! It’s here that the Cromer crabs feed, an environment that ensures they are amongst the tastiest, juiciest crustacean in the country.
Food lovers will find Cromer crab on the menu around the town, or they can buy it dressed from the many fishmongers or from the fishermen’s’ front doors.
Another highlight of Cromer is its fish and chips. Head for the quaint and well-established Mary Janes or try No1 Cromer. Owned by Galton Blackiston (known for the Michelin-starred Morston Hall) No1 Cromer boasts unrivalled views over the beach and pier and award-winning fish and chips to boot! Visitors can eat in or get a take away and head for a bench on the seafront.
Accommodation: With accommodation options include glamping yurts, self-catering cottages and traditional hotel rooms, The Grove Cromer is an elegant accommodation close to the town’s culinary delights. The hotel also offers its own award-winning restaurant, a pool and an on-site Massage Hut.
If visitors are keen to see more, they could explore by car or bicycle (or use the excellent Coasthopper buses). There’s lots of highlights to discover, including Nelson’s birthplace at Burnham Thorpe, Burnham Market, the Palladian Holkham Hall and Holkham Beach, voted best in the country by readers of the BBC Countryfile magazine. Other must-sees include Wells-next-the-Sea, with its 200 higgledy-piggledy, multi-coloured beach huts and Stiffkey, home of the ‘Stewkey Blues’ cockles. Nature lovers should make sure to check out Morston, from where they can take a boat to see the seal colony at Blakeney Point. They could also discover Cley-next-the-Sea, which is home to some of the best birdwatching in the UK.
This stunning stretch of the coast is all tidal creeks and salt marshes, making it the perfect location for mussels and oysters – and a top spot for foodies! The range of options is innumerable. At Brancaster visitors could try the casual Crab Hut by the harbour or get the freshest fish to take away at The Fish Shed. Alternatively, they could cross the road to The White Horse Inn, where they can sit out on the terrace with a seafood selection platter and take in the stunning view of Scolt Head Island National Nature Reserve – a fitting end to their seven-day trip.
Visitors can find more exciting itineraries, tips and regional recommendations at Visit East of England.
Restrictions on travel to and around Britain are in place due to Covid-19. Visitors are encouraged to always check individual websites for the latest information, as details are subject to change.
For more information contact:
VisitBritain Media Teampressandpr@visitbritain.org