Friday 27 August 2010

The Packing Shed

Gazing at the sunset this evening, as the children and I ate our picnic supper sitting on our upturned dinghy on the beach, reminded me that Mersea's famous Packing Shed  (on the left in the photo above) is currently celebrating the 20th anniversary of its restoration.

There will be a Packing Shed Open Day this coming Sunday, starting at 2pm, with motor launches leaving the hammerhead at regular intervals through the afternoon, to transport visitors to and from Packing Shed Island. Ferry tickets are £3 (adults), £1 (children), and the price includes a cream tea in the Shed, freedom to stroll around the island, with its abundant wildlife and lovely views of West Mersea, and the opportunity to learn a bit about the history of the Shed from members of the Packing Shed Trust.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Mersea's oyster industry was burgeoning. 'Mersea Natives' were transported by Thames sailing barge to Billingsgate Market in London and many thousands more were exported to the Continent. Cleaning and sorting oysters by size became an important part of the preparation process for export and sale. The first Packing Shed was built around 1890 by the Tollesbury and Mersea Native Oyster Fishing Company. Soon, more than 60 fishermen were working in and around the Shed, grading and packing their catch.

However, after a few years in operation, the original shed was completely destroyed in a storm. A replacement was built in 1897 and that Shed was used almost continuously until the late 1950s, when the industry collapsed as a result of the first post-war oyster disease. A second, smaller, shed was built in 1920 but that, too, was destroyed in gales and floods.  After the 1950s, the original Shed was used occasionally for the storage of fishing gear, but was eventually abandoned and left to rot.

After the ravages of the great storm of 1987, all that remained was a bare skeleton - picturesque and beloved of artists, but liable to total collapse at any moment. It was at this point that a group of volunteers decided that the building had to be restored, once and for all, or it would disappear into the sea and be lost forever.  Today, thanks to the dedication of the current Trust and other volunteers, and funded entirely by public donations, the Shed is not only an important historical landmark, but is also available for hire as a venue for parties, dinners, and even wedding receptions for the more adventurous bride and groom.

You can read all about the restoration - and lots more besides - on the Packing Shed website

Unfortunately, the Shed now faces another threat - erosion. The island on which it sits is being gradually eaten away by the sea, so a huge amount of money has been raised to replace the original shells and sand with granite ballast. The first wave of reinforcement has proved successful but the process is going to have to be continuous if the Shed is to survive, so fund-raising remains a priority.

The Packing Shed is featured in the 'save our seaside' pages of this month's Coast magazine.


Tuesday 24 August 2010

Congratulations . . .

. . . to Olivia on the most fantastic set of GCSE results! We are all sooooooooooooooo proud and delighted.

An impromptu evening in Heybridge

On a beautiful evening after a long day's work, we drove over to Copsey's incomparable chip shop in Heybridge, and sat on a bench overlooking Heybridge Basin to eat our superbly battered haddock and perfect chips (with mushy peas, naturally) while watching the sun go down. It was observed, simultaneously, that, had we taken time off for a few days'  'real' holiday somewhere in the UK, we'd probably just be sitting on a bench watching the sun go down over water, eating fish and chips anyway. At such moments it becomes clear that, when one lives in such a beautiful part of the world, there's often little point in bothering to go anywhere else!

We'd intended to repair briefly to the Old Ship after supper, but, following a chance encounter, ended the evening sharing a glass or two of wine aboard a beautiful 40ft yacht in the Lock , with a couple who had returned days earlier from a year's sailing trip to the Caribbean with their two young children. What an enviable adventure.

Daytrip to Ireland

On the spur of the moment, some months ago, while investigating the price of a single return flight to Belfast for business purposes, it was realised that, at the press of a button, the younger Doyles could come along too for a quite ridiculously low cost. Despite bearing an unmistakably Hibernian surname, the younger Doyles had never visited either the Northern or the Republic portion of the Emerald Isle. So here was a great chance to take them on a surprise day-trip.

We got up early, drove to Stansted, flew into Belfast, investigated Dungannon for an hour or so, lunched splendidly in a gloomy but friendly pub, then drove west and over the border to Sligo. It was a lovely day. I took precisely three photographs. And while the whole enterprise might appear somewhat disastrous on the Carbon Footprint front, please bear in mind, before consigning me to Carbon Hell, that, with a combined age of 38 years, the younger Doyles had never flown in their lives before!

On the return flight, IM watched in wonder as the sun set slowly over layers of fluffy pink cloud, and then the first twinkly lights appeared far below. Nose pressed to window for the entire hour's journey. Magical.

Monday 23 August 2010

West Mersea Town Regatta 2010

The West Mersea Town Regatta  has been running since 1838 and forms a wonderfully festive end to Mersea Week .  This year, as always, there were sailing races in the morning for smacks, yachts, dinghies and open fishermen's boats, with up to 150 boats taking part, so it was quite a spectacle.
I didn't go out sailing that day - I had relatives arriving during the morning and the races start very early - but the TM and crew, Richard and John, put up a magnificent show in Black Diamond, winning the Fast Classics race with style.  Sailing photos below are by Leafy, who was out with her camera, racing on her family's beautiful boat, Ivy Green.

Once the racing crews were ashore, it was time for the immensely popular water sports  - an entertaining range of fun rowing races for all ages as well as the famous 'greasy pole' competition.

In previous years there has always been a bit of a lull immediately after the watersports, when people tend to drift off home, but this time there was a new event, 'Song & Dance' - brainchild of Regatta Commodore Chrissie Westgate - to keep the waterfront buzzing. Two and a half hours of shanty singing, ceilidh dancing and live bands, with hot and cold food and a bar.

It was all great fun, very family-friendly, and well worth all the hard work before, during and afterwards. There were real live eighteenth-century Pirates on parade and joining in the dancing, too!  After the day's prizegiving ceremony, the Regatta ended in the usual way with the magnificent Grand Firework Display, which half the island (or so it seemed) turned out to enjoy.

(The images on the poster I put together to publicise the Song & Dance (below), are by island artist and doyen of the greasy-pole, Leafy Dumas, whose lovely website and blog you can find here.)

These are a few representative pictures. Lots more can be found on the Town Regatta website and on the Mersea Session blog.