Osea Island

Out in the wilds of Essex there’s an island you can drive to – if you can get past the escaped Lion first. The Dabbler sets off to investigate…

That silly season tale of an escaped lion roaming the Clacton suburbs allowed many to indulge in one of those occasional gleeful bouts of Essex bashing. People like to turn their noses up at Essex when offered the chance, even many London dwellers who reside only a short hop away; but if you can look past the new town horrors of Basildon and Harlow and their ilk, this huge county contains some beautifully varied countryside, from the lovely rolling farmland around Saffron Walden over to the melancholy hulk-strewn mudflats of the east coast. A trip out to the wild east will always reward you with surprises, apart from the occasional escaped lion there’s a trove of ancient Viking-proofed churches and lonely creeks to explore.

Maldon is a good base from which to sally forth, and the roman salt town has some charms of its own that are worth sampling – especially a night at The Blue Boar Hotel. For those that enjoy an escape from chain hotel purgatory, there are large and eccentrically decorated rooms that meander off in all directions, filled with paintings of salty sea dogs and dusty hunting trophies. It’s like staying in an antique shop run by Miss Haversham.

Whilst propping up the hotel bar late one summer night, alone in town on business, some rum coves suggested driving to nearby Osea Island. I was initially incredulous but the thought of driving to an island was too good to pass up, and so the next morning I set off to find Osea with nothing but a hangover and a very inaccurate Shell road map to point the way.

Driving a few miles out of town through lanes thick with cow parsley, I eventually spot an unmarked dirt road next to a row of caravans. Seeing no other route anywhere nearby I turn down and creep along in my car through potholes and hot fenny meadowlands until coming to a halt beneath the blank rise of the sea wall. Out of the car and a quick scramble up the slope to see a large warning sign, and a track insinuating itself in great ribbons across the black sucking mud.

Seemingly miles away, floating on the horizon like a mirage, a small flat island huddles with a cluster of houses in the centre. The shallow sea here retreats beyond the horizon, leaving the usually submerged causeway and a huge swath of hidden land exposed and giving you a strong sense of sunken civilizations and the prehistoric inundation of Doggerland. Having no proper idea of the tide times beyond being able to see that it was definitely as low as it could go, I set off at speed along the causeway, fearful of an incoming tide stranding me on the island for 12 hours.

My trip across the mud probably only takes a few minutes but it seems like an awfully long time. I breathe a loud sigh of relief on reaching the island and ascending the ramp to high ground.

A curving sandy track turns into a beautiful sort of lane. The light is diffuse, the trees are covered in lichen and moss. I have a strange feeling that it’s like being in the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard, a beautiful summery place where time has stood still and you can imagine children running wild. There is no sound here save for the buzzing of bees and the warm wind. All there is to see in the 300 or so acres of Osea is this small lane of beautiful Essex houses in that very New England style, with clapperboard and bright white picket fences, surrounded by roses and a few tightly knit trees.

These days Osea island is owned by a record producer, who has turned his new fiefdom into a chi chi holiday resort cum production studio for rich rock stars, but at the turn of the century it was the home of a colony of artists and philosophers. The Manor House at the centre of island has always been a retreat for people looking to escape the pressures of mainland life, especially those suffering addictions – including it is rumoured Walter Sickert, and Amy Winehouse.

At one end of the island is an old concrete pontoon, a relic from the days when this place was called S.S. Osea and served as a base for motor torpedo boats, slipping through the Blackwater on their way to protect convoys in the freezing Baltic.

With my irrational worry of being stranded by a North Sea tsunami I am aware of the need to keep my visit brief. I turn the car around and begin a breathless dash back to the mainland and modern life, fearful of the water rushing in at breakneck speed across the miles and miles of flat mud, not afraid of drowning but of an Englishman’s acute embarrassment at making a scene and having to be rescued.

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About Author Profile: Worm

In between dealing with all things technological in the Dabbler engine room, Worm writes the weekly Wikiworm column every Saturday and our monthly Book Club newsletters.

11 thoughts on “Osea Island

  1. zmkc@ymail.com'
    September 12, 2012 at 13:49

    Lovely article and a revelation – I’ve always liked Maldon but never knew that Osea existed (and fear it doesn’t really and I may be being sucked into some complex practical joke [could, of course, google it, but can’t be bothered – how lazy has one become when one can’t actually be bothered to google something?])

  2. Worm
    September 12, 2012 at 13:52

    I was about to provide a google link for you Z, but then I thought I actually like the idea of leaving it as a potentially imaginary island

  3. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    September 12, 2012 at 14:03

    So well told that we were kissed by fume and spray and had sand in our sneakers, as Larry David so eloquently explains “once you get sand in your sneakers it’s there forever”. Went to Sarfend once. Well who doesn’t.

    Where the lighthouse shines across the bay,
    There’s a cottage kissed by fume and spray,
    Cheerful logs to warm the winter day are blazing.
    List’ning to the breakers on the shore,
    From a tiny cottage thatched with straw,
    Stands a fair-haired lassie at the door star gazing.
    Watching the dark clouds, dreading the gale,
    Counting the days since her lover set sail.
    Where the lighthouse shines across the bay,
    Seagulls on the shore have heard her say:
    “Come home, my love, come home, dear love, come home.”

  4. Worm
    September 12, 2012 at 15:27

    gosh Malty, lovely poem although I assume its not written about Southend? dont think there are many cottages thatched with straw there..
    Despite being only about 10 miles from Sarfend, Osea couldn’t be any more different, thats the great thing about Essex as a county, so many contrasts.

    For anyone interested, someone’s made a video of driving the crossing that really gives you a good feeling for what it’s like!


  5. info@shopcurious.com'
    September 12, 2012 at 22:25

    Blue Boar, Miss Havisham, New England… looks and sounds like one incredibly fascinating place – and journey, but the mere thought of the Essex lion still being on the loose means this is somewhere I couldn’t possibly venture to – at least not without a police escort.

    • Worm
      September 13, 2012 at 09:21

      you should be fine Susan, I think they’ve ascertained it was just a large ginger cat! 😀

  6. tobyash@hotmail.com'
    September 12, 2012 at 22:42

    A lovely post. Every day is a learning day on The Dabbler and today I discovered Osea. They should film an episode of The Only Way Is Essex on it. The shot of the causeway reminded me of the road to Holy Island which is definitely worth a visit if you are ever in Northumberland.

    • Worm
      September 13, 2012 at 09:28

      blimey Toby I think the cast of TOWIE would last about 5 seconds on Osea before getting bored and scuttling back to Brentwood

      regarding Macfarlane’s The Old Ways, the best chapter in the book is about the Broomway which is nearby and also similar and very interesting


  7. zmkc@ymail.com'
    September 13, 2012 at 08:41

    And on Holy Island you must go into the church to see the framed letter from the Bishop of Norway, apologising for the Vikings

  8. Gaw
    September 14, 2012 at 15:12

    I see Maldon and its Blue Boar is only about an hour away from us in London. Sounds like an exploratory trip is called for. Thanks!

  9. lukehoneyfineart@aol.com'
    September 15, 2012 at 12:38

    This week has been full of co-incidences: have just driven down to have a look at Tom Driberg’s old pile which is up for sale on that peninsula (name I have fogotten) just across from Osea. All very close to a nuclear power station. Quite a weird area, remote, bleak, Very Flat. Wife pointed out that it would have been the perfect spot for Mr Driberg to signal to passing Soviet subs- there was a rather splendid observatory on the top of the house.

    Was only looking at the Osea Website a few weeks ago. Dying to stay there.

    Oh, and the by the way, for those Dabblers mocking the existence of roaming wild beasts in England- and the like- don’t, ‘cos I am one of those souls who has seen the Beast of Bodmin. Tried to take a shot- but by the time I had thumbled around trying to take a snap, the critter had lolloped off. I’m sane- I think.

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