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Three days glamping in Essex

Essex might not be the wildest part of the UK, but it hides an enormous amount to see, do and eat in its waterways and wetlands. Here’s our suggestion for a few days of great glamping, revolving mainly around swimming and seafood, unsurprisingly. We've based this itinerary in the Mersea Island and made the assumption that you’re coming from London, although it’s easily adapted regardless of where you call home.

Friday night

If you stocked up with food on the way out of town or have time to get somewhere like The Deli on Mersea island, then you might well stay in and cook for yourselves, especially if you picked up one of the ready meals The Deli's team lovingly prepare from local ingredients. If you prefer to eat out, then you could do a lot worse than The Coast Inn, which has a spectacular terrace with a view of the water and an ever-changing menu of fresh local produce turned into pub classics. Watch the sunset rippling on the waves before you head home and turn in.

Saturday morning

Jump out of bed early and... only joking, take your time and ease yourself into the day before you venture out for a stroll. If you’re having a really slow start, overshoot the nature reserve and head for The Loft, a modern tearoom sitting right on the wall of the marina in Tollesbury, which opens 11-3 Thursday to Sunday. Fuel up on coffee and bagels surrounded by the carillon of the rigging, then get ready for a not-too-challenging hike. A pleasant route south from Tollesbury carries you south along the banks of the Blackwater, but the loop to the north-east of the village that circles round Tolesbury Wick Marshes will fit more easily into your day. A couple of hours will see you back where you started, having tramped a level path through salt flats bursting with birdlife and pocked with the hoofprints of wild horses. You'll get wonderful views of Mersea Island and the iconic red lightship, permanently moored there since its retirement in 1988.

Saturday evening

Spend the afternoon ambling around Tollesbury or moving slowly back over to Mersea Island before you work out your evening plans. You might fancy finding a pub and settling into a corner for a few pints and if so, you won't have to look far, but why not do something a bit different for dinner? Kayak paddle parties, run by East of England Paddlesports, include two hours of splashing around on the water and can involve pizza waiting for you when you get back to land. If you time it right (and they're pretty flexible) you might get an even better view of that silky sunlight as it glows on your oar blades. If you don't go for homecoming pizza, then take the time to idle along the Mersea waterfront, sniffing among the impressive trawl of seafood places and seeing what you fancy.

Sunday morning

You might wake and ache after the evening’s exertions, so this could be another lazy morning before you make your way back to the city. Alternatively, get a little hair of the dog by throwing yourself into Mersea Boating Lake, a hugely popular open water swimming spot since it threw open its doors in 2020. It’s £5 for a day pass at time of writing and a safer, if less wild choice than the various watercourses of the estuary, which are more dangerous than they look. If you’re happy to delay getting home a bit longer, then reward yourself for braving the water with a Sunday lunch at one of the many pubs that lie temptingly along the road back to London. The Hoop in Stock is a foodie favourite, as is The Fox & Goose, just outside Chelmsford. Either will serve you up a Sunday lunch that’ll have you napping blissfully the moment you get home.