My 3rd trip down to estuary Essex in as many months was to pick up a new electric guitar for my son, who has acquired musical proficiency faster than he’s acquired musical taste, judging by the stream of Sabbath coming through the wall. At least he has an interest.
Brightlingsea is an attractive riverside town isolated from Colchester and the world by Beeching and a single road in and out. Like nearby Wivenhoe, it has had some stop-start housing development in the last decade but retains its attractive medieval features, as well as some superb views over the creek.
The High Street is one of the most attractive in Essex, particularly as it becomes Broad Green, home to one of the town’s two small breweries. This being 2016, the Beer Guide listed Railway Tavern is closed till late afternoon, but I can confirm it’s as traditional a coastal town pub as you could want.
Despite the great coastal walk and ancient houses, Brightlingsea is no Southwold, and some very mixed housing, basic pubs, street art, and some cheapish cafes, make this feel like a real place.
On the way back I stopped at the Swan, one of three good-looking pubs in Stratford St Mary in what is lazily called Constable country, or at least Babergh Council would call it that. This comprises a handful of villages around the Stour, most notably Dedham and Flatford.
It’s just off the A12 between Ipswich and Colchester that you whizz through in a couple of minutes, and I’ve always preferred the scenery of the Shotley peninsula.
But this Stratford has some wonderful old buildings, and it’s worth a stroll along the fast-flowing Stour. I had a rather average Adnams with Mrs RM here recently, but we were taken with the pub, and it was the surprising row of keg fonts I noticed then that prompted a repeat visit.
Externally it’s not even the best of the three village pubs; inside every room is a gem, though only the public doesn’t feel prepared for diners. The beer range was pretty much perfect – Tally Ho, Schenkerla Urbock, Yeastie Boys, Beavertown the stand-outs. I couldn’t resist a half of the Urbock though, normally only seen here in bottles.
I won’t say I felt guilty not eating, and the young owner (?) was happy to talk beer and pubs intelligently, but pubs like these do need the food trade to maintain beer ranges like these.