Entrancing talk captures the magic of the Essex coast (and of oysters)
Head for West Mersea for the finest oysters! Although we can’t really give you the name of the purveyor, a little research should do the job easily enough.
This was one of the hottest tips we learnt during Roger Tabor’s delightful talk Oysters, Brightlingsea, Cinque Ports & Colchester!, presented via Zoom on Wednesday last week (March 3).
Roger, perhaps best known as a co-presenter of the much-missed TV show Animal Magic, is also a biologist, naturalist, behaviourist and award-winning author – and former Deputy of the Cinque Port Liberty of Brightlingsea.
As might be expected of a man whose family can trace its history in the town through nine generations of oystermen over 400 years, a love of Brightlingsea shone throughout and we were given a flavour of the tradition of this, the only Cinque Port north of the Thames.
Dismissed a little ungenerously by Wikipedia as now “largely a dormitory town for Colchester”, Brightlingsea – a Limb of Sandwich in the Cinque Ports Confereration – has a history that would put many larger towns to shame.
We learnt, for example, that the Cinque Ports in their heyday essentially acted as the Royal Navy, with their fishermen mounting battlements on boats when necessary.
We were told about Brightlingsea’s links to the Great Yarmouth herring industry, the fact that Cinque Ports status helped it stand up to the beastly Lionel de Bradenham, Lord of Langenhoe, and indeed to Colchester, which had for too long pushed around Roger’s beloved town.
We discovered that it was once quite common to have more than one wife in Brightlingsea because of the blight of malaria, over-fishing led to an oyster famine in the 1630s and, bafflingly, oysters live in mud yet cannot stand the stuff.
Brightlingsea is of course associated inextricably with oysters and, even if their significance is not what it was, their presence has seen the establishment of the country’s largest Marine Conservation Zone off its shores.
In an increasingly familiar tale, though, our natives are threatened by introduced species – to help you tell the two apart, native oysters are shaped like the palm of your hand, while the intruders are more shoe-like in their form.
Roger has never been an oysterman himself, but his audience of more than 30 participants all departed with their knowledge of the mystical mollusc hugely enhanced.
Just a couple more snippets with which to close…
The best way to cook oysters? Grill them for a couple of minutes or put them in a broth.
And if you can’t get to West Mersea, head for the Colchester Oyster Festival. In fact, go there anyway.