Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

NEW WAVE ESSEX; Hotel Review

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

NEW WAVE ESSEX; Hotel Review

Article excerpt

Byline: JO FERNANDEZ

MANOR BEACH COTTAGE Osea Island, Maldon IHAVE lived in Essex "proper" for about six years and grew up near Colchester, yet only recently heard of Osea Island. Neither have friends who are born and bred in the county, which gives it a mysterious air. Osea is, in fact, a private island in a marshy landscape in the River Blackwater near Maldon.

For such a relatively small spec -- 400 acres of wildlife and grassland -- Osea has a colourfully chequered history that belies its humble location.

There are Neolithic and Viking remains; the Romans came and built the causeway from the mainland, and after the Norman Conquest William the Conqueror gave Osea to his nephew. It's since been a top-secret naval base and a Victorian temperance society for alcoholics -- a model continued when Amy Winehouse checked into the now defunct Causeway Retreat rehab clinic.

The sequel to Daniel Radcliffe's Woman in Black is being filmed on the island and recent press has described it as Essex's "Necker Island", due to a "wild" weekend this summer attended by A-listers such as Poppy Delevingne and Jaime Winstone.

The celebrity guest list isn't surprising, considering the island's owner is music producer Nigel Frieda (he runs the Matrix Studio in London and his recording back catalogue includes the Rolling Stones and the Sugababes, whom he launched). He's keen to promote a more familyfriendly vibe, enlisting London-based children's party planners Sharky & George (unsurprisingly, their clients are celebrities). But Osea is naturally child-friendly, with so much open space, resident shy donkeys and little to damage. We were there with our nine-year-old daughter and were joined by mostly middle-class families enjoying the beach.

Looking younger than his 60 years, Frieda has a gentle, easy manner and seems genuinely enthusiastic as he chats about plans for the island he'd holidayed on for years with his children before buying it for [pounds sterling]6 million in 2000 (I suggested the addition of a spa. Maldon salt scrub, anyone?).

Refurbishment is under way yet it isn't so shiny and polished that you worry about the mud on your boots. Think quintessentially English Enid Blyton-style adventure combined with a shabby-chic retreat and you are halfway to understanding the appeal. In summer, it must be magical and balmy even in the mild East Anglian climate, with swimming in the outdoor pool heated until early October and walking on the sandy beach circling the island.

But winter brings its own beauty and drama. Crossing the potholed gravel road that zigzags through the murky estuary, where gulls stalk about in the mud, feels intrepid and nerve-racking (on our return, I learned that 12 cars float away each year). You can only cross twice a day, when the tide allows. …

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