We set off bright and early and the first stop was the White Horse at Ridgewell over the border in Essex for breakfast, and a fine breakfast it was too. This charming freehouse used to have a big banner proclaiming "No Greene King Sold Here". It is a well-laid out local pub boasting at least 6 different ales and 3 real ciders. They have very good accommodation and this is why they agreed to let us have breakfast. We washed it down with a delectable pint of Hyde's Bells & Whistles, whilst Tony Peck settled for Mighty Oak Oscar mild.

The next stop was Malden. We went down to the Blackwater Estuary where the Jolly Sailor proclaims to be a freehouse. Imagine our horror when the only products they sell are from Greene King so we upped anchor in disgust and headed for the Blue Boar. This wonderful old 14th century hotel and pub is also home to the Farmers brewery. We had a tour of the brewery and a look round the hotel which is truly amazing with the wonderful old pictures and antique furniture and chandeliers above each table. The pub is exceptional with fabulous old beams and stuffed animals and ancient bits and pieces. David Munro and I tried the Adnams bitter whilst Richard Stonebridge, Mac, Julian and Tony went for Farmer's Golden Boar at 5%.

Across the road is a totally different pub, the White Horse, selling very well kept Shepherd Neame beers. The Olympics were on so we watched as I supped a great pint of Kentish Best whilst the lads had Spitfire, Master Brew and Bishop's Finger. We all agreed the beers were excellent.

So we were now off to our main destination which turned out to be West Mersea. This is an area new to me and whilst not the best estuary island I have visited, it must be good for sailors and fresh fish. We visited the Coast Inn and had a pint of Mersea Island Yo Boy! at 3.8%. It particularly hit the spot with David and Julian. This funny 1930's prefabricated pub looked to be serving good food, so the boys decided to have lunch in the Company Shed, a restaurant cum shop that specialises in Shellfish. Ollie and I are not too keen on fish so we went back to the pub for a well cooked and nicely presented burger. The lads met up with us again for another pint, then it was time to head for home.

We stopped at The Swan Little Totham, which is a gem of a pub. This low beamed local boasts 12 real ales and there was no surprise to find it has twice been CAMRA's National pub of the year. The publican, John Pascoe, turned up driving the oldest army scout car in the country and allowed us to inspect his well kept cellar and spent the best part of the afternoon talking to us. I enjoyed the Skinners Bitter, whist Julian and David loved the Crouch Vale Brewers Gold. Mac had the Mighty Oak Up The Swanee, and Richard liked the Middle Oak whilst Tony liked the Wherry.

There was time for a swift pint at the White Hart at Gt Yeldham. This lovely old coaching house has hardly changed since my last visit 40 years and ago. The Woodfordes Wherry and Brandon Brewery Best Bitter were performing superbly. A curry in Haverhill crowned a great day out for the boys and we can hardly wait for the next one.

Jerry Brown