Created by a storm surge in the 1100s, the port of Harwich continues to play an important part in our history as a seafaring nation.
Currently the UK’s second busiest passenger ferry port, it is best known as the home of The Mayflower ship, which left England for the New World in 1620, with Harwich based captain Christopher Jones at the helm.
Less than 30 minutes from Wivenhoe House, there’s plenty to see in Harwich’s attractive old town around the port. Stroll along the Maritime Heritage Trail, starting from the Ha’Penny Pier Visitor Centre, along to Low Lighthouse Maritime Museum, then the Lifeboat Museum and end at the Barge Murals which mark the spot where the Thames Sailing Barges were built until 1930.
The town is busy preparing for 2020, the 400th anniversary of the epic journey of this small ship which set off from Plymouth with 102 Pilgrims and about 30 crew, taking 66 days to reach Cape Cod in November 1620.
They landed in the Wampanoag Nation and learnt how to hunt and grow crops. The good harvest in the autumn of 1621 was celebrated in prayer and become known as the first Thanksgiving.
The Mayflower was built in Harwich and commanded and part-owned by Captain Jones. Records show the ship sailed to Norway, the Mediterranean and France, carrying woollen cloth and wine, before moving to a base in London in 1611. Before the perilous journey of 1620, the Mayflower had never crossed the Atlantic.
The ship completed the return trip on its own after its partnership, The Speedwell, developed a fault. Both ships had to turn back and the Mayflower set sail again packed to the gunnels with the two sets of passengers and belongings.
Nowadays you can head from Harwich to the Hook of Holland on a Stena Line ferry for either a mini-break or as a gateway to mainland Europe.