North Fambridge to Burnham-on-Crouch (Walking the Essex Coast 24)


19th June 2015

In 1872 North Fambridge was described as;

A parish in Maldon district, Essex; on the river Crouch, at a ferry to South Fambridge 61/2 miles S of Maldon. r. station. Post town, Latchingdon, under Maldon. Acres, 1,248. Real Property £1,577. Pop. 191. Houses, 34. The name Fambridge is thought to be a corruption of Foambridge, and to have been derived from a bridge which anciently stood here, and raised foam in the current. The property is much subdivided. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Rochester. Value £283. Patron, the Lord Chancellor. The church is old but good.

 I too would like to be described as ‘old but good’, although I might have left it too late, at least for the latter attribute.

There is a line of weatherboard cottages on the road that leads to the ferry. One is unoccupied, boarded-up, the garden barricaded with mesh anti-climb security fencing panels. It’s hard to say how old the cottages  are. In fact it’s generally quite hard to place the age of weatherboard; a few years without paint and receiving a salt-water wind in regular doses and it could easily pass for 200 years old, even if it was built in 1990. Looking into the wind past a lonely and enigmatic hut, weatherboard again, standing scruffily sentinel a couple of hundred yards down river, the marshes sweep west  towards Hullbridge and Battlesbridge. Under this grey sky, it is easy to impose a Dickensian ambience upon the scene. Inconveniently for such a fantasy, South Woodham Ferrers  sits out of sight just around the next bend of the river.

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From the Rochford district community archive;

There was a ferry crossing over the river Crouch at South Fambridge from ancient times. It was used by the monks coming to and from Canterbury but earlier than that there were two bridges, one to a small island in the middle of the river and the other from the island to the far bank. The island and bridges were eventually washed away and replaced by the ferry, a small rowing boat.

In the 1930s there were elaborate plans to build a bridge but these came to nothing. However, not before the large and imposing Anchor hotel had been built in anticipation of the trade to be generated by the new bridge.

Unfortunately, the Anchor hotel was closed some years ago as it was too isolated and no longer viable.

Fambridge marina seems to have a relaxed attitude towards facts and figures, which I find refreshing.

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Secret Informant and myself turn  in the direction of Burnham following the vale of the Crouch towards the sea. A couple of small dinghies are heading the same way making slow progress against the incoming tide, despite having a stiff breeze behind them. Trains run the Wickford – Southminster line every half-hour or so, but other than that, once beyond the dog-walking orbit of Fambridge, the riverbank is deserted. From the other side of the river, Canewdon church regards us sombrely from its meagre eminence atop Beacon Hill.

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Coming out of the Blue House Farm nature reserve, we are perplexed by an eccentric pattern of cereal crop planting. asymmetrical blocks of ripening corn stand in a field that is otherwise barren, as if a careless farmer had mixed the additives when using the crop sprayer and applied herbicide instead of fertiliser.

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We are walking beside the River Crouch, along Longpole Reach. As we approach Bridgemarsh Island, the riverbank swings northward along Bridgemarsh Creek, the main body of the river flowing on the other side of the island. A vineyard lies along the top of the rise in the ground to the north. Althorne appears ahead of us, a cluster of boats and chalets. White’s directory of Essex, 1848 describes Althorne as ‘a pleasant village’ containing ‘418 souls.’ At the time of the Doomsday book, it was part-owned by the Earl of Boulogne. Nowadays, the population is over a thousand. Still tiny, still remote.

There aren’t many souls in evidence as we walk. Notices abjure us to remain on the sea wall and cctv cameras reinforce the message. Althorne comes in two parts. We are walking around the lower, marshside part of the village, the main settlement  lying on top of the hill on the other side of the station. When places are as quiet as this, you have to read them as best you can. We note a refreshingly relaxed attitude towards the ownership of Land Rovers.

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Leaving Althorne we are walking beside Cliff Reach. This puzzles us. The Essex coast is not noted for its cliffs.  However, stopping to look at the map, there is, sure enough, a point where the contour lines converge on the river bank at a mighty 15 metres, and this is designated ‘The Cliff’. I needn’t have bothered with the map, we can see it ahead of us, but I wouldn’t have thought to call it ‘The Cliff’. Mind you, I have been walking the south Devon coast recently and that might have distorted my judgement. We labour up the lower and upper slopes of The Cliff and from the crest, looking west, Essex stretches flatly in the direction from which we have travelled. We can see perhaps – who knows – as far as Billericay? Even Warley? To the south, the glamorous skyline of the Southend Megapolis exudes all manner of promise. We make the hazardous descent down the east face of The Cliff and head towards Creeksea.

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Through Creeksea, a cargo ship being unloaded across the water at the Baltic Wharf on Wallasea Island. Around the Burnham marina and into the bustling centre of the town.

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2 thoughts on “North Fambridge to Burnham-on-Crouch (Walking the Essex Coast 24)

  1. Great post…Essex has a great coastline to explore…once away from the towns and villages its so peaceful 😊

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