Richard White

explorations in place and time


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River Crouch Festival walk day 3 Burnham to Canewdon

Communicating across the river by land, air and water!

Pagelsham arrival

Our first complete connection across the river began appropriately with an early morning boat ride round to Pagelsham. Crossing the river and seeing from a different perspective where we had walked the day before, earth moving monsters still rearranging the cross rail mud on Wallasea. We chugged around the island and walked the rest, all the way to Canewdon.

Essex flatIn the mud, beached boats, rusting hulks and rotting wooden carcases, the blackened bones of huge dead fish, seals and their pups camouflaged, basking. For that is what seals do. Talking yachting with the ferry men, two brothers in conversation with the flag carrying walkers at the same time holding open with each other a discrete line of conversation on water hazards, tides and navigation. We were dropped off as if in a foreign country and walked up the jetty, the ferry turned and the set off back. We waved thankyou.

With no one we knew to meet us it felt strange, like a film set. Corrugated iron buildings with faded signs, the sound of motors and welding, various dodgy looking, suspicious, but eventually friendly, geezers came to check us out. “I work in the environment, I do” said one going on to describe the costly gear he had buried in the mud. Another said we looked like we had got lost on our way back from Glastonbury. The sun grew hot. A newspaper photographer showed up and we play acted for him. Stuart (local artist) arrived dripping with sweat on his bike to hand over the next code . Project Manager showed up stressed and cross that someone else had done the porterage which she had not wanted to do. And subsequently fired off another stroppy email. I needn’t have come this morning ,she said; as if it wasn’t expected that she should consider it to be part of her job to be at the start each day and see everyone off. At least the suitcases were not transported in a rib. The logistics safety net of the project is weak.

Paglesham flags1We walked on banners flying along the sea wall, all the way round to Canewdon. A tremendous walk if a bit hot and scorchify. Putting on a last burst of speed to get to the school only a few minutes late. After signing in not signing in…PM’s job?.. we found the whole school in the playground seated, expectantly, talking through their community flag. We appeared carrying three flags the gasps from children and grown ups was audible. Jo ( local artist) already on a roll as MC of the whole thing.

Canewdon church ribbon3The Canewdon flag was presented and four flags were carried, with children bearing the two sections of ribbon, to the church. As we arrived the bells started ringing. A tremendous touch, we later climbed the tower and heard the stories of the bells.We were all excited, parents dignitaries, teachers and the vicar looked on as Jo orchestrated the event. Proud children fed out the banner around the church and we were all astounded as it came around the other side and was ceremoniously tied up.

Here the children did seem to understand the gesture and the link, connecting with the history talk and the notion of the embrace of their village building. A real sense of community and pride. Perhaps something to do with getting them out of the school into the streets of their community. We had brought them something special from across the water.

Canewdon schoolIronically the act of running around the church is supposed to produce a presence at the church door. I wonder if that was a deep echo of the churches original pagan site. We later visited the pond where, the story goes, the ‘witches ‘ were drowned. A more respectable superstition was rolled out by the Christian priest, and just past the house called Nirvana a black cat ran across the road in front of us.

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River Crouch Festival Walk Day 1 Bradwell to Burnham

Bradwell children show flag

Our day began early in cool dawn: rabbits on the lawn and bird song from the bushes. Chris and Jo orchestrated a beautiful short pilgrimage with children from Bradwell Primary School. With the community flag flying we all walked up the old roman road to the chapel.  Here they wrapped the chapel in blue ribbon and they told us about pilgrimages and the Christian link with Canewdon. Old superstitions were revisited, the walk was blessed. Ali, Richard and Mike are now taking the ribbon with to Canewdon for an event on Monday, where we are promised church bells. Should be good, join us for the walk or be there.
Bradwell short pilgrimage
Ribbon wrap St Peter'sWe set off on the walk south with a young flag bearer, mum and sister. Two women, Tina and Karen joined us from around the bay.

Bradwell flag on the move2The boy done well and we hope to see him again, maybe tomorrow on Wallasea. Holding the flag high on the sea defence path flanked with blue flowers. The tide out so far that the sea was a distant silver strip. A hare leapt out in front of us. We startled an owl. I saw the dead seal. We were serenaded by skylarks again and the cries of seabirds and waders rang out. We heard about the older women of the Blackwater who at the right time of the tide walk to the sea in dressing gowns and swim. Later Mike told a ghost story he had heard of a slave ship that caught fire with the slaves still in chains on board, horrible and tragic visions. Did the ghost story originate in someone witnessing the pain and suffering?

flag at mouth of crouchA long walk, a hot day. On the sea defences the grass was long caressing my legs and leaving its dart seeds in my socks. Progressively the soft brush of grass became pointed irritants in my shoes. At the start of the day the sun was welcome and as it grew hot and high and bright it burned. We walked out into the bleak Dengue Marshes, no shade, no shelter. Hot and suffocating on the track below the dyke. We all found it hard and in the end the sight of yacht sails on the Crouch was a relief.

At last the five walkers arrived straggling in to Burnham on Crouch as the tide turned and the river slowly backed up to beaten pewter. Low sun. Long shadows. Packed out riverside bars spilling people and their drinks into the sun,they looked on curiously at these passing walkers. No one seems to know much about the project, no posters, no word of mouth, no one came out to greet us. But they ask and we tell them and as the week goes on we will build momentum towards the Feast Day at Hullbridge. Laura’s ‘blibber’ is already calling us.