Richard White

explorations in place and time

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Crouch River Festival walk last day and closing thoughts

We made it across the water between South Woodham Ferrers and Hullbridge  even though the rowing teams who were going to do the job had another commitment and didn’t show!  Sailing club safety boat came up trumps!

crossing 2

All the artists assembled at South Woodham Ferrers train station and all 8 flags were processed on through the town centre, eventually arriving at the quay. We were joined by Chairman of the Council Cllr Heather Glynn (not the Mayor as I had thought so even better for the influence this could bring). The intrepid Cllr Glynn joined us on the first boat and greeted artists, walkers and flags on the Hulbridge side.

crossing Chair H arrives

A large crowd had gathered at the top of the quay…we wondered if they knew they were standing on top of a huge tunnel going under the river. Damien had reminded us again that artists try to do impossible things well we had managed to get across the river and like all the people in South Woodham Ferrers and Hullbridge we walked on water! A suitable idea to end our long zig zaggy walk from the pilgrimage destination at Bradwell to a primary school in Hullbridge.

Walking on water

In the park the flags were laid out and the stories of the walk and the community flags and the artists residencies were told.  It all became a bit surreal when I was called upon to cover as the flags were laid out…like providing a live commentary on a jigsaw assembly. A good gathering and a final word from The Box of Crabs.

8 flags laid out


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River Crouch Festival Walk Day 7: North Fambridge to South Woodham Ferrers

Yellow moon at night and sunrise blasting me awake through the trees. Standing around in the car park with the ducks and delivery men and no sign of breakfast. In the end we set off for the station on instant coffee and a cheese roll. Last day of proper walking.


The meet at the station was not well attended. With no continuing walkers apart from Mike, Ali and me, the outward momentum has been hard to maintain, today the energy seemed to ebb away. No breakfast perhaps the cause. Walking out on the recce’d route where once there were warnings of deep mud we were on hard baked land  and when finally we crossed the railway line onto the salt marsh flats it was like a cowboy film. Or maybe Australia. High on the cropped grass flood defence banks a cool breeze was blowing. Low at the waters edge, in the mud the bright green sparks of samphire poked up. Hundreds of brown butterflies were clustering on the purple thistle flowers. I remembered the thoughts at the beginning of all this, imagining the social media engagement like the butterflies in the Rushdie book following the village that went on pilgrimage. I photographed and tweeted. We flew on with the river wind to South Woodham Ferrers. Our rendezvous perfect, only 2 minutes late thanks to the secret short cut.


At the school an exemplary no-nonsense class room teacher was fully briefed on the details and trusting in the positive energy generated by Laura, Damien and the children. Damien reminded us all that artists try to do impossible things but here everyone was walking on water. We looked again at the water supply map, flew the flags, and unfurled the final community flag. Off to the river along the toy town South Woodham Ferrers streets quite literally walking on water. We stopped like pilgrims to examine the signs and continued back to the flood defences with children flying the flags. The teacher leading at a brisk pace. The children purposeful: walking well and identifying their work on silks they were flying. For them it was a long walk in the heat to the quay to look across the short stretch of water separating them from Hullbridge. Finallywe gathered in the shade of the trees at the park.

walking on water

Tropical: strangely seeking out the shade instead of the sun.

As the energy returned and the boys started to lark we were called to order, to our stories: the walk, connecting across the river, pilgrimages, The Boxes, the whole thing. A small gentle and respectful sharing. The children read their poems in pairs, the sound of their voices surfacing without sequence in the gathering. As powerful and moving as their counterparts across the river. Their words now coded and the phrases randomised into the as yet unnamed Boxes. Laura presented Box to the class teacher hoping that at some point they will exchange it with the one on the Hullbridge side.

SWF Box presentation2

Back to the quay for an afternoon of treats and mysteries. Essex Radio Ham was set up connecting to the world, Dorothy in Basildon was the safe bet. She talked with artists and school children as the others held a line of all 8 flags fluttering in the wind off the river. At last the children set off back to school and we were left exploring the connections by amateur radio, Laura connected with George on a boat on Lake Balaton in Hungary using the flags as aerials to much excitement. On the quay side the tide was rising, the swans each with a local name navigated to the food. Chatting with passing visitors and amateur radio enthusiasts, we heard stories of birds, a goose raised as a swan, sheep scams at the country park, radio waves and why the flag poles were perfect aerials.

8 flags and Laura

Finally farewells and a walk into town. Local cafes closing, Costa open. I started to think about evaluation and our final day tomorrow. No walkers showed for the evening walk. A last lost walk.

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River Crouch Festival Walk Day 6: Burnham to North Fambridge

It begins to get very strange 6 days in and maybe in the 70 mile mark hot at dawn and with not much sleep. Yesterdays networking and sounds of sense making leave a feeling of achievement and purpose understood. We may have got the creative industries onto the agenda in this part of the world by our actions and interventions. Again its the effort made that seems to connect.

NFambridge semaphore and flags

Sitting in the river front pub bed and breakfast chewing toast and reflecting on the qualities of fried tomatoes I see the project manager walking the quay. The project manager looks into the window and quickly looked away, I am sure she caught my eye but my wave was blanked. She has already asked me by email to amend the day’s story I wrote yesterday to protect her. I have tweaked it but the issue remains that key stakeholders missed the chance to witness an exemplary bit of  creative connecting schools, communities and terrain yesterday. Why important people missed the events with the school children at Hullbridge is a question to answer.  I suspect the project manager’s failure to grasp the big story or at least to undertake the strategic and day to day management/logistics work needed to deliver it, is at the root of the problems we keep hitting.
NFambridge semaphore2
After the failure to sort arrangements getting the children to the riverside on Tuesday, today was the last chance for the two schools to communicate visually across the river from North to South Fambridge. This time the logistics and risk assessments seem to have been resolved and we were looking forward to another ghost crossing event. The public element for this one has completely evaporated with no advance preparation at all, we promote it is as we walk along.
Creeksea ghost crossing
After the silent altercation with the project manager I found the others at breakfast and we walked out into the sun and up the high street to the converted station, opening today as artists studios. The trains still run and the rail company community team were to walk with us. So we did, all flags flying, well they would have been if we had enough flag bearers…a further issue around the failure to grasp the practicalities of the story we are telling. It needed to translate into a flag bearer for each community flag. The great and the good of Burnham are well behind this, we seem to run into the Mayor at every occasion. Ali and Mike met him there for the opening of the studios.
Flaneur adrift1
Our walk began skirting the marina and a visit to the good ship adrift on land, the Flaneur, and on and out to the river defences. I remembered the recce walks when we talked of samphire and fennel, both growing clean and translucent green along our way. A calm walk: I drifted feeling the wind, hearing the wind in the silk I was carrying. Power in the air, a force to lift and bend me,  grass seed smattering my boots again  and snickering at my shins. We walked until the North Fambridge boat house came into sight, passing old Creeksea…such a Dickensian name…and the north side of the ghost crossing there. A restored Thames barge moored and a Torquay dredger pulling up shellfish from the mud.
We carried the code and The Box, inspiring us with the thoughts and words of the Hullbridge school children.

The box and Y
After some phone calls to tee things up we walked on with all flags flying again, Helen and children arriving from the North, Cold Norton, and at last we saw Stuart and his Ashingdon school group mustering on the top of the river wall.  The code was handed over and the community flag presented. Not much of an opportunity to tell the story it all represented. A stage management issue for the future and definitely part of the failure to articulate the wider narrative. The Cold Norton children strangely kettled in a space marked out by carpet tiles some distance from the quay side, armed with flags, binoculars and clip boards. Stuart signalled the start with a klaxon and slowly wonderful order emerged from the chaos. Real learning was taking place as the children deciphered the letters and the messages using the code we had brought.
NFambridge semaphore3
An old couple with a young one walked past onto the jetty, wondered what was going on and the man remembered as did the Mayor yesterday of the rowing boat ferry from North to South. The South Fambridge jetty is long gone.

The exchange continued intensively with children on our side clearly on task and working at it. The frustration of misunderstanding passed and the event wrapped up with sounds of understanding across the river. Big shouts, waves and cheers as the two groups of children greeted and moved away from the water separating them.
NFambridge semaphore7
We walked up the lane now with 7 flags to the Ferry Boat Inn. The threatened thunderstorms have held off and a cool wind  blows from the west, lifting the leaves. Beginning to feel the end of the walk approaching. The Box was right this morning about avoiding big holes.

NFambridge flags

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River Crouch Festival Walk day 5: Hullbridge to Burnham

All back to Burnham, now dark and warm. Full moon rising. I am looking up the night trimmed river again, lights shimmering. The timber ship is gone and the timber yards dark. The lights of Southend on the horizon. Reflected tropical warmth reminds me of other times, a solitary rope dings on a mast in the breeze.

full moon over the crouch

After the disasters, upsets and shaken confidences of yesterday, today was sheer delight. Woke to bright morning azure sky and dazzling light blasting in the window. Arriving at the carpark assembly point at Hullbridge the project manager was already there talking to the BBC, self appointed spokesperson on the project enjoying the media ego massage. Met the radio ham man and Laura arrived electronically kitted up. The drone footage of the test event on Sunday was stunning and they offered to share it with the project. With  5 flags up we saw the children heading down to the river and we joined them. Hullbridge Laura antenna

Standing almost on the top of the shaft down to the tunnel, Hullbridge community flag was presented. The children performed their poem. A series of statements on precious things, heart felt and moving. Then with the flag poles rigged as radio antenna Laura led a communication cross the river. On the far side a lone flag waved to acknowledge receipt and then the speaker spluttered into life. Words across the river. Cheers. Hullbridge top of tunnel

Laura had coded up the children’s poems into The Box. It has since delivered a series of text statements to us on the throw of a dice. We were given The Box to transport and to relay it messages.       Hulbridge box

Damien introduced the map , Walking on Water, based on the research into the water main laying deep below the river. The map produced showed that in many parts of Hullbridge and South Woodham Ferrers we can indeed walk on water! Children locked into this beautifully constructed and present item. Committed and engaged.   Hullbridge Laura and box

We said farewell and, carrying the box and the map and the community flags, we heeded east to Brandy Hole along the river defences. 6 flags flying.  This time the bar was open and full of VIPs from funders to local authority officers and a Mayor. They had been told the wrong time and place to meet, but had picked up on the energy emboidied in the community flags. The ferry arrived and we set off for Burnham. A sedate journey with The Box talking to us, we shared thoughts on projects and flags and walking, reminding ourselves of the distance covered. We passed the river defences we had walked along, the ghost crossings and hilltop churches. Finally arriving with a flag flying at Burnham where we were welcomed to the council meeting room by the mayor. Lovely moments of two mayors greeting each other..mayorial  banter!

In the chamber more project talk and the sense that senior people were taking the project and its momentum seriously. Engagement at a strategic level. Interesting conversations in art and regeneration, art and place and futures. A good day. Even The Box said  “No nonsense” ! Off walk Ali ,Mike and myself attended an evening session on fast broad band and placemaking. Dire on the former and formulaic in the latter but great conversations with the creative industries definitely on the agenda.

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River Crouch Festival Walk day 4 Canewdon to Hullbridge

The church bells rang us out of Canewdon as they had rung us in. Something glorious celebratory and solemn in the sound of those ancient bells a deep rich tonality and harmonic vibrating with the stones of the old tower. Just four walkers set off down the slope towards the battlefield where the slaughter stained land and river. Bells tolled behind us fading away, we turned to see bonfire smoke billowing around the tower on top of the hill.
walk west 3flagssea wall


Today has been a day of management and logistical mess ups. Leaving a growing list of questions to be answered by the project manager?

Why so few walkers, we had more on the recces… Is the bigger walk picture not being told? Why do so few people seem to know about it, fewer still the feast day events?

Why no school children at Fambridge, either North or South; why such inadequate liaison with senior school staff that travel arrangements and risk assessments were not thought through until the last minute and related to this, why on day 1 did a school fete not connect up with the walk and the event at St Peter’s chapel?

Why were the lead artists not integrated into the public events at Burnham?

Why are local artists being given such minimal support organising their public events?

Why was the Brandy Hole location availability not confirmed before making arrangements for this to be the end of the evening walk today?

Why was the walker parking locked on their return
Ashingdon welcome
We arrive at South Fambridge no sign of children on either side of the river, so we walked on to Ashingdon to a greeting with school bell and flags. The flags were however decontextualised ,in the school playground some of the children appeared disappointed by this others did not appear to have grasped that the project involved actually going to the riverside and trying to communicate with children on the other side. Ashingdon code hand over



Nevertheless much excitement and cheering, the head teacher enthusiastically promising that somehow they will make it on Thursday. Apologising that they and only got wind of the activity at the last minute. We now have 4 community flags flying

Short break at The Remedy Tea Rooms we discover that the end of afternoon walk activity is cancelled. The Brandy Hole bar/restaurant will be shut. Later two walkers joined us and the long-suffering Sophie did the greeting and paperwork. We set off with flags flying  to Hullbridge already disappointed that Laura’s radio amateur group will not be able to demonstrate their magnificence anAshingdon semaphore3d send poems to South Woodham Ferrers bounced off the International Space Centre. Hopefully tomorrow.

Good walking and talking, passing Ostriches and talking about the utopian community that once lived at Ashingdon. Tolstoyan anarchist. A struggle through the thicket and onto the marshes, finally arriving at a silent and locked up Brandy Hole, tide right out, the river a merest trickle. Walking onto Hullbridge we sat in the pub garden, winding down watching the swans and later children splashing in the river. The  walkers who had joined us took the transport back to their cars and then began a settling of the final straws of the evening in a series of phone calls and texts.The car park the walkers had been directed to was locked, the project manager did not have contact details for the key holder.Brandyhole end flag


As I write the cars are still locked up, an evening ruined and both men will need to come out here early to pick up their cars and get to work on time. Inconvenience and embarrassment  all round.

Full moon.