The Roach Ramble

If you're a local in the Rochford district, its entirely possible that you come across one of the branches of the river Roach on a daily basis without even knowing about it. Whilst the coastal part of the river only starts around Stambridge, the streams that form a part of it go on for many miles inland. There are two branches of the river that split off at Rochford - one goes west through the Cherry Orchard nature reserve, and ends in a residential area in Rayleigh. The other branch starts two or three hundred metres east of Bullwood Hall in Hockley Woods.

The walk that I devised here does its best to follow both of these streams and the river itself along the most picturesque route possible (but given the council's obsession with overcrowding in the area, you're not exactly spoilt for choice with routes!) I hope to add more routes like this in the future, so any feedback of the format here or presentation would be really helpful.

1. Start Point - Bull Lane, Rayleigh

The start point for this walk is at the end of Bull Lane in Rayleigh. Here you are less than a few
hundred meters away from a stream which feeds directly into the southern branch of the river Roach (ending at The Chase) but although we're so close to that branch, we're actually heading across the fields and into Hockley woods to cross the second source for the river Roach there.

2. Fields Overlooking Bullwood Hall And Southend

As you pass through the fields running behind the now defunct women's prison, you can often enjoy the distant sights of Southend to the south east, and Hockley woods to your east. It can be a nice viewing point particularly in the summer, although this particular morning however was very misty and neither my phone nor the Samsung Gear could pick the distant detail through the mist.

3. Hockley Woods Entrance

At this point you could continue straight and follow the field as it would cut a few miles off of the route, however as we're trying to see both sources of the river Roach, I would suggest going into Hockley woods to find the small (and usually dry) river bed there.

4. Hockley Woods - Ancient Woodland

Hockley woods is one of the few remaining ancient woodlands left in the country and the only one left in Essex as both agriculture and town planning over the many years has gradually chipped away at nature. The site is home to many now rare and endangered plant and insect species, and even sees the psychedelic mushroom Fly Agaric grow at the base of the birch trees here. On this particular morning I caught sight of a huge Buzzard in the trees which I filmed but accidently deleted later on. Bit gutting!

5. Coppiced Woodlands

Rochford district council manages the woodland and oversees the coppicing of woodland patches to promote growth of new habitats. Sometimes it looks as though they go a little over the top with it, especially during the winter months, however during the summer these areas are teeming with rare wild flower and insects including naturally growing foxgloves that the bees evidently love.

6. The Roach 'Source'

It might not look like much, but the water in this stream will eventually flow out into the North Sea!

7. Belchamps

8. Hawkwell Viewing Spot

Granted, because of the sunlight and mist still hugging the fields in this photo you can't really see a great deal (especially since I've called this a viewing point) but from this bench on a clear day you can look east and see the Rochford hospital tower, Canewdon church and even the wind turbines some miles off the coast.

9. The Scrubs

Another woodland now, this woodland near Gusted Hall Lane goes by the name The Scrubs on ordinate survey maps, but I have no idea why it got the name to start with. It was a route which I always took going back from air cadet camps from Belchamps so I've taken to carrying on calling it that.

The woodland appears to be in a bad shape. Lots of trees have fallen over for no apparent reason and I wonder whether there is a problem with disease, pesticides from the adjacent fields or soil erosion. I have been meaning to file some sort of report with the council over it as many of the trees are in a pretty dangerous condition and with it being used daily by dogwalkers, is somewhat of a safety concern. Then again, I don't want the council shutting it off to the public either.

10. Fire Break

Follow the main path through the scrubs and you get to this firebreak which has a number of footpaths branching off.

11. Second Source

The second source of the river Roach begins right near our starting point, but at this point we've walked in a semi-circle arriving back at the southern stream which feeds into the Roach. The footpath follows along this stream for most of the duration whilst the route travels through the Cherry Orchard reserve.

12. Cherry Orchard Pond

This pond attracts a lot of wildlife, and I believe its free to fish at so long as you have obtained a fishing licence. In this image, although its hard to see, there was one circle melted into the ice where a few black headed gulls had been before they had seen me walking past.

13. Climbing Henge

People who know me will be well aware of my love for stonecircles, this on the other hand is a little more modern. This climbing equipment was placed here when the Cherry Orchard reserve was finished and opened to the public. The car park is always full and has become one of the more popular dogwalking sites. Its also used a lot by drone pilots. And doggers.

14. A Toast To Lost Greenbelt

When I was in my early teens, me and my friends were always playing at the old brick factory, avoiding the security guard who patrolled on site, and in the pillboxes in the fields surrounding it. Unfortunately, the council has approved a large retail and business estate on the site of the old brickworks, the rugby club and the fields which back onto the airport.

Recent investigations into local aviation history have revealed that this rugby pitch, and quite likely the site of today's airport - were home to some of the earliest experiments in flight. Still working on the history right now, but I'm sure it will of interest to many locals.

15. Western Edge Of The Airport

The footpath that takes you along the route is found more or less opposite the guardhouse for the western edge of the airport. From here you can see some of the engineering firms that work down this way.

16. Hard To Find Footpath

The footpath that takes you north towards Rochford golf course is quite hard to find. Keep your eyes open for footpath signs on the the opposite side of the road. The path is to the right of 'Unity Finance House'.

17. Airbase Pillboxes

The old footpath takes you past two old round style pillboxes which were placed here to defend RAF Rochford during WWII. Having said that, with the development going on (they were doing archaeological digs in the area on this particular day, hence the orange fencing) I don't know how much longer this footpath will exist. One of the footpaths has already disappeared (one used to lead from here to the rugby field as a shortcut.)

According to the council planning details, these pillboxes have been granted listed building protection, but its likely they will be hidden behind some bushes in a retail park in just a few years. It is quite sad really.

18. Entering Rochford Golf Course

Following the path north, you'll come across the entrance to Rochford golf course.

19. Heads Up!

You'll need your wits about you at this point. There are a few footpaths which go directly through the golf course, however they are badly marked and you have to contend with the golfers. Some can be quite rude and hostile, too! Keep your eyes out for golfers swinging balls towards you!

20. St. Andrews Church

Originally Rochford's main church in the town.

21. Rochford Hall

Originally the residence of the Boleyn family of King Henry VIII fame. The site was also used as a sergeants mess during WWII for the nearby airfield. (The Lawns was the officer's mess.)

22. Picking The Roach Back Up

The river flows through this part of the golf course and into and past the nearby Rochford reservoir.

23. Over The Railway

The quickest route sticking to the river is by crossing over the railway bridge at Rochford rail station.

24. The Freight House

Built shortly after the railway arrived in Rochford, this victorian building was the original warehouse used by the railway. Its since been converted into an events hall and bar.

25. Rochford Reservoir

The roach feeds into Rochford reservoir, a privately owned lake in the Rochford town centre.

26. Horse And Groom

The river flows just to the north of the pub, and so as a result has been flooded in flash floods many times in the past. A footpath that follows the river downstream is just to the right-hand-side of the pub adjacent to the nursery, which means for a short while the route follows the southern bank of the river Roach.

27. The Cinder Path

I'm not exactly sure what this footpath is called, but years ago when I used to walk the dog with my Mum as a child, the path was at one point covered in cinders to protect the path against erosion. Evidently that was a long while ago, as today the path has been worn back down to the clay soil.

What was once quite a pleasant walk has been marred by the encroachment of industrial estates to the south. The woodland in this photo used to be far more extensive, and a number of  large Horse Chestnut trees used to grow here. As you walk this route today, bird songs are difficult to hear over the sounds of knocking from various industrial units a matter of feet away.

That said, this area has long been neglected. Over on the north side of the river, my friends and I would often break in and play in the bus depot, and along the other side of the bank in this photo we'd often dig up old shoes and jars which had been buried there likely for the most part of a century.

28. Approaching Stambridge Mills

As you walk east, you begin to notice a large imposing building on the horizon, (or at least you do for now in the early part of 2017.) Stambridge mill, which used to be run by Allied Mills through the nineties until it was shut down in the 2000s, has since been totally gutted by two quite extensive fires. Its a great shame to see it in this state, even the original old brick structure which was at the core of the site has been decimated by the fires and subsequent demolition. There had been a mill here as early as the 1850s. I presume, given the push to build more houses, that this site will soon become converted over for residential use.

From this spot you also get a pretty good view of the marshland habitat that is here though, which is no doubt invaluable for local wildlife.

29. Inside The Mill's Remnants

Inside the Stambridge mill grounds you can still see some of the remaining structures, the grain store here still has the facility where sacks would have been filled, and the site still retains a mooring post alongside the river.

30. Path To Cricket Grounds

You have to follow a footpath that follows a few 90 degree turns around the fields to get to a small hamlet which I presume originally housed the mill workers. Opposite these homes there is a path that crosses a field towards a duck pond. Follow this and you'll get to a cricket grounds.

31. Cricket Ground

The cricket ground here used to be plagued by mole hills but it seems they're no longer a problem. I saw moles over here on more than one occasion in the past.

Follow the path set out diagonally across the field.

32. Path to seawall

You'll get to this gate which will take you to the seawall, which follows along the bank of the river Roach.

33. Walk Along Seawall

These images don't really do the views justice, especially through the 360 camera which stretches and distorts the image somewhat. Despite being cold, it was a beautiful sight. The sounds of Lapwing and Redshank filled the air, and in the distance off the riverbed at Mucking Hall Farm on the other side of the river, a huge flock of Brent Geese had formed.

Incidentally, to add yet more of my own personal anecdotes to this blog post, a short section of this area was used during a science trip I went on when I was fourteen where we explored the local biodiversity - something which these marshes certainly has. Growing up in this area, I've always kind of taken the marshes for granted, thinking them to be sterile and bleak, but since starting this blog and youtube project I've started to give them a little more respect. They might not be quite as majestic as the hills and valleys in the north, or as dramatic as the rocky southern coastline, but in their own way they have their own charm.

34. Bartonhall Creek

It doesn't look that big on the map, but you soon become a little irritated by the fact that you're essentially walking back on yourself to quite a large degree as you walk around the sea wall at Bartonhall Creek.

35. Coming off the Sea Wall

Whilst I would have been happy to stay on the seawall all the way to the end, it unfortunately comes to an end a short way after Barton Hall. Instead, you can follow this sign which takes you onto a single track lane east-north-east towards Paglesham-Eastend. 

36. Barton Hall Farm

The path here is easy to follow, this private road is also a public right of way.

37. Private Fishing Lake

Follow the private lane and it should eventually take you to this private lake. I'm not sure whether this was an average day there, but when I got here I was greeted by an abundance of wild foul species. There were Cormorants, Shelduck, Geese and Wigeon in addition to the usual duck species, all enjoying themselves in the sun.

From here, you had to look to the north where the footpath splits into two. Unfortunately the footpaths are not marked, however the footpaths follow the topography of the fields, and is therefore not hard to navigate. I should really have got an image of the split, but as the days are so short in winter and it was getting on towards late afternoon, I was a little pressed for time.

38. Stannetts Farm

Following the path across the field you eventually come to another track, which is rather muddy given that it is a working farm. You pass the beautiful Stannetts farmhouse as you begin to edge close to Paglesham village.

39. Stannetts Farm Track

Following the track further will take you through the working farm and barns and straight into the village. I was a little surprised to see this footpath sign as I hadn't seen another for at least half an hour or so.

40. Paglesham Road

At this point you've made it to the village! Turn right here (east) and its a short walk to the Plough and Sail at the end.

41. Primitive Chapel

This is the 'tin chapel' built in Victorian times from not much else but corrugated steel! It can only be divine intervention that has kept it from rusting away altogether! It was

42. The Plough And Sail

With the exception of walkers, the pub here is pretty much the only reason most people would come out this far out. The pub is pretty well known and is owned by Jamie Oliver's family members. I had been looking forward to having a pint and possibly some food here once I was finished, however by the time I'd returned at 4pm they were shut!

43. Waterside Road

Behind the Plough and Sail pub there is a little lane that leads to the boatyard on the river.

44. Paglesham Boatyard

45. The Seawall

At this point you find yourself back on the seawall and at the river's edge. It is thought that the wreckage of Charles Darwin's expedition ship HMS Beagle lays in the water here, as it spent its last years patrolling these waters warding off smugglers.

46. The End

Technically you could continue on up to Wallasea Island if you wanted to carry on with the river, but as this was February the light was dwindling and I had to consider how I was getting back home! The bus service which picks up outside the Plough and Sail, only operates a few routes daily and the last bus stops at 16:40. All in all its a good walk, but I would only consider walking it on a fair and windless day owing to the flat surroundings.

I ended the walk at the WWII pillbox overlooking the junction between the river Roach and where the 'Paglesham Pool' joins it. 


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