Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Colin's Little Known Facts: Essex Has Many Rivers

Essex has a mighty collection of impressive tidal rivers. Probably only Yorkshire has a more impressive collection, but of course Yorkshire is much bigger.

Between Suffolk and Essex, and specifically between the important ports of Felixstowe and Harwich, two rivers flow into the North Sea. These are the Orwell, which flows through Ipswich, and the Stour.

The Stour acts as the boundary between Essex and Suffolk for most of its length. It flows past Sudbury, birthplace of the painter Thomas Gainsborough, and through the lovely area known as Constable Country, passing Flatford and Dedham. John Constable was born nearby at East Bergholt. Before reaching the sea, it passes Manningtree, home of Matthew Hopkins, the infamous Witchfinder General.

The Colne flows through the delightful market town of Halstead and on through the enormously historic Colchester, Britain’s oldest town. It reaches the sea between Brightlingsea, an arm of the Cinque Ports, and Mersea Island.

The Blackwater, known in its upper reaches as the Pant, visits a pretty selection of Essex towns and villages, including Bocking, Coggeshall, Kelvedon and Witham, before joining the Chelmer at Maldon, home of sea salt and the unique triangular tower of All Saints Church.

Restored Thames barges ply along the tidal Blackwater from Maldon. The tidal river flows past Northey Island, site of the Battle of Maldon in 991, and Osea Island, before reaching the sea between Mersea Island and Bradwell-juxta-Mare, where St. Cedd’s church of St. Peter-ad-Murum, built about 650, still stands and is still used for worship.

The Crouch flows through Wickford before becoming tidal at Battlesbridge, now a flourishing antiques centre. The river is overlooked by the churches at Ashingdon, site of the Battle of Assandun in 1016, and Canewdon, heart of the Essex witch country. Burnham-on-Crouch is one of England’s leading yachting centres. The river reaches the sea between the Southernmost point of the Dengie peninsula and Foulness Island.

The Roach is but a trickle as it flows through Rochford, the town where I was born and where the Christian sect known as the Peculiar People was founded, but opens up into a tidal river a little further down at Stambridge Mills. The Roach flows into the Crouch between Wallasea Island and Foulness Island.

And then there’s the River Thames, perhaps the most famous river in the world. Rising near Cirencester in Gloucestershire, the Thames passes many famous places, including Lechlade, Oxford, Abingdon, Dorchester-on-Thames, Wallingford, Goring, Reading, Henley-on-Thames, Marlow, Maidenhead and Windsor before becoming tidal and flowing majestically through London.

It then forms the boundary between Essex and Kent. On the Essex side it passes Tilbury, Canvey Island, Leigh and Southend, while on the Kent side, where the land juts out further, it flows past Gravesend, Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey, Whitstable, Herne Bay and Margate on the Isle of Thanet.

There’s plenty of salty air around the complicated coast of Essex!