Heritage: Burnham-on-Crouch is a different world

Burnham-on-Crouch is a major yachting centre. Picture: Wikicommons/greenacre8

Burnham-on-Crouch is a major yachting centre. Picture: Wikicommons/greenacre8 - Credit: Archant

With the summer holidays upon us, Prof Ged Martin looks at some day trip ideas within easy reach of Havering

Burnham-on-Crouch is a major yachting centre.

Yachting towns have good restaurants. That might tempt you to visit by train, and enjoy a long lunch.

It’s about an hour from Romford. You may have to change at Shenfield. You’ll certainly have to switch to the Southminster branch at Wickford.

Burnham-on-Crouch functions as a centre for the wide and thinly peopled area called Dengie. So, although it’s a small town, it has a lively atmosphere.

The half-mile walk in from the station is pleasant but unexciting.

But Station Road leads into the quirky High Street, with its mixed and friendly streetscape.

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You can’t miss the octagonal brick clocktower, built in 1877 to honour a local worthy.

It sticks out over the pavement!

In January 1953, a tidal surge caused serious flooding along the East Coast. The High Street was under three feet of water.

But the real joy of Burnham-on-Crouch is the Quay, a picturesque jumble of old houses facing the River Crouch.

At one end of the Quay is the members-only Royal Corinthian Yacht Club. Its spectacular building, erected in 1930, was one of the first examples of modern architecture in Britain, and remains one of the most notable.

Built in white concrete, its design echoes an ocean liner.

There can be literally dozens of yachts in the river here. A short walk west of the town, Burnham Yacht Harbour has another 350 moorings.

There’s on-demand ferry (you phone them) across the river to Wallasea Island. The ferry operator warns that, even in summer day, the trip can be cold and wet, so wrap up.

And check the return arrangements, or you’ll end up like Robinson Crusoe.

Just north of Burnham-on-Crouch is the Mangapps Railway Museum. It’s more convenient to get there by car. Check the website for opening times.

You can walk for miles in either direction along the river and sea walls.

Four miles east of Burnham-on-Crouch, the river wall brings you to Holliwell Point, and wide views over the North Sea.

Holliwell Point is more a slight turn than a promontory, but the sea wall marches northward towards Bradwell.

It’s the site of Britain’s strangest military monuments.

In 1940, the Nazis overran Holland and Belgium, right across the North Sea. The Essex coast was suddenly open to invasion. The River Crouch offering a tempting target. Small invasion craft might slip into the estuary, and sneak upstream all the way to Battlesbridge, only ten miles from Brentwood.

A concrete pillbox had already been built at the water’s edge.

The estuary now became a minefield, and a control tower was erected a few yards inland.

Its lower level was a standard pillbox, fitted with seventeen machine-gun apertures for all-round defence.

An upper storey gave it a wide-angle view over sea and marshes. A huge pillar-box slot made it possible to fire out over the river.

Holliwell Point minefield control tower is the only such building to survive in England. (There’s another one in northern Scotland.)

It’s not open to visitors, but its strange appearance, like a sci-fi alien, makes it worth seeing across the cornfield.

If you can’t face the eight-mile round trip after that long lunch, an alternative walk takes you about three miles west along the flood-protection banks of the river Crouch, around the yacht harbour and behind Bridgemarsh Island.

Bridgemarsh became farmland in 1736, when high walls were built around it. But it was totally overwhelmed in 1953, and has never recovered.

A short track inland leads to Althorne station, one stop short of Burnham-on-Crouch, where you can catch your train home.

Althorne must be the loneliest station in Essex.

Solitary amidst wide flat fields, it feels more like a wayside halt on the Canadian prairies.

It’s hard to believe that people commute to London from Althorne!