April 11th, 2009 | shivering sands
It’s a national holiday here today, so I decided to play truant (read: child and its mother whined at me until I agreed to leave the house). Stopped off at Battlesbridge during the day’s travels to get Lili some new riding gear: left them in the shop and walked to the water. This is the River Crouch, at lowish tide. I should have taken a shot of the sailing barge that was moored next to me, because it occurs to me that not everyone’s seen a classic east coast sailing barge, but the two grim old people sitting by its wheel glaring at me over their mugs of tea kind of dissuaded me. You don’t mess around with barge folk. Unless you want a boat ’ook up yer bum.
You can’t really get any more inland (westward) from here on the Crouch, unless maybe you’re in a kayak or coracle. Eastwards, the Crouch is navigable for the fifteen or so miles that get you to Holliwell and Foulness Points, and out into the North Sea. Foulness Point is the tip of Foulness Island, which is mostly owned by the Ministry Of Defence, who use it as an artillery range and experimental proving ground. The bangs and whumps echo down the Southend coast when the wind is right, and every now and then you’ll meet someone in a pub with interesting scars or shattered-looking eyes who’ll tell you tales of unlucky Foulness menials who had various bits of themselves blown off in unusual ways…
In centuries past, of course, the Crouch and particularly its eastern tributary, the Roach, were pirate waterways. Smugglers, in the middle of the night, carefully angling their agile boats down the creeks they grew up around and knew like the lines in their own salt-hard palms, away from the big Inland Revenue cutters crewed by strangers in uniforms. This was their territory, their water.
And there’s been generations of mine, too, standing here by the water’s edge, with a cigarette in their hand, watching the Crouch go by. When I stand here, I’m standing with my dad, and my grandad. Nothing between us but years. And you learn, after a while, that years mean nothing at all.