Rochford and the Roach Valley Way

An easy walk along the River Roach following part of the Roach Valley Way, with a visit to a tiny medieval town.




6.75 miles (10.9kms)

0ft (0m)

About the walk

Rochford, a small medieval market town, just over 3 miles (4.8km) north of Southend, is worth visiting before or after this walk for its abundance of delightful cottages, many of which are listed buildings. The town centre contains one of the few remaining market town cross patterns in England, comprising North, South, East and West Streets. In 1257, the lord of the manor, Sir Guy de Rochefort, was granted a charter to hold a weekly market, which still takes place every Tuesday in the square.

But there have been horrific, and odd, goings-on in this peaceful town. In 1555 villagers gathered in the square to witness the execution of John Simson, a farm labourer from Great Wigborough. He was burned at the stake because he refused to conform to Roman Catholicism. A plaque on the wall of a bakery shop commemorates his martyrdom.

Peculiar experience

A few centuries later, in 1837, shoemaker James Banyard had a religious experience which inspired him to form a Christian sect which became known as the Peculiar People. Peculiar to Essex, the sect had its headquarters in Rochford. The group took its name from Deuteronomy, Chapter 14, Verse 2, which proclaims, 'and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself'. Banyard, who took to religion after spending his life as a drunkard, rounded up followers and preached with such fervour that he and his flock were treated with suspicion and hostility.

Even more strange were their dress and customs. The men were clean shaven and wore bowler hats, and the women went about their daily business in black bonnets. They rejected orthodox medicine and when one of the sect fell ill, the illness or disease was treated with the laying on of hands, or the affected part or parts would be anointed with oil. Needless to say, not all treatments were successful, and there was often an outcry among local people when children from the sect died. But in 1855, James Banyard's own son became ill and, fearing that he would not live, Banyard summoned the doctor. Such disregard of the rules caused a split in the movement and Banyard was ousted. He was duly replaced, and the centre of operations moved from Rochford to Daws Heath, 5 miles (8km) away. Banyard never regained leadership and presumably went back to shoemaking; he died in 1863.

On this walk you may glimpse the ghost of a black-bonneted lady with her black skirts billowing like a sail on the flat open landscapes. She may disappear as soon as you hear the planes roaring above open fields bound for Southend Airport and if you linger long enough, she may re-appear. There are many peculiar happenings in this peculiar little town.

Walk directions

From the car park walk east along Back Lane, and at the end turn left. Where the road forks, bear right along East Street past The Grey Goose pub. Turn right into Rocheway and at the end, follow the cross-field path all the way to Mill Lane.

Turn right and immediately left onto the cross-field path, to the footbridge over the fishing lake. Go through the large metal kissing gate and keep ahead, along the footpath. Maintain direction through trees and across the meadow, where on your right you can see Broomhills house, the former home of John Harriot, founder of the Thames River Police.

Cross the gravel track, follow the waymark through the kissing gate and join the river bank path. With the river mudflats and salt marsh on your right, continue ahead along the grassy sea wall. Look left to see the Saxon tower of the church at Great Stambridge. Continue around the peninsula of Bartonhall Creek, a popular feasting ground of mudflats for migrating birds. As you reach the northwestern tip, walk left down the embankment at the fingerpost, leaving the Roach Valley Way, and turn left at a public footpath sign towards Great Stambridge. Pass a number of old Essex barns.

Leave the tarmac track and bear right between a barn and a row of conifers on the right to pass beside paddock fencing. Continue along this field-edge path towards houses, and after 0.5 miles (800m) the path passes Ash Tree Court and emerges on the Stambridge Road. Turn right into Great Stambridge past The Royal Oak pub, and notice the array of attractive Victorian villas and the former post office.

Just after the pub turn left into Stewards Elm Farm Lane and follow the waymark over the footbridge. Bear right and maintain direction between paddock fencing until you reach a gate. Turn left to follow the field-edge path, keeping Ragstone Lodge and the Rectory on your left. Continue on the cross-field path following the way marks right and left, and at the next waymark keep ahead to the left of the hedge. Pass houses on your right, and meet Stambridge Road.

Turn right at The Cherry Tree pub and after about 200yds (183m), turn left into Mill Lane, then right, before houses, onto the cross-field path to join Rocheway. From here retrace your steps to the car park.

Additional information

Grassy sea wall, field-edge paths and town streets

River estuary, salt marsh, mudflats, arable land and urban development

A big walk for many dogs, with long sections on lead

OS Explorer 176 Blackwater Estuary, Maldon

Pay-and-display at Back Lane

Back Lane car park

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About the area

Discover Essex

Essex is full of pleasant surprises. It has the largest coastline of any county in England, with its fair share of castles, royal connections and scenic valleys. Take Colchester, for example, which was built by the Romans and is Britain’s oldest recorded town. Its castle contains the country’s largest Norman keep and yet, a stone’s throw from here, East Anglia’s newest arts centre promises to put Colchester firmly on the map as Essex’s capital of culture.

Tidal estuaries are plentiful and their mudflats offer migrating birds a winter feeding place. Essex was known as the land of the East Saxons and for centuries people from all over Europe settled here, each wave leaving its own distinctive cultural and social mark on the landscape. Walking a little off the beaten track will lead you to the rural retreats of deepest Essex, while all over the county there are ancient monuments to explore: 

  • the great Waltham Abbey
  • Greensted, thought to be the oldest wooden church in the world
  • the delightful village of Pleshey has one of the finest examples of a former motte-and-bailey castle
  • Hedingham Castle, magnificently preserved and dating from the 11th century.

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