Sunday, October 11, 2015


East of London, deep in Essex County and about an hour's train ride from London's Liverpool Street Station, there's a small English town called Burnham-on-Crouch. I lived there for a year, from August 2004, to August 2005. The year was a roller coaster of delight, homesickness, stress, fun, and everything in between. The job? The job was difficult.

Burnham itself? Well, that was love.

I had no idea what to expect, and as the train rolled out of London containing one very tired California Girl and her two massive suitcases, all I could do was slump in my seat and try not to doze off. Wouldn't do to miss my stop.

Taken from the train on one of my many London jaunts.

The landscape was intriguing. The further we got from London, the more rural it all became. Green farmland, a meandering river (the Crouch). Small hamlets that were so perfectly English I almost cried in delight. And then, there it was. Burnham-on-Crouch.

By the time I stepped off the train, to be welcomed by my new landlords, Kathy and Derek, I'd been traveling for many hours. A ten-hour plane trip from San Francisco. A bus from Heathrow to Central London, and a taxi to Liverpool Street. An hour on the train to Burnham itself. I hadn't showered or brushed my teeth. My clothes were sweaty and wrinkled. Sleep had been almost non-existent on the trip.

And there was Burnham, absolutely perfect.

Oh, it's not perfect. It has flaws. But it's close. For starters, it's small, so aside from one Tesco Express, most of England's chain stores have missed it entirely. The town's main pharmacy was also the post office and the photo place (where many, many rolls of film were developed for Burnham's newest California Girl...this was before I got my first digital camera).

Burnham is close enough to London to be an easy train ride, but far enough way that you really are in farmland. The river is actually saltwater, because Burnham is very near the North Sea. The tide rolls in and out, so no river walk is ever entirely the same.

Sailing is huge, and Burnham's annual regatta is attended by royalty. But when royalty is not in town, the sailboats bob on their moorings and the houseboats hug the quay.

The quay (pronounced "key") is a riverside walk with some of Burnham's loveliest historic buildings, including the White Harte Hotel. I remember looking at pictures before I left, and the first time I walked along the quay, finally seeing it in person. It's lovelier in person, for sure.

Across the street from my music classroom at the high school sits a medieval church, St. Mary's. Having a medieval church out my classroom window was a definite novelty for a California Girl. We have old trees, but that's about it.

I don't know how many miles I logged, walking the streets of dear Burnham. I didn't have a car, so it was a lot. Walking to work, walking to the co-op for groceries, walking to the train station. Walking the quay to calm my mind. So much walking, and so much loveliness.

And there was home--the home of Kathy and Derek, who took me in and gave me a safe place to board. I emailed Kathy yesterday after booking my February trip, and she can't wait to see me again. It's been far too long.

For this trip, I will only make it to Burnham for a day, but a day is enough to see what I need to see. It may sound silly, but I feel the need to thank Burnham for taking care of me that year. I was so young, so naive. I've grown up a lot in the ten years since I left, and I want Burnham to see that so much of what I am today is because of my time there.

Dear, lovely Burnham-on-Crouch. I will see you soon.

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