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Rochford takes its name from Rochefort, Old English for Ford of the Hunting Dogs. The River Roach was originally called the "Walfleet" or "Walflete" (Creek of the foreigners). It is believed that it was renamed the Roach in what is known as a back formation. This is where it is assumed that Rochford means ford over the River Roach, so they could have renamed the river to fit the theory. Until the 1900s, Oysters from the River Roach and sometimes from the River Crouch were called Walfleet (or Walflete) Oysters.
The River Roach has its source near Bull Wood and Hockley Woods in Hockley. It rises in the hill near The Gattens and Nelson Road, which are either side of Hockley Road, Rayleigh. The Roach then runs south, under Bull Lane, beside then under The Chase where it turns to run east behind Milton Close and Bramfield Road East. It the passes north of the Grove Playing Fields, then past Rayleigh Sewage Works where its flow is augmented by the discharge from the reed-bed purification system. It runs south of Rawreth Hall Wood, north of Grove Woods, past New England Wood. From there, through the Cherry Orchard Jubilee Country Park, past The Scrubs (wood), under Cherry Orchard Way (B1013), past Southend Airport and on through Rochford Hundred Golf Course into Rochford where it joins the Hawkwell Brook beside the Rochford Lake.
Passing under South Street beside the Horse and Groom public house, the River Roach then continues east, running through flood plain marshes before discharging into the northern arm of the River Roach at Stambridge Mills, 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) downstream from the town. Just after this point, the Roach passes Sutton Wharf with jetties, slipways, a boatyard and moorings. This is where its main tributary, the Prittle Brook from Leigh on Sea and Southend on Sea joins as its southern arm.
From Stambridge Mills eastwards, the River Roach is tidal and becomes a wide river. It passes Great Stambridge Hall, Mucking Hall, Barton Hall and Roper's Farm. Barlinghall Creek joins it at The Violet and from here the Roach is now about 400 metres wide. It passes Paglesham, famous for its native oysters and the location of Charles Darwin's HMS Beagle which lies under the mud 150 metres (490 ft) west of Paglesham's boatyard and slipway.
Further east, it meets Paglesham Creek which separates Wallasea Island to the north, then at Potton Point on Devil's Reach, the Middleway creek joins from the south and defines the western edge of Foulness Island. This part of the Roach was called "The Bromhill". The Roach passes eastwards between Foulness Island and Wallasea Island and then it turns northwards between them, where it widens to almost 600 metres until it joins the River Crouch at Wallasea Ness on the Ness Hole. The combined rivers then flow eastwards past Holliwell Point and discharge into the North Sea at Foulness Point.
The River Roach is part of the River Crouch and Roach tidal river system which includes all of the creeks around Wallasea Island, Foulness Island, Potton Island, New England Island, Havengore Island and Rushley Island. The tidal flow around the creeks between those latter islands considerably affects the tides in the River Roach. Those creeks and tidal flows also enhance the River Roach's habitat and conditions for oyster cultivation and fish spawning.
The River Roach is also part of the Crouch Harbour. It is administered by the Crouch Harbour Authority based in Burnham on Crouch. The River Roach also benefits from the RNLI lifeboat and an Essex fire service boat at Burnham.
When flying visually the visibility is not always good enough to see long distances, so pilots use geographic features to confirm their position with what is shown on their charts. The Roach flows past Purdeys Industrial Estate, Rochford, which is very close to the threshold of Runway 24. Pilots returning from a flight north east of the airport would use the Roach to help align themselves with the runway.
The Roach can be seen in the centre left of the photo. The runway can just be seen to the left of the Compass. The photo was taken 2.25 miles (3.62 km) or 1.96 nautical miles (3.63 km) from the runway threshold.