It was a beautiful mid summers day, warm sunshine, no clouds in the sky and just a very light breeze. In short, the perfect day for a trip to the coast. I was looking forward to this walk especially as after walking around the various harbours this walk would take me back to a beautiful sandy beach.
The downside of the weather was that I knew everyone else would have the same idea of visiting the coast. I decided that rather than start at Fishbourne I would drive to East Wittering and park there, and walk in reverse back to Fishbourne, where I had ended my last walk. This also meant I would be travelling back to the coast to get back to my car as most people were leaving as I was anticipating this might also cause problems with trying to catch a bus back if they were full.
I should have set off early, but I didn’t make an especially early start. Normally the fastest route to get me to East Wittering would be to take the A3 and A27 as far as Chichester but this walk was a long while ago and back then the A3 (the main London to Portsmouth Road) was (at least) dual carriageway all the way from the Robin Hood roundabout in south west London to the M27 on the south coast with the exception of a couple of miles around Hindhead. Here the road went round a natural features known as the Devils Punchbowl. Not only did the road drop down to a single lane each way but there was also a traffic light controlled junction to negotiate once you reached Hindhead too. Not surprisingly, it lead to very long queues.
So I decided that rather than risk getting stuck for a long while there I would take the A286 via Midhurst instead. This turned out to be a scenic, if not especially quick route and I did not have any major hold up until Chichester, where there were long queues because of the level crossing, which crosses the A286 and is a busy road and rail route. I then had more queues to get across the A27 and finally out to East Wittering. It took around 2 hours, so I was glad to eventually arrive, open the door and have the lovely smell of the sea.
(Thankfully these queues on the A3 are now a thing of the past, as a new dual-carriageway road tunnel was built under the Devils Punchbowl removing this notorious bottleneck. The old road was grassed over and returned to nature. An unusual road building project in that it seemed to please everyone, with the possible exception of the owner of the petrol station in Hindhead).
Having parked up (and managed to find space) I walked down to the beach. East Wittering is a fairly quiet mostly residential place, rather than a resort. I had arrived at around high tide and this meant the beach was mostly shingle.
East Wittering is on another peninsula of land between two harbours, this time Chichester Harbour to the west and Pagham harbour to the east. There are certainly a lot of harbours on this part of the coast! The peninsula goes by the name of the Manhood Peninsula (I kid you not!).
The tide being in presented another problem because there is no footpath or promenade here. Wooden groynes meant access along the shore was difficult as I had to keep climbing over them whilst further up the beach was loose shingle. I mostly stuck to the latter, but it was a bit hard going.
In places there was a bit of a road or path though and after a while the tide had gone out enough to leave an area of firm sand near the shore line which was much easier to walk on, even if I did have to keep climbing over the groynes.
These too though had got lower so I could now easily step over them. It was lovely down here, once I was away from the car park the beach was fairly quiet and I also had lovely clear views out to sea.
I could still clearly see the Isle of Wight which in some ways was a surprise given the distance I have walked since Portsmouth, but then I considered that most of this was twisting and turning around harbours, so I hadn’t actually covered much distance as the crow flies.
After about a mile I had reached the end of East Wittering. This gap lasted, oh, about 200 metres, until I reached more houses. I had now reached West Wittering!
As in East Wittering the beach is mostly backed by houses, but soon these were largely out of sight as there were dunes in places. This continued until I reached the large car park at West Wittering, where beach huts now lined the back of the beach with the large grass car park behind it.
The coast here is now undeveloped. This is as a result of a deliberate act by the residents. Having seen most of the Sussex coast east from here be developed into resorts, they were keen to avoid the same happening. After World War II holiday camps had become incredibly popular, a large Butlins still exists today not far away in Bognor Regis. There were rumours that Billy Butlin was interested in the car park and fields behind it as the venue for a new holiday camp. After failing to get any help from the local council the residents pooled their finances to raise enough money to buy the land and form the West Wittering Estate to preserve the areas as it was then (and remains today) as a lovely beach the public can all enjoy, rather than have it developed.
I was very grateful for them today. West Wittering is (in my view, anyway) the best beach in all of West Sussex. A wide expanse of soft sand now backed by grass and dunes and wonderful views out into the Solent. I soon decided as it was warm rather than walk on the sands I’d walk in the waters edge. Soon ended up quite far out, the sea was a pleasant temperature and I was enjoying being on this wonderful beach.
As I had now reached the large car park the beach was again busy, but with the tide now going out there was plenty of space for everyone, and it seemed everyone was having fun too. As I headed west the beach soon became quieter and I came to, er, East Head.
This is owned by the National Trust now (who were given the land by the West Wittering estate). But I was a bit confused by the name. If it’s west of West Wittering, shouldn’t it be west head? Then I realised the the eastern shore of Hayling Island was less than a mile away. That is the western side of the entrance to Chichester harbour. I was now at the east side. That must be why it’s called East Head.
This is a sandy strip of land, and the part nearest the harbour is only a few metres wide, with parts of the harbour off to the right and the open sea to the left.
As I turned the corner to head north along it’s western shore though, it widens to a sand spit. I followed this, the beach now much quieter as I was getting away from the car park.
As I reached the end I continued around the inland side, now on the harbour rather than the open sea. Greenery was now poking out above the water, an indication that the water is shallow and the ground now marshy.
I was soon back almost where I had been at the narrow neck of the headland. From here there is a footpath along the western edge of the harbour. This is now part of the New Lipchis Way a long distance footpath from Liphook to Chichester Harbour. Though I think this is recent I don’t remember that being the case when I did the walk and my map of similar vintage does not show this trail.
The path was now between the firm land to my right and the marsh to my left, a little sand and shingle path. Inland I had fine views of the harbour, where there were numerous yachts and the hills of the South Downs behind.
The path soon became shingle and I was looking over to the dunes of East Head. I soon reached a place marked Snow Hill, which was not a hill and did not have snow. Here there is a deeper water channel of the harbour and a boat club, as yachts lined the beach ahead. Many were being readied to set sail into the harbour, it made for a colourful scene.
Here I took to the path on the grass behind the beach but at the slipway the path headed briefly a little inland. Past a few trees though and I was soon back on the shore.
I was now level with the end of East Head so was looking over the expanse of the now wider part of Chichester harbour. It was fun to watch all the yachts that were using the harbour too.
After about half a mile I had reached another little spit, called Ella Nore. I didn’t go out onto this one as I could see I’d have to come back the same way. Whilst a path was marked as going around it, in a circle the eastern path went right over areas of water and I do not, sadly, have the ability to walk on water.
Although the tide seemed to have been going out when I was on the beach the water seemed high around the harbour, lapping at the edge of the path I even spotted a large crab just below the surface.
The path soon reached a point where it was level with the end of Ella Nore and there was another little beach backed by concrete circles, perhaps left over from World War II.
Beyond this the path continued on boardwalks over presumably boggy ground. Ahead there was then a short diversion away from the harbour to go around the back of some houses at Rookswood House. Past this I was now back on the shore, alongside a shingle beach backed by a thin strip of trees. I do like beaches backed by trees. Large yachts continued to sail past in the harbour. It was a day where there seemed to be much activity, everyone keen to get out and enjoy the weather.
The path continued mostly as a slightly raised bank alongside the shingle beach beside the harbour, much of it lined by trees. The path was quiet now having got away from the crowds nearer West Wittering. In a little over a mile I head reached West Itchenor.
Here there is another boat yard and this is also the point where a ferry crosses. At the point I reached the ferry there were huge numbers of boats moored up to my left.
There was another (thankfully brief) diversion along roads ahead as houses went right down to the shore. But the houses were quite pretty many with Wysteria or other flowers growing up the front.
I soon passed the pub, the Ship Inn, which looked to be doing a roaring trade. I was soon back on the shore, looking back to yet more boat yards. There are a lot of boats around this harbour.
The harbour was narrow now as I was looking across the channel to the village of Bosham Hoe only a few hundred metres away, as the crow flies. Sadly just ahead the path I was following then left the shore, so I had to head a little inland over fields of crops, past Westlands Farm and then back to the shore at the village of Westlands.
It was only a brief visit to the shore though as the path again turned inland to go past another boat yard. I then followed a road over Birdham Pool where there was another large marina to my left and the pretty lake to my right, the road crossing between them (and, not surprisingly, the road is called The Causeway).
Just past this I reached the mouth of the Chichester Ship Canal. This once provided a safe deep-water passage into the nearby city of Chichester. It is marked as disused now though it seems to have a collection of house boats moored up on it now.
The footpath crosses over the most coastal of the locks so I don’t have to head inland to get around the canal. The path then briefly follows the north bank of the canal but after a few metres I can turn off this to head north into (another!) boat yard and large marina. The New Lipchis Way now sticks to the banks of the canal into Chichester so I’ve left that behind now. Instead my path goes on the coastal side of the marina, over the lock gate, but at the end of the marina it also heads inland.
This is a wide track between fields (that is a little hilly, despite the lack of contours on the map) In a little over a mile it ends at the road leading to Dell Quay.
I followed the dead-end road (for cars, anyway) down to the quay. It turned out to be a very pretty place with a pub and (of course) a boat yard. Despite the fact it was a small place it turned out to be a hive of activity with boats being launched and others brought back in.
There were boats moored up, in various conditions, along the shore here.
I now had another footpath that ran right along the shore all the way to Fishbourne. It was an easy walk, mostly well surfaced and with fine views over the northern part of the harbour.
I was soon back in the familiar streets of Fishbourne where I had ended my previous walk.
Once again I headed to the station and this time took a train to Chichester where I then needed to change for a bus back to East Wittering. Rather than had immediately back to Wittering I decided to use the time to explore Chichester a little. Chichester is a nice historic city with a beautiful cathedral, gardens and close as well as many lovely historic buildings. Definitely worth a look around.
Having satisfied my curiosity about Chichester I headed back to find the bus station and the bus back to East Wittering.
This did not take long and I was soon back on the coast. What a contrast to my arrival. Now the tide was well and truly out, leaving a wide expanse of sand where there had been sea this morning. It would have been much easier I suspect if I had done the walk in reverse.
But never mind, I had had a really lovely walk helped by the fact the weather was perfect and with the walk being mostly flat I hadn’t ended up getting too hot.
It was so beautiful back down here that I did not see any reason to hurry home. I stopped for a takeway on the beach and wandered along the sands for a while, walking in the edge of the sea. It was a lovely way to end the day.
I very much enjoyed this walk, a beautiful beach walk to start with, followed by a lovely stroll along the quiet paths around the western edge of the harbour. There was always plenty going on in the harbour to watch, the terrain was easy and the paths proved to be well maintained. In short it was the perfect walk for a fine summers day like this one.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk :-
Southern Railway trains from Portsmouth to Littlehampton : Portsmouth and Southsea – Fratton – Hilsea – Bedhampton – Havant – Warblington – Emsworth – Southbourne– Nutbourne – Bosham – Fishbourne – Chichester – Barnham – Ford – Littlehampton. Hourly Monday – Saturday. On Sundays runs hourly but to Brighton rather than Littlehampton. It takes 3 minutes to get between Fishbourne and Chichester.
From Chichester the bus station is a short walk from the station (cross the road, take the path immediately to the left of the level crossing). From Chichester bus station Stagecoach bus services 52 and 53 run back to East Wittering. The 52 runs : Chichester – Birdham – Bracklesham – East Wittering – West Wittering – Birdham – Chichester. The 53 runs the reverse route of the 52. It is quickest to just take the first bus that arrives as they take about the same time to get to East Wittering. These busses run 4 times an hour Monday – Saturday and twice an hour on Sundays. It takes around 25 minutes.