Lancing ambled by. Houses, bungalows and flats combined with contemporary design featuring acres of glass and solar panels adorned the edge of the beach. 1930s, 50s and 60s architecture displayed the ages of the town. Caravans and beach huts followed, all of them still locked, waiting for their owners to come and play.
Sooner than expected, Worthing loomed through the fog, its pier paddling out across the water, turning the sea into a milky swirl around its legs. Posters around the entrance to the pier (entrance free) promised entertainment. Theatre and music, clairvoyance and dance were on offer for the town’s residents. I explored the pier, nodding to the anglers staring hopefully at their rod tips, waiting with baited anticipation. Settling on a bench, I ate my familiar lunch of sandwiches and flasked-tea. Beneath me and the wooden boards the sea coughed occasionally to remind me it was there, and pigeons chatted on the metal structure which held us up. Workmen prepared the Pier’s night club for another season. What sights the glitter ball would reflect! A short walk to my chosen pub with accommodation for the night led me to dinner. Ear plugs (highly recommended) blocked out the crashing of pans in the kitchen opposite my door and I slept soundly. My first of three days was complete. Tomorrow… Bognor.
Saturday 20th March 2010 (Worthing to Bognor Regis - 14 miles this leg - 27 miles in total) I woke to leaden skies and the sound of waves rolling onto the beach. After breakfast I was back on the path within a few metres of where I had stayed the night and quickly slipped into “cover the ground” mode. The pedestrian and cycle path presented no challenges underfoot and I walked looking out to sea. “Whoooooah!... Ting ting!” Mind the cyclists approaching from behind!
Beach huts stepped up again sporting their summer colours. Some of them freshly painted whilst others were fussed over by their owners, painting and drilling, screwing and scraping. One was collapsed like a prostrate patient whilst a calm team of technicians worked silently and methodically to make it better.
It drizzled like the day before and I thought of the sunny days ahead when the scene would change from grey to blue, lifting spirits and extending views.
From Ferring to Rustington. A wonderful moment. “Excuse me” the couple asked, “How far are you walking?” They had spotted the collecting tin hanging from my rucksack. After a brief chat, I turned my back on them. “Clonk, clonk”… the heart-warming sound of two pound coins dropping into the box hanging
behind me. “Thank you so much” I beamed. “You are my first charity box donators”. I felt great and enjoyed the sound of donated coins dancing for charity.
Then Littlehampton. At the narrow mouth of the harbour a white hulled yachted returned from a choppy voyage. Furling her sails she motored up the River Arun to her mooring upstream. I passed restaurants and new apartment blocks, crossed the pedestrian bridge and doubled back down river past the boatyard. Yachts were suspended from cranes, lovingly nestled back onto water
after a winter’s rest.
Back on the open coast and sails of a different design adorned the Butlins holiday centre ahead on the edge of Bognor Regis. With a mile to go another couple donated a pound. A coin operated party was starting to strike up behind me.
As I blew into Bognor, a hotel waved at me. “I have a large room and a hot bath for you” it enticed. I hadn’t finalised my plans for the evening, but I knew I needed a hot soak for my shoulders and back. Standing round the corner from the hotel reception I rang them and was offered a special rate to stay the night. Within half an hour I was in the bath, then onto the bed to watch England help France win the Grand Slam in The Six Nations Rugby. Dinner and a deep sleep. No crashing pans tonight.
Sunday 21st March 2010 (Bognor Regis to Selsey - 12 miles this leg - 39 miles in total) After a deep and restful sleep and another generous breakfast, I was on my way to Selsey Bill. A beautiful Spring day, and within minutes my squinting eyes needed dark glasses which I did not have. I eyed up the sunglasses with palm tree frames and the sporty style designs on sale at the gift kiosk and opted for the sensible option I’m afraid. More fishermen along the beach assured me that there were monsters to be caught, but none so far today.
Past Aldwick, then Pagham and a familiar figure walking towards me. My brother-in-law led me off the beach and into a cappuccino and pastry. Together we followed the knuckle of Pagham harbour and as I headed inland to follow its marshy path, Alistair went off to take his car and bike round to the other side for tea and biscuits!
Pagham Harbour is a nature reserve and bird spotter’s
I knew the oyster catchers and redshanks when I saw them, and the haunting call of the lapwings in a ploughed field stopped me to watch their erratic wing beats like flimsy rags thrown about in a breeze.
Muddy paths skirted me round the marshland harbour to Church Norton and The Mound – an Iron Age fort and latterly a ringwork castle built by the Normans to protect Pagham Harbour. A farewell to Alistair and then along the beach and memorial benches with flowers. Ahead the life boat station and photographers, cameras and tripods to catch the evening light.
Selsey has a small fleet of crab boats. Crab pots, crates and coils of rope around fishing sheds provided “fragrance” to the air, a reminder of their importance to the local community. I arrived at St Andrews Lodge Hotel and was shown to my sumptuous room, a chilled beer in my hand to enjoy on the sofa and reflect on my day.
Dinner at a local Tapas Bar revealed that Selsey potentially held in residence my first “Character on the Coastline”. A return visit would be required...
Friday 26th March 2010 (Selsey to West Itchenor - 12 miles this leg - 51 miles in total) Back on the trail again! Dropping my car off at the sanctuary of St Anthony’s Lodge for a few days, I strode off for the beach at Selsey. Then I scurried back to collect my Satmap GPS unit which I had left on the roof of the car. And so back towards the beach to pick up the trail from the previous week. Sunny skies above and the welcoming call of the sea made me feel immediately at home. “Crunch fizzle, crunch fizzle, crunch fizzle” went my boots on the pebbles beside Bracklesham Bay. Past Bracklesham, then East Wittering.
Kite surfers skimmed the waves off the expansive beach at West Wittering, which unfolded for walkers and sand surfers who rolled at speed over its billiard table terrain. For miles the beach unfurled itself until it revealed the entrance to Chichester Harbour. Ohhhhhhh Chichester Harbour. What a week-end it held for me.
Rounding the point, I was entering the vast expanse of inland water which was to be my host for the next three days. Ahead of me lay the spit of land called “East Head”, the west side of which I explored on the way out, and the east side fifteen minutes later on my way back to join the main shoreline. Continuing via a bench for cold home-made pizza, tea and chocolate, I skirted the shore to West Itchenor, my overnight stop. Then I passed the West Itchenor Ferry landing. The empty West Itchenor Ferry landing. The West Itchenor Ferry landing which was to remain empty until the following Easter week-end. I had planned to take this ferry tomorrow morning - service permitting - across the narrow stretch of water to the western side of Bosham Hoe. Now I wouldn’t.
Out of the covered boatyard nearby strolled a man in overalls, methodically wiping his hands on a cloth and a sympathetic (I think) look on his face. Without hesitation, he ushered me upstairs to his office and phone. “Frank” on the other end of the line offered to collect me from the west shore of East Head the following morning to whisk me across to Hayling Island in his rescue boat. I readily and greedily accepted, grateful that despite my poor timing, there was a way round the problem.
That night my conscience kept prodding me in my fitful sleep. There was indeed a way round the problem, but also the problem was that I was short-cutting the way round it. The first of many navigational dilemmas presented itself as I embarked on my “round the COAST of Britain”. A casual glance at a map of the south coast glossed over the 45 miles or so of inland walking round the shores of Chichester Harbour. Zoom in with the walking enthusiast’s eye and the full extent of the “short cut” becomes obvious. Thumbing through two excellent paperback accounts of previous round-Britain walks in my rucksack, both described their lengthy and enjoyable detours of the Harbour, albeit it by different routes, one cutting across Hayling Island.
My decision was made and my conscience was clear. A week-end of exploring the delights of Chichester Harbour lay ahead.
Saturday 27th March 2010 (West Itchenor to Emsworth - 20 miles this leg - 71 miles in total) Next morning I cancelled Frank’s generous offer and set off purposefully on my harbour tour. At Chichester Marina, the public footpath was created across its entrance as automatic sluice gates swung together at the press of a button. Onward past where Chichester itself stood a mile or so inland. I wanted to cover ground today, and having visited this fascinating town with Roman origins before, I deferred another visit to a later date.
Onward I marched in centurion fashion. Fishbourne, then Bosham Hoe. Opposite across the water was the ferry-less landing stage where I set out this morning, now only 500 meters away after my 11 km march. Keep going. Bosham quite simply showed off in the intermittent afternoon sun. I savoured a home made tub of vanilla ice cream supplied by David from his van parked on the water’s edge. Not only did he make ice cream, he also made short films. “Bosham Dogs” was soon to be uploaded on YouTube. “Dogs eating ice creams. Set to music”. Perhaps it is there now for our viewing pleasure.
Chidham, Nutbourne, Stumbling-by-Pleasantly,
S...o…u…t…h…b…o…u…r…n…e… and… and… E...ms...w...o...r...t...h.
My left heel reminded me it was there, and by the time I staggered into charming Emsworth, I was keen to give it a rest. My face lit up at the prospect of a night at the first pub with accommodation I found on the edge of the town, and then it fell as I read the “Closed Tonight For A Private Function” notice.
I eventually found B&B accommodation a mile further inland.
I dragged myself back into town for food. An Italian waitress ushered me to a table for one. Rejuvenated by pasta and a glass of wine, I crawled back to my room. Made it.
Sunday 28th March 2010 (Emsworth to North Hayling - 12 miles this leg - 83 miles in total) Strapped, drugged and fed the following morning, I “strobbled” through marinas and boatyards to rejoin the shoreline at the southern end of Emsworth. The sun shone and the breeze stiffened. Arriving at my next promontory, Thorney Island, I was entering land owned by the MOD. I gave my details at a security gate via an intercom; was advised that I needed to stick to the path, and off I went for a tour round the edge of this former RAF base. The runway was visible, as were hanger-like buildings and the odd housing estate. I stopped at a church. It was Palm Sunday and I enjoyed its peace. I thought of my late father. I thought of my mother in her nursing home, suffering from Alzheimer’s. I thought of the long walk ahead. I thought how lucky I was to be doing it, and grateful for all that I had.
Rounding the tip of Thorney Island, I stopped for tea (and chocolate). The bench upon which I sat was dedicated to a recently fallen soldier in Afghanistan Gazing out across the water, I thought of family and friends. Mine, yes; but also those of the fallen soldier, and all his comrades, past, present and future.
On the way back off the island, I passed once again through the security gate. A brief word, a buzz, an opening gate, and past the southern tip of Emsworth once more.
In the distance I saw the road bridge connecting Hayling Island. This, I decided, was where I would finish the day. Although only a few kilometres away, my heel was not particularly happy, and whilst the Oyster Catchers, Redshanks, Little Egrets, Black-headed Gulls, Larks, a Yellowhammer and Pocket Guide to Birds did their best to distract me, I started thinking a lot about a hot bath and comfortable bed to take the weight off my feet.
I found it courtesy of a modern hotel just over the bridge onto Hayling Island. It provided everything I needed, including a round table and chair where I could eat my evening meal in the privacy of the room while business travellers prepared for the following working day downstairs. Bliss.
Monday 29th March 2010 (North Hayling to Portsea - 5 miles this leg - 88 miles in total) Freshly strapped and drugged once more, I set off for the last few miles of this leg of the walk along the “Hayling Billy Coastal Path” which was formerly the stretch of railway line running along the west side of Hayling Island.
At the southern end of the island I was back on the open coast again and the
sound of waves filled my ears once more. Beach huts greeted me, and I headed west for the 300
metre ferry crossing back onto the mainland shore of Portsea 'Island'! The
ferry was running. Yes! But I missed the hourly crossing by two minutes, and so
enjoyed a coffee at the “Ferry Boat Inn” whilst waiting for the next crossing.
After a four minute voyage I stepped ashore and headed for the historic city of