Thursday, 11 June 2009

Sussex Coast Walk Day 4 Sidlesham - Bognor Regis

Sidlesham Ferry Bridge

It’s been a couple of months since I last ventured out on this walk and I felt it was high time I continued my journey eastwards. Coastal walking on a summer’s evening is perfect; the light is superb, there is no problem with heat or sunburn and yet there is still plenty of activity. For this section of my walk, I decided against public transport between the two points as the connections weren’t great on a Sunday evening (however, if you want to walk the route in one go there is a regular connection via Chichester using the number 51 and number 700 buses). I preferred instead to do an out and back from both ends, which meant that I effectively completed the walk twice. Given that the majority of the walk was around Pagham Harbour, a place that holds a great fascination, this was no great hardship. When I set out, it was a case of fortune favouring the brave for although it had been a fantastic day, the weather turned suddenly overcast and there was a huge shower which could have put me off entirely. Yet, by the time I arrived at the start point the weather had improved considerably and the evening turned into a smasher.

I parked up at the visitor centre just to the south of Sidlesham, which has some useful facilities (and crucially a car park that does not have a barrier that closes at dusk). From here I initially headed south around the nature trail until reaching the old tramway bridge. This is clearly not the bridge that once carried the old tramway as there is now a flimsy looking thing carrying some form of pipe (although the concrete spans are probably original). However, the fact that there is any trace of a cheaply built railway more than 70 years after it closed is remarkable. The views out over the circular Pagham Harbour are superb from this point and because the tide was out the mudflats were a feeding frenzy for various wading birds, ducks and seagulls.

Sidlesham Pond
The first mile of the walk was along the trackbed of the old tramway, built in the early 1900s by the engineer Holman Stephens (to find out more about him see the excellent website at . The page on the railway is at ). All the way along the route hundreds of rabbits were feeding and quickly hopping into the bushes alongside the track as I approached. It was almost like some kind of weird conveyor belt.
Prevailing Wind

Eventually I came to the road leading into Sidlesham Quay and my brief trip along the Selsey tramway came to an end. The trackbed was not obvious the other side of the road and hereabouts somewhere was once Sidlesham station. Given that most of the stations on this line were little more than a shack and a wooden platform, it is not surprising that no trace remains. I turned right at the road and entered the wonderful little hamlet of Sidlesham Quay, which is like a mini Bosham. At the heart of this small settlement (which used to be a functioning port) are the remains of an old watermill that has now been demolished to make way for an area of greenspace. A nice seat has been provided to enjoy the extensive views across the harbour.

Pagham Harbour
I ducked down onto the narrow solid part of the mud flat in front of the last house and continued on my way around the perimeter of the harbour. In paces this path was quite hard going as the path was not clearly defined and a combination of the heavy rain and receding tide had left behind some substantial puddles and some quite slick (although fundamentally solid) mud. I was quite relieved when I turned the corner about half a mile later and continued on the top of the sea wall around to Little Welbourne. Along this stretch there were extensive views to the north and the Downs were visible away in the distance. Indeed I could see the unmistakeable shape of Goodwood Racecourse on the hill away in the distance, and slightly nearer the spire of Chichester Cathedral, although less obvious was also poking up above the trees.

Little Welbourne
On the right of the path the view across the harbour was extensive mudflats, just as they are in Chichester Harbour. On the left though, it could easily be imagined that the harbour was once greater in size, for there were still sizeable lagoons and watery areas that had been drained to make way for pasture. A large herd of cows munching what looked to be very lush grass were testament to that.
Looking Across to the Downs

Eventually I reached Little Welbourne, where there is a small thatched building that acts as some form of educational facility. It was shut, but there were notices in the window of the types of bird that had been spotted on various days. Up until this point I had largely had the walk to myself, but by now quite a few people had been tempted out by the pleasant weather, many of them I suspect from the nearby caravan park by Pagham Lagoon.

Red Valerian
I continued along the edge of the high tide point for the remaining part of the perimeter walk until climbing up onto the shingle ridge by the lagoon. The lagoon itself is quite an impressive feature and was busy with birds such as coots, moorhens, seagulls, ducks and even a great crested grebe, which seemed rather alone among all the other birds. The point by the lagoon marks the point at which it is quite obvious that you move from an intertidal zone to a beach environment. For me continuing along the coast there would be no more mudflats for quite awhile as the route eastwards promised to be shingle/ sand for a very long time.

Pagham Spit
I had a good look around Pagham spit as I wanted to take a look at the view ahead. From Pagham the Sussex Coast as far as Beachy Head can be seen and it was a little scary seeing how far I have still to travel. However, the nature of the coast changes completely since from here it is almost a continuous arc around to Beachy Head without negotiating all the inlets I have done so far. Infact from here it is no more than a half hour drive back to Emsworth, where I started and yet by foot it has been 3 ½ days! Pagham Spit is also notable for its shingle plants and many were out in full bloom including the Valerian, Yellow Horned Poppy, Sea Kale and the wonderfully named Vipers Bugloss. There is also a hide on Pagham Spit where keen birdwatchers can skulk without disturbing their feathered friends. I came across a fellow blogger ( who does just that!

Pagham Caravan Site

By now the stubborn grey cloud overhead had finally moved on and the weather was utterly glorious. Ahead of me would have been a rather tedious stretch of shingle beach walking all the way into Bognor Regis, so was glad to retrace my steps back to Sidlesham and enjoy this tour of Pagham Harbour all over again!

Bognor Wreck

Once I had teamed up with the car I drove around the tortuous road route between the two ends of my walk. I parked up on Bognor Esplanade and wandered down onto the beach. The tide was going out and much of the sandy part of the beach had been exposed so I headed down to the water’s edge and decided to follow that as my route rather than the interminable shingle. My eyes were drawn to two things – one a cross channel ferry way in the distance beyond Selsey Bill but clearly distinguishable. The other was much closer and appeared to be some form of concrete structure that had washed in (impossible I know). I had no idea what this was, but I am guessing it may have been part of the D Day equipment left behind to rot (many of the preparations took place around here). If any readers are aware of what this is (see the picture) I would be pleased to know, for I have found no reference to it on the internet. I continued as far as that, but no further for by now the sun was getting low in the sky and meeting up with Pagham Spit was nothing more than a mile of shingle walking with little or no additional interest.

Bognor Beach
Having inspected the wreck I returned towards the centre of Bognor and headed for the pier. This was once the home to the International Birdman competition (since 1978) where people wearing silly costumes flung themselves off the end to see how far they could fly under their own steam. Alas for Bognor, the pier was shortened in March 2008 and the competition was moved to my home town of Worthing amid fears of the receiving seawater being too shallow. The pier itself has clearly seen better days and has been severely rationalised due to the usual cocktail of expensive maintenance, storm and fire damage. Some pictures of the pier and how it used to look can be found at

Tropical Bognor
The other notable thing about Bognor Pier is that it was the starting point for the blog by Colin and Rosemary Fretwell, who turned left! (see it at ). Sadly no new posts have been made to this account for four years, so I’m not sure if these two are still at it.

Bognor Pier
Bognor seafront was relatively quiet apart from a few kids playing around on their skateboards. The facilities at the first of the Sussex seaside resorts I have reached are what you might expect, with crazy golf, fish and chip shops and grand looking hotels that echo a bygone era. It is not hard to picture hoards of tourists lapping this stuff up still on a hot summer’s day, but for now it was chilly and the sun was about to disappear and only the hardiest were out enjoying the Esplanade!


  1. I am sure you probably know this already (as this was posted many years ago), but as no one had commented about it I thought I would. The Bognor wreck you photographed is part of a 2nd World War Mulberry Harbour, detached during a storm, as mentioned on the link below. So you were right in your guess. :-)

    1. Thanks Ethereal Raven,
      Having found a few more bits and pieces like this around the coast I thought this is what it was. I appreciate the link - didn't find anything before!
      Kind regards