Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Sussex Coast Walk Day 5 Bognor Regis - Littlehampton

Bognor Picturedrome
This week I had a Sunday morning available to me instead of an evening.  I could go as early as I liked but being a Sunday I had a different constraint than I’m normally used to ie what time is the first train of the day?  This section is getting closer to home for me so using public transport in both directions made perfect sense.  Unfortunately the first train on a Sunday from West Worthing that could get me to Bognor (changing at Barnham) was the relatively sedate time of 7.45am.  So it was that instead of a nice early morning walk and possibly getting back for breakfast, I actually took practically all morning over it! 
Bognor Pier
Having reached Bognor at 8.15am, I headed down to the seafront, past the newly painted Picturedrome Cinema, a rather fine looking old fashioned cinema of which there are so few left these days.  Walking down through the town gave me a much better insight into its historical context, which would have been impossible by merely passing through on the seafront.  As with many seaside towns, Bognor has some old parts that have been conserved and other areas that have been horribly vandalised by town planners over the years.  Although difficult to tell on a Sunday morning when there are only street sweepers and a few customers at the town’s boot fair, Bognor town centre is usually a pretty bustling kind of place.  Much of the shopping area though is a victim of some pretty awful 1960s architecture, which doesn’t inspire a shopping visit.

Swing Boats

I regained the seafront by Steyne Gardens, just along from the pier and headed eastwards once again.  Although still quite early it was fairly obvious that today would be a hot one and I was pleased that I would be finishing early.  All along the Esplanade were a small army of early morning joggers of all manner of shapes, sizes and range of abilities.  Some were virtually professional, done up in their finest gear and almost floating effortlessly along the tarmac, while others were more like me; a bit fat, cherry red and sweating profusely and looking thoroughly uncomfortable and miserable about life.  Sometimes I wonder why these people put themselves through such torture; they can’t surely enjoy it?

Soon I came upon the huge white big top structure that is one of only three remaining Butlins holiday camps in the UK (the others being at Minehead and Skegness).  Despite this being a landmark for nearly twenty miles of the South Downs Way about twelve miles north of here, up close the site is well protected by a very large fence which means that very little of the complex can be seen from outside.  In truth that’s probably a good thing for the good folks holidaying there, for the last thing I’d want if I stayed there is to be gawped at by some oik in his hiking boots!

Railway Carriage Home
By now the runners along the promenade were diminishing in number, but I had entered an area of dog-friendly beaches and there were dozens of dog walkers down on the beach supervising their pooches frolicking in the sea.  Despite being quite early on a Sunday morning, it was quite surprising how much activity there was.  Once I had passed Butlins there was a small Council owned park on the left and the sea outlet of the rife complex that drains much of the hinterland behind Bognor.  Alongside was another of those homes that I had encountered at East Wittering that was clearly built from a vintage railway carriage.  It was one of a number of various sized shacks that may well have started life in a similar way, but which weren’t obvious now.
Beach Hut Line

I looped around these houses and around the corner was rather a different kind of character to the seafront.  This was the much more sedate Felpham, dominated first by beach huts and later the preponderance of large detached houses owned by the well heeled.  Some of these were mock tudor from the 1930s while others were much more modern, perhaps replacing less salubrious houses that had once dared to occupy the same space.  Most of them had very well manicured gardens, suggesting that they are owned by retired people with plenty of time at their disposal or well heeled professionals who can afford ‘help’.  Behind me now was a fantastic view of the coast back to Selsey behind me and once again on the horizon I caught sight of another cross channel ferry heading into Portsmouth.
Middleton on Sea

I had expected this section of the coast to be rather monotonous and in a sense it was, but what kept me entertained was the human activity all around me.  The dog walkers were ubiquitous, while on the sea wall people were occupied with running, young children trying out their bikes and their was the occasional group enjoying their breakfast in their palatial front garden.  Soon, the sea wall lost its tarmac surface and for a short stretch I continued along a gravel path.  After a quarter of a mile or so though I got a nice surprise when I turned the corner and found myself on Middleton-on-Sea Greensward, a rather attractive lawned area above the beach, flanked by an area of vegetated shingle.  The centrepiece of the Greensward is a grassy courtyard and two rows of black terraced beach huts, originally built here in the 1930s, although one of the rows is actually a recent build, replacing the original buildings that were falling into disrepair a few years ago.

At the end of the Greensward I reached the end of the walkable stretch of the sea wall and was faced by a rather formidable lump of concrete barring my way forward.  It seems that the private estates along this stretch of coast do not welcome casual visitors either!  Fortunately it was still low tide and the way forward was quite easy, but only along the beach.  As it happens this was quite pleasant walking and although I lost the height and view from the top of the sea wall, there was still plenty of interest at beach level.  I soon became fascinated by the patterns created in the sand by worm casts and water escaping to the sea flowing across the surface.  The number of people on the beach had diminished considerably but there were still a few about, mostly the more energetic dog walkers.
Biting Stonecrop

Ahead I could see the sea defences that had been installed in the early 1990s to protect Elmer, the last of the settlements of this contiguous urban area.  The defences had been placed at the end of the beach at the seaward end and were deliberately designed to allow for some longshore drift to continue.  Starving beaches further along the coast of their raw material can be disastrous as those beaches are then depleted of shingle and sand.  The effect that these defences have had locally can be seen visually at (scroll down a bit).  On the ground the area behind the rocks is obviously built up and there is a crescent shaped scour pattern behind each opening to the sea.  As I passed the rocks I became interested in a man walking along the strandline collecting cuttlefish bones.  As he was carrying a large black sack I guessed that he wasn’t collecting them for personal use.  I wasn’t even sure what he was doing was legal; although given that there were so many on offer I am sure that he wasn’t doing much harm by taking them away.

Pink Bindweed
At the end of the housing I took the opportunity to head up onto the sea wall once again, which was thankfully available to me for the next section.  I wanted to get a sense of what this next stretch of the shore would be like, for this is one of the few stretches of undeveloped lowland coast in the County.  On my left now was farmland and some small woods.  Not terribly exciting but a novelty nonetheless.  The shingle plants here were out in full flower and there was a particularly fine area of biting stonecrop and its cheerful and distinctive yellow flowers.  However, I didn’t want to walk too long at the top of the beach for it was now loose shingle and as a result very difficult to walk on.  I decided therefore to drop back onto the beach and continued along this way until I got to Climping.  Knowing there was a little settlement by the beach here I took the opportunity to look.

Littlehampton Harbour
Climping beach is obviously quite popular with campers as I saw a number of people emerging from their tents, looking a bit dishevelled and unwashed.  Cars were beginning to fill up the car park and the mobile snack bar was already doing a roaring trade even though it was only about 10am.  The car park fees were decidedly low tech – a man sitting on a deckchair with a parasol was collecting the fees from people as they entered.  Having seen the facilities on offer I wasn’t sure that the parking fee was worth it.
Crossing The Arun

Protecting the car park was a decidedly ropy looking sea wall that in places had already been breached by the sea.  The whole thing looked well beyond repair and given its remote location I would be very surprised if any more public money will be used for a replacement.  I soon retreated back to the sandy beach and continued along almost to Littlehampton.  On the West Beach at Littlehampton is a rather surprising feature – some very large sand dunes on the shoreward side of the beach.  These are the first I have seen since East Head and apart from a boardwalk that runs through the middle are kept off limits to would be visitors to protect their fragility.

Littlehampton Bridge
Over the other side of the dunes the golf course was busy (do golfers ever sleep?), but my attention was drawn to the fort built in the Napoleonic Wars to protect the Arun, the first river of any note that I have come across on this walk.  The fort is almost completely enveloped by ivy and other greenery, but enough remains to get an insight into how it once must have looked.  Across the river are the amusements and attractions that can be found in almost any seaside resort.  Day trippers were pouring into the car park on the west beach armed with picnics and beach paraphernalia.  For me though this was the end of my shortish morning walk.  I headed up the Arun and crossed via the pedestrian bridge, getting there in plenty of time for my 11.15am train home.