TODAY I found myself looking back on yesterday’s walk in a reflective mood, glad that I have the luxury to sit about and contemplate. I spent the day ambling along the edge of Chichester Harbour at a leisurely pace, enjoying warm weather and the gentle ripple-waves of an incoming tide.
‘Oh how I love the sea,’ I thought. And I do. Even those parts of it that sit tamely within harbours, quietly and gently going splishy-splash.
Thoughts and Plans
The Cruel Sea
Later, when I saw the news and learned how, across the other side of the world, the sea had leapt up out of its usual place and levelled a number of Japanese cities, I was very much struck by the contrast. While Great Britain isn’t situated in a geologically active region as Honshu is, so the risk here is negligible, I was deeply thankful that the contrast is all I need be struck by, as opposed to all those in Japan who were struck by both a 10m (33’) high wall of water moving at 60 mph and, presumably, stark terror. It makes you think. And not in a good way.
On a lighter note, my walk yesterday began with the customary catching of the five o’clock train in order to maximise my daylight on the south coast. I had a planned itinerary, which involved walking at a leisurely pace from West Wittering around to Southbourne. This cunning plan in no way survived the signalling problems that delayed my train from London and set up a chain of missed connections that meant that when I finally reached West Wittering I was an hour and a half behind time.
To be honest, the plan wouldn’t have worked all that well anyway, as I’d incorrectly measured some of the distances involved and the walk as planned was rather longer than I thought it was.
Having arrived in West Wittering I immediately threw my plan away in its entirety and resolved to simply make it up as I went along.
This improvisational approach kicked off with a circular walk from West Wittering to West Wittering via West Wittering Beach, which covered the final three miles or so of my previous excursion only this time in actual daylight so that I could enjoy the sandy beaches. I haven’t included these three miles in my mileage, as I had already walked them, but they did take today’s total back up to my new standard of twenty miles per walk.
The beach at West Wittering is remarkably uncommercialised, having been purchased by locals pooling together their resources in 1952 in order to prevent developers from getting their greasy hands on it.
The beach has been awarded a blue flag but has always been popular…
West Wittering was the summer home of the Bishop of Chichester for centuries. The village itself dates back to at least Saxon times (Wittering – the settlement of Wihthere’s people) and once had its church destroyed by Vikings.
Sir Henry Royce Bt, the famous engineer who together with Charles Rolls founded a certain car manufacturing marque, moved to the parish in 1917 and it was there in 1933 that he and his team designed the Merlin aero engine that went on to power such iconic WW2 aircraft as the Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane and Avro Lancaster.
Having arrived back at West Wittering for the second time that morning, I set off northwards along the banks of the harbour. Due to the shape and position of Chichester Harbour this also meant that I was heading eastwards rather than westwards and so going in the ‘wrong’ direction.
The tide was out as I made my along and much of the route comprised my favourite sort of tree-lined path; I kept getting glimpses across the harbour through the trees and identified Thorney Island across the mud and river channels.
I passed by the tiny hamlet of Rookwood and made my way alongside the Chichester Channel – essentially an ‘arm’ of the harbour – towards West Itchenor, a couple of miles further on.
As I approached West Itchenor I passed what looked like a large boatshed with half-timbered gable and a clock, facing onto a boatyard. It was only when I noticed that the boats were all the same make that I realised that it was a boat builder’s yard. Shortly after that, I reached the Harbour Office and the jetty from which the seasonal West Itchenor ferry departs.
The name Itchenor originates from Icca, a Saxon chieftain who settled there while Britain was still technically Roman. West Itchenor is distinct from its counterpart, East Itchenor, which was chartered in the seventh century and thriving in the twelfth but had somehow disappeared by the fifteenth.
By now, I was ready for a quick rest and some sort of refreshment, which took the form of a Gin & Tonic in a nearby pub. Within the pub, which was mostly empty at eleven o’clock, the few occupants were engaged in two topics of conversation:
One, discussed in hushed tones of horror, was about the Pacific tsunami then heading towards Hawaii, which was evacuating its coastal regions.
The other, expressed in loud and indignant outrage, involved the discovery by some elderly beardy guy that modern broadcasters have the effrontery and indecency to employ women as sports commentators; clearly this was a sign of the apocalypse. At the very least it would no doubt lead to the poor girls’ heads exploding when they tried to understand sport. Sadly – and shockingly – I’m not exaggerating all that much.
From West Itchenor I headed eastwards along the southern bank of the Chichester Channel, following one of the many footpaths that criss-cross this area and may be relics of rights of way associated with the missing East Itchenor.
A mile or so later I found myself at Birdham, which in 1291 was valued at £5 6/8 opposed to the wealthier East Itchenor at £8, but has nonetheless outlasted its vanished neighbour.
A small village, Birdham is home to a locked marina that, judging from how full it was with boats, was doing rather well. The village may well have been founded where two Roman roads meet and was given by Caedwalla, King of Wessex, to St Wilfred in 683. It appears as ‘Brideham‘ in the Domesday Book.
Chichester Ship Canal
In 1822 Birdham became the place where the Chichester Ship Canal joined the harbour, running beside where the two marina now is. The canal runs to Chichester via two locks and could carry ships of up to a hundred tons burden. It was originally intended to link up with a canal to Arundel and London, but the whole enterprise turned out to be a bit of a white elephant.
Never a commercial success, the very last of its insufficient commercial traffic ended in 1906 and the canal was abandoned in 1928. The middle section is no longer navigable at all, while the two ends are home to a few houseboats and other private leisure vessels.
I crossed over the lock gates, pausing to watch the overflow – powerful water always interests me – until I remembered the conversation in West Itchenor about the Pacific tsunami at which point I felt just a teensy bit uncomfortable about my enthusiasm and pressed on.
Then, just a few steps further to the right than the above picture, I found an altogether more restful scene.
From Birdham I was expecting to follow a footpath inland to meet up with a farm track and then eventually a minor road east of Dell Quay. To my surprise, however, I had a number of possible routes onwards as the OS map showed only the public footpath. As it turned out, there were additional permissive footpaths, to be used at the sufferance of the landowner, and I followed one of these.
It was lined with trees – always a personal favourite – that led alongside the harbour and was rather lovely. By now, it was clear that the tide had come in quite a bit.
The path led northwards, the channel having curved to the left, for about a mile and a half. It eventually met back up with a public road just outside Dell Quay, which pretty much comprised a pub, a quayside and a handful of buildings.
The quay was home to a number of small boats and dinghies and was only navigable to those an hour or so on either side of high tide; the rest of the time the harbour here was pretty much all mud. It was not always so however – the channel was fully navigable in Roman times and was still in use well into the Middle Ages – indeed there was a ‘great flood’ in the area in 1274.
A quay was built in the sixteenth century and became the sole official landing point for the Port of Chichester and thus the seventh most important port in England, which is actually quite hard to believe when you look at these days.
As has been the case with a number of towns I’ve passed through on my travels, the silting up of the harbour put paid to that (while leading to the building of the Chichester Ship Canal to bypass all the mud).
I could have followed the banks of the harbour northwards at this point, walking just over a mile to Fishbourne, which marked the end of the Chichester Channel and inner edge of the harbour. It too had been navigable to the Romans but had long since ceased to be so.
However, rather than head directly north, I elected to detour into historic Chichester, since it was linked so closely with Dell Quay.
I thus followed the back roads from Dell Quay to nearby Apuldram (pronounced as if apple-dram), a tiny village that was once a centre for salt production (via the salterns at Dell Quay) and the extraction of copperas – otherwise known as iron (II) sulphate – from iron pyrites for the dyeing industry.
Apuldram (variously spelt Apeldreham in records from 1121, Appeltrieham in 1198, and Appuldram in 1440) managed to hang onto its salt industry until the mid-nineteenth century, a good century or so after tax changes had forced the other Sussex salterns to close.
Apuldram also possessed a permissive path that saved me from dying on the surprisingly busy road and which soon met up with a public right-of-way. It was there that I got my first glimpse of Chichester Cathedral.
This footpath spat me out onto the extremely busy A286, which I followed into Stockbridge, retracing part of the route by which a bus had conveyed me from Chichester to West Wittering earlier that morning. Before long, I found myself in the centre of Chichester.
Chichester is a lovely little city and is home to some of the oldest churches and buildings in Great Britain including a fine eleventh century Saxon church. Peregrine falcons nest annually beneath the spire of its twelfth century cathedral, which dominates the centre of the city; the bishopric was transferred here from its former home in Selsey in 1070.
The City Centre
There were a number of other interesting-looking buildings including a bank that looked more like an old town hall, the aforementioned Saxon church and ‘the red house’, a burgundy-coloured building that wouldn’t have hurt my eyes if a bright red car hadn’t been parked right outside it, causing a hideous and unexpected urban colour-clash.
I explored the four streets that met in the centre of the city – very sensibly named for the cardinal points of the compass – in order to find somewhere that would serve me a suitable lunch. Once I had been rested and restored I returned to the meeting of those streets to look at this:
These days Chichester is the county town of West Sussex and it has long been a centre of regional power. Not only was it a cathedral city but it was the chief city of the Kingdom of Sussex – it is said to be named for Cissa, son of King Ælle of Sussex, who captured the city at the close of the fifth century as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Even before the South Saxons came it was important: As Noviomagus Reginorum it was the capital of the Regni, a Celtic tribe who formed the Roman client state of the Civitas Reginorum. Their first century king, Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, is one of the likely candidates for ownership of the palatial Roman villa unearthed in nearby Fishbourne.
That the city of Noviomagus Reginorum was important is attested by the fact that one Roman road (Stane Street) linked its east gate directly with Londinium and another ran from the north gate to Calleva Atrebatum (the capital of the Atrebates in what is now the village of Silchester).
I headed westwards from Chichester Cross, past the cathedral, pausing only to take the photo of the Bell Tower. In doing so I was accosted by a helpful police community support officer, who seized upon the opportunity to support his community by chatting merrily about the falcons, which was kind of nice.
Once I had torn myself away from the world’s most amiable PCSO – having resisted the urge to explain to him that peregrines (Falco peregrines) and kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) are not the same bird – I made my way along a helpfully marked European cycle route, fighting my way through a throng of be-uniformed schoolkids who had clearly just been released and who were charging hell-for-leather in the opposite direction.
Eventually, my route took me underneath the A27 and disgorged me onto the A259 on the outskirts of Fishbourne, the village that marks the northern extent of the Chichester Channel as described earlier.
It is also, as I have said, the location of Fishbourne Roman Palace, a major archaeological site built in the 1st century AD, around thirty years after the Roman conquest of Britain, on the site of a Roman army supply base established during the invasion (in 43). A number of possible occupants have been touted but it is currently believed to be the palace of Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, king of the Regni.
At Fishbourne I cut down a side road to reach the public footpath that runs partway down the northern bank of the Chichester Channel. I was in no way prepared for what I found there however, which I’m not sure I can adequately explain. Let me just ask this question: how tall are reeds?
I was just getting used to the Giant Reeds of Enormity when the path left them behind and it was suddenly all open farm tracks and/or ankle-deep mud again. The footpath veered about as if it were drunk and then connected me with a public back road just north of Oldpark Wood, a small stretch of trees that mark the remains of the private forest of the Bishops of Chichester.
A fair amount of following back roads ensued, helpfully directed at junctions by charming black-and-white pre-Worboys fingerposts of the sort you only see nowadays in the back of beyond (or as ‘quaint’ reproductions in more tourist-oriented parts. These were originals).
I passed a number of farms and and ahandful of houses – including one named in Cornish: Chy An Mor meaning ‘Sea House’ – and skirted the private estate of Bosham Hoe before stopping for a well-earned rest at Smugglers Lane Ferry Hard.
There, I looked across the channel to West Itchenor and considered again that if I had delayed this walk by two months I could have made the journey from West Itchenor to the ferry hard in something more like ten minutes than nearly five hours. Although, where would the fun have been in that?
(I have decided incidentally that ferries are fair play when they are running; I see no need to be a purist about walking every inch of the coast. After all coasts are fractal and don’t lend themselves well to being measured.)
The ferry crossing at Smugglers’ Lane dates back to the 17th Century. You can guess what else used to go on here from the name of the road that leads to it.
I didn’t head back up Smugglers’ Lane but instead followed a footpath around the edge of the harbour, rapidly discovering that the footpath was in the harbour and that if high tide hadn’t already been and gone then a good deal of wading would have been required.
It was about this point that I decided to end my walk at Bosham, which village I knew I would soon be approaching. My original plan had been to carry on to Southbourne and, while I was game to complete the distance, I only had about an hour to sunset at this point and knew that darkness would fall before I was halfway there. I decided for once that I really didn’t fancy another race against nightfall and so freed myself up for a pleasant and gentle amble towards Bosham.
History – St Wilfred
Bosham (pronounced ‘bozzam’) has been inhabited since Roman times. It was mentioned by the Venerable Bede in The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, in which he describes St Wilfred’s visit in 681. St Wilfred was surprised to find an Irish monk, Dicul, and five disciples in a small monastery already proselytising to the Saxons.
History – King Canute
Three hundred years later, Bosham became the property and residence of King Canute (he had a palace in the village, probably where the Manor House now stands) and has the best claim to being the place where he failed utterly in public relations, demonstrating to his courtiers that even kings cannot stop tides and yet somehow being remembered for trying to, rather than the lesson in humility intended.
There is a tradition that his eight-year old daughter drowned in the mill stream in 1020 and was subsequently buried in the village. In 1865 a coffin containing a child’s skeleton (of about the right age) was discovered and this was thought to be Canute’s daughter.
History – Earl Godwin
Even before Canute’s death in 1035 he gave up his direct administration of the region, allowing Godwin, Earl of Wessex to run Wessex in his name (by the ninth century Sussex had essentially been annexed by Wessex anyway).
Earl Godwin owned the manor of Bosham, passing it onto Harold on his death in 1053. After the Norman conquest William kept it – the only Sussex estate retained in his own hands – and Domesday lists it as one of the wealthiest manors in England.
Arrival in Bosham
These days, Bosham is just a small, attractive village that does quite well out of tourism. The harbour is all mud at low tide and was hosting a number of swans, ducks and egrets as I made my way along the road that hugs the edge of the harbour.
The road was, I noticed, on the harbour side of the sea defences and a number of signs warned that it lay below the high tide mark and flooded twice a day. I wonder how many tourists have ignored the signs and parked, paying the price.
As I wandered through the village I encountered this sign:
Duck Sign Man
As I was taking the picture of the duck sign I became aware of a man trying not to get in the way of my photo. He was trying very hard, and not a little theatrically, in the way that one does when one is sufficiently inebriated that you can smell the alcohol at five paces.
Duck Sign Man enquired as to what I was photographing before embarking, on hearing the answer, on a rambling and not entirely lucid account of the sad decline of duck numbers. The key point to his discourse appeared to be that when he first moved to Bosham the ducks used to come in through his catflap and raid his kitchen but that this behaviour had since stopped.
The Deliciousness of Ducks
Now, I like ducks as much as the next man (wellnot literally the next man, not when that’s Duck Sign Man, but you know what I mean) but I’m not sure I’d be too full of teary-eyed wistfulness on account of anatine marauders helping themselves to whatever they can get their bills into.
Indeed, if that was the case I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the dwindling of duck numbers coincided with an increase in sales of oranges and other things that go well with a delicious waterfowl likely to be caught by a cunningly modified breadbin.
I successfully escaped Duck Sign Man’s incoherent ramblings by the cunning expedient of walking faster than Passing Woman With Poodle, who had clearly recognised him but was far too slow with her avoidance.
This achieved, I began to think about how to get back to Chichester and a train home. I initially started to walk towards Bosham station, which is actually a mile way in Broadbridge, but then, just as I was walking past a bus stop, the Chichester bus came round a corner and made that extra mile quite unnecessary.
Twenty minutes later I was having a coffee in the shadow of Chichester Cathedral; twenty minutes after that I was on a train to Victoria, reading a newspaper article about the tsunami.
One Step Forwards…
It’s only as I sit here now, looking at my OS map that I realise I ended this journey, which was ostensibly westwards on account of attempting to circumperambulate the island clockwise, a full two miles east of where I started. That is, in purely east-west terms, I went two miles backwards on this walk!
This time: 17 miles
Total since Gravesend: 272 miles