FRIDAY’S walk was mostly enhanced by the colour yellow (narcissi, celandines and gorse flowers) and the smell of coconut (gorse flowers smell of it. Although, since gorse is native to Great Britain and coconut is not, surely from a British perspective coconut should smell of gorse?) Less delightful ‘enhancements’ involved becoming festooned with the webs of what seemed like every single spider in West Sussex, the occasional aroma of decomposing seaweed and an extremely unwelcome case of sunburn.
I only actually intended to walk about eight miles today, with the intent to enjoy a leisurely stroll. This far I successfully achieved and then, having got to Southbourne, I thought ‘it’s only ten past two; I could do another eight miles. Easy.’ And so I set off round Thorney Island too.
It was pretty evident that spring is upon us, with the various flowers starting to bloom and the sunshine for which my pale, melanin-poor skin is in no way adapted. One benefit however is that we are enjoying more daylight, which meant that I could leave home at a slightly less inhuman hour than my walks have lately demanded.
Return to Bosham
The rail route to Bosham was pleasantly straightforward, with only one change (at Chichester) and, almost before I knew it, I was walking down leafy lanes from Bosham Station to ‘Old Bosham’ a mile away.
On my way, as I paused to consult my map, I was accosted by a man posting a letter, who seemed most concerned to make sure I wasn’t lost.
Since my map-reading skills are awesome and Bosham is not complicated, I had just confirmed to my own satisfaction that no, I was not lost, but I thanked the man anyway and he proceeded to tell me a number of things including how to navigate around Bosham Quay, the names and locations of some promising pubs on route and that he had recently been on holiday, walking near Falmouth. Being both English, we may also have mentioned the weather a couple of times.
Helpful Bloke crossed the road from the pillar box and disappeared into his house, while I continued along the road into Bosham. I was in pretty high spirits. Also Bosham was pretty.
This rather lovely village is mentioned on the Bayeux Tapestry as the place where Harold Godwinson and King Edward the Confessor met en route to discussions with William of Normandy as to who would be Edward’s successor.
Like Harold and Edward, I passed through Bosham, in my case making my way back to the road that runs around Bosham Harbour. There the ducks were out in force, bumbling about on the exposed mud as the tide slowly made its way in.
Having been quacked at, I left them to it. For those of us who are not ducks, that road is no place to hang about on when there’s an incoming tide.
Holy Trinity Church
As I wandered through the village I kept spying the tenth century Saxon church through the gaps between buildings. Before long I found myself standing in front of it, next to Bosham Quay.
After standing on Bosham Quay for a while, looking across Bosham Channel to Chidham, I completely failed to follow Helpful Bloke’s instructions on how to progress up the coast. The next random inhabitant of Bosham to walk past me also had no idea, which was less than helpful, as was my OS map when compared to the actual scene on the ground.
Errant Dog Man
Uncowed by mere geography, I headed north up the nearest street until I encountered a man walking his dog who knew where the footpath went on account of that being where he planned to walk the aforementioned dog. The dog, it appeared, had other ideas.
With a shout of thanks I left Errant Dog Man to untangle his dog’s lead from his ankles and headed up the east side of Bosham Channel, which is one of the many finger-like channels that form Chichester Harbour.
Properly speaking the harbour is a ria, a submerged non-glacial valley complex, which gives it a tree-like structure that goes some way to explain why it takes more than two days of walking to get round it.
From Bosham up to the head of the channel it was all fields on one side and mud on the other, until the channel ended and the path ran on to the A259, which took it west for maybe a quarter of a mile. The A259 then headed directly to Southbourne but that would have been far too easy and not nearly coastal enough. I therefore diverted south of the road at the first opportunity in order to head back down the west side of Bosham Channel.
It was along this stretch that I realised that West Sussex’s spiders had been busy stringing their webs across the footpath and that I had stepped through so many of them that I was starting to glisten.
Mostly I didn’t see the actual spiders themselves although at one point I did find a garden spider of improbable size sitting in a perfect orb web right across the path. It seemed a shame to ruin her work (and I didn’t want her as a passenger) so I picked my way round and marched on.
Two minutes later when I started to wonder how many others I’d just picked up by accident I had an attack of the shudders. No great arachnophile, me.
All thoughts of spiders, garden or otherwise, went out of my head when I reached Chidham, almost directly opposite Bosham, just over an hour after leaving the latter.
Chidham (from Anglo-Saxon ceod meaning bag or pouch – a reference to the shape of the peninsula – and the common Anglo-Saxon toponym ham meaning settlement) has apparently been a site of human habitation going back four thousand years and claims St Cuthman as one of its children, born there circa 681.
As St Cuthman then became a hermit in Steyning, twenty-five miles away, it clearly didn’t contain much to keep him. The village didn’t even make it into the Domesday Book as it was considered merely an adjunct of Bosham.
A short private road led me back towards the harbour edge.
At the end of the road I found myself looking back across the channel towards Bosham and the omnipresent sight of only Trinity Church. There was also the sad remains of a jetty.
From Chidham I continued south, discovering at this point that my neck was cooking nicely under the unexpectedly bright sunshine. A number of greylag geese honked derisively, which I decided to take as entirely valid criticism for not packing any sunscreen. The geese know. The geese are wise.
The peninsula down which I was walking ended at Cobnor Point, where Bosham Channel joined with Chichester Channel. I took advantage of a handy seat to take a rest, drink a cold drink, consult the map and once again be darkly amused that I walked thirteen miles last time that could have been crossed by ferry in a matter of minutes, had it been running.
I rounded Cobnor Point and discovered that the footpath ran down onto the harbour shore. Which was pretty pleasant, with some interestingly twisty trees, except for one thing: The high tide mark was above the level of the path and high tide itself was only an hour away.
Fortunately, the path climbed back onto higher ground before the sea had managed to climb onto the path. I spent a happy five minutes following a lazily-flapping butterfly down the path – I think it was a comma, there were several of them about – and was amazed at the number of times I had to duck or stop sharp for a buff-tailed bumblebee rocketing across the path at more-or-less head height.
The path took me up to the head of Thorney Channel and so to Prinsted, the part of Southbourne where I had intended to stop. And stop I did.
I sat down on a bench, with Prinsted’s thatched houses behind me, and looked out into the harbour, which was now full of water, and found myself looking at Thorney Island, around which the footpath continued.
Miscellaneous Old Bloke
‘Glorious weather,’ commented a Miscellaneous Old Bloke sat on the next bench along.
I agreed with him, my sunburn discomfort notwithstanding.
‘Looks like the tide might be coming in,’ he said.
He nodded towards the water, which was right up to the harbour edge and showing that peculiar listlessness that slack water has at the greatest extent of high tide. The tide was already in as much as it was going to get, barring a catastrophic failure of the flood defences, so I really wasn’t sure how to respond.
‘Looks like it might,’ I replied.
A Thorney Question
I turned my attention back to Thorney Island. I’d already walked about eight miles and it was only ten past two. If I continued onto Emsworth I’d walk as far again, but I knew I had plenty of daylight. The question was, did I feel like walking a total of sixteen miles?
‘Ha!’ I thought to myself, ‘twenty is my standard these days, I laugh in the face of sixteen.’
I knew I was going to decide that.
The Great Deep
Not very much later at all, I had passed by a marina and Prinsted Point and was approaching the Great Deep, the channel which almost separates Thorney Island from Great Britain.
I say ‘almost’ because seawalls partly dam both ends, with culverts and sluices allowing water to flow through them. Consequently, whether Thorney is still an island or is now a peninsula is a subject open for discussion. Whatever it is, it’s a Ministry of Defence base, with access restricted to the path.
The path to the gate ran directly over the western sea wall at a point where there was previously a dangerous ford at low tide.
Once through the gate, there were a number of signs along the path all around the island warning that it was MOD property, that trespassers would be prosecuted and that guard dogs were on patrol. The signs didn’t bother to add that, quite aside from any army sentries, the MOD Police are one of the few British police forces whose constables are routinely armed.
I decided to stay on the path.
Much of Thorney Island comprised an airfield, which was built in 1938 for the RAF and which seemed to be launching and landing microlights on Friday. The island ceased to be an RAF base in 1976, was briefly used as a processing centre for Vietnamese refugees in the early eighties and was then transferred to the Royal Artillery in 1984, who remain its tenants to this day.
The military base includes the village of West Thorney which confusingly sits on the east coast of Thorney Island (there was an East Thorney, across the other side of the harbour near the Witterings, but it has long since fallen into the sea). Being part of the base, West Thorney is out of bounds to the public with the sole exception of the parish church, a twelfth century Norman church dedicated to St Nicholas.
In theory, the tiny Pilsey Island, which is an RSPB nature reserve, lies off the bottom of Thorney Island. In practice, even at high tide, all that separates Pilsey from Thorney is now a slightly squelchy sand bank; essentially, they have become a single island.
Pilsey Island became the unlikely trigger for an international incident in 1957, when the body of MI6 agent Lionel Crabb was found there, minus its head and hands. Crabb, a trained diver, had been sent to spy on the propeller design of the Russian cruiser Ordzhonikidze, which had conveyed Nikita Khrushchev to Britain for diplomatic talks. Exactly what happened is unclear (of course) but it seems likely they caught him and made their displeasure fatally known.
Someone else who was apparently displeased was the Prime Minister of the day, Anthony Eden, who was distinctly unimpressed that MI6 was running diplomatically embarrassing missions that he didn’t know about, especially inside the UK (which was more usually the preserve of MI5). Eden forced MI6’s director-general John Sinclair to resign. Of course, Eden himself would later be forced to resign on account of the Suez Crisis.
I briefly considered sitting on the sandy shore of Pilsey Island for a rest but was forced to retreat by a couple who seemed unconcerned that their highly aggressive dog wouldn’t allow anyone else on the beach. Dog bites not sounding too appealing, I carried on and rested elsewhere on the island.
I do sincerely hope though that their dog ran off later and got eaten by an MOD Alsatian.
Once on the south-western edge of Thorney Island the sea had more noticeable ripples on account of being directly north of Chichester Harbour’s entrance.
When I decided it was time to rest in a dangerous-dog-free spot, I turned out to have chosen fortuitously: two common seals were swimming and diving just off shore. I watched the seals for some time, feeling ridiculously pleased to have spotted them. Sadly my photo of them turned out to be two indistinct blobs.
Once around the headland of Marker Point, I headed directly north up the west coast of Thorney Island whereupon I encountered my old and trusty enemy, the blackthorn, which was merrily a-flower.
I don’t like blackthorn nearly as much as it likes me. And it really likes me. I know it really likes me because of the way it tries to have sex with my nose, which is bloody annoying and not a little rude. I mean, it never even asks before it tries to pollinate me.
Fortunately my hay fever is only mild, but it always occurs in early spring and blackthorn, hawthorn and dog rose are the three things that seem to set it off the most.
Leaving Thorney Island
Moving swiftly on, I passed a field full of sheep (quite what the Royal Artillery do with those I shudder to think) and soon arrived at the other security gate and buzzed my way out (again without questions), for the final stretch towards Emsworth.
I passed by another marina, a small field full of shire horses and an old tidal mill pond full of coots (I love coots) before I crossed the county border into Emsworth proper and Hampshire.
Dating back to Saxon times (Æmeles worþ meaning ‘Æmele‘s enclosure’), Emsworth had grown large enough to be a market town by 1239 and was a busy fishing port up until the nineteenth century, when it was known for shipbuilding, boat building and rope making. By the twentieth century these had fallen away in favour of pleasure craft and the marina.
Doing Just Fine
I was quite pleased to have crossed into Hampshire, which used to include Thorney Island before that was transferred to West Sussex. Hampshire also used to include Bournemouth – before county boundary changes in 1974 transferred that town into Dorset – and hence is the county of my birth.
This is the fourth county of my walks so far (after Kent and East and West Sussex) and it gives me an additional sense of progress made.
Sunburn and Sleepiness
At the end of my walk, though my neck was sunburned I felt otherwise fine, proving perhaps that my laughing in the face of sixteen miles was not altogether bravado. I slept well when I got home however.
Or at least I did until my alarm went off: I had somewhere else to be – also in Hampshire as it happens – on Saturday morning…
This time: 16 miles
Total since Gravesend: 288 miles