Selsey Bill To Fishbourne West Sussex
An early start on Friday 23rd March 18, saw myself and Brian Corlett heading to Selsey Bill via Chichester to walk to Fishbourne Sussex via Bracklesham Bay, East head and Chichester Channel. With the promise of sunshine all day, that didn’t disappoint. This walk was going to be one to remember.
Selsey has existed since Saxon times and its name derives from the Old English meaning Seal’s Island. Bill seems to be a word added a lot later (c1800) and was probably copied after Portland Bill and meaning headland.
It does have a rich history, one of my favourite pieces is The annals for 896 record a sea and beach battle, involving a fleet of Viking ships against those of Alfred The Great’s newly founded navy. Three of the Danish vessels tried to escape, but two were grounded on, it is believed, Selsey Bill. The crews were captured and sent to Winchester where they were hanged by orders of Alfred, …. that will teach them!
In recent popular music there are two references to Selsey Bill including the songs “Saturday’s Kids” by The Jam (from the 1979 album Setting Sons), along with “Bracklesham Bay”: “Save up their money for a holiday/To Selsey Bill, or Bracklesham Bay and the Madness song “Driving In my Car”: “I drive up to Muswell Hill, I’ve even been to Selsey Bill.”
After a short distance along the foreshore and after climbing over the wooden groynes, we find ourselves caught between the rising tide and some large sea defences that say they should not be climbed on as they are slippery and dangerous when wet. This means we would need to turn back, return to the start and walk through the town to the next piece of beach, which we really do not want to do. So gingerly we edge our way across these sea defences until we eventually find our way through. However, word of warning, I would not recommend it, as at one point it got quite bad.
Eventually we thought the drama was over and we found our way through the sea defence obstacle course to the nice beach at West Selsey. Thinking this beach went all the way to Bracklesham Bay we continued on it only to find an even bigger sea defence of larger slippery rocks with no foot access to the beach, it really was not our day! Now I know that reclaiming land for development is big business, but please, I wish someone in the planning stage would think about access to areas once these are in place. Another risky climb down these rocks got the heart pumping and if we had not done so it was an extra four mile walk around the Broad Rife marsh lands. The other thing we could have done here is to have timed our walk to coincide with low water and I believe access to this beach would have been better.
After this additional drama we continued along the sand to where Broad Rife marsh water enters the sea. I had no concerns about this stream because on my map it had the beach running right across the front of it. Luckily for me my hunch was proved right, but it would need to be crossed at its shortest width. Loving a bit of what I call “Bear Gryllsing” it was boots and socks off time for the short refreshing wade across to the other side. This was startling news to Brian at first, but he soon took to it like a duck to water and I know deep down inside he was thanking me for introducing him to this life experience!
On the other side of Broad Rife there are remains of groynes which have long been swept away by the tide. Along this stretch there has been some major beach erosion and this beach has been stripped so low by the tide that the wooden groyne boards are right up in the air, which would suggest the beach level here has dropped in some places by roughly 12 ft.
Bracklesham Bay opens up and we can walk on the hard sand past East & West Wittering. At low water this beach opens up heading towards East Head Spit and the east side entrance to Chichester Harbour. In May 1944 this beach was used by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in a dummy run for D-Day, code named Operation Fabius. Today the whole stretch of Bracklesham Bay is popular with many surfers. With a low beach gradient and the lack of any obvious dangers such as rips or obstacles it is a great beach for learners and has one of the UK’s oldest running surf clubs, the “Shore Surf Club”.
It’s always a pleasure to see horses on a beach, there’s something special about the relationship of rider and horse, when you see them treading water and splashing around in the surf. Sadly for us these horses were just out for a nice gallop and stroll.
Nearing East Head Spit the beach is very pleasant in the sunshine and the sand dunes of East Head which run the length of the spit are forming to our right. On a clear day there are far reaching views across to the Isle of Wight and during this time of the year it is very pleasant with only a Kite Surfer and a handful of people on the beach. However I was reading it is good to avoid the beach on sunny summer weekends when up to 15,000 people come down to enjoy the beach. It is a lovely spot.
Brian on the very tip of East Head. East Head is an important sand and shingle spit at the entrance to Chichester Harbour. It was formed by the process of longshore drift, but its present shape and direction have been affected by sea defences that have been interrupting this process for nearly 200 years.
It is used for recreation by many thousands of walkers and tourists. East Head is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and has an international designation as a Ramsar Site because of its importance for coastal birds. The sand dune habitat is valuable to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The spit gives some protection to the rest of the harbour from erosion and flooding.
East Head is owned and managed by the National Trust and as it is a SSSI, Natural England also play an important role in its management.
In 1786, the spit pointed across the entrance of the Harbour towards Hayling Island. Since then, its position has moved and it now points north into the Harbour. During the 1960’s and 1970’s the sea breached the narrow hinge. So today the hinge is managed to prevent its breach. If the hinge is breached it may have a significant impact on the flow of water through the harbour entrance therefore affecting the deep water channels and ultimately the use of the harbour for navigation and marine related businesses.
Everyone knows I love a bit of mud or rough weather, the same can not always be said about the rest of the Wrong Roaders Walking Club membership!
Chichester Harbour is a large natural harbour on the solent and it straddles the boundary of West Sussex and Hampshire. It is one of four natural harbours in that area of the coastline, the others being Portsmouth Harbour, Langstone Harbour, and Pagham Harbour. The harbour and surrounding land is managed by Chichester Harbour Conservancy. Chichester Harbour is one of the few remaining undeveloped coastal areas in Southern England and remains relatively wild. Its wide expanses and intricate creeks are at the same time a major wildlife haven and among some of Britain’s most popular boating waters.
The massive stretch of tidal flats and saltings are of outstanding ecological significance. Very large populations of wildfowl and waders use the mudflats feeding on the rich plant life and the huge populations of intertidal invertebrates. More than 7,500 Brent geese overwinter on the intertidal mud-land and adjacent farmland and more than 50,000 birds reside in or visit the harbour throughout the year.
The harbour has some great walks and the paths on the whole are very good. The villages that meet the waters edge have some lovely pubs serving excellent food and drink. In the summer months there are local ferry’s linking the land points within the harbour.
After a lovely lunch at the Ship Inn Itchenor and another few more miles walking, we eventually find the Chichester Ship Canal.
Proposals for a canal linking Chichester directly to the sea go back at least as far as 1585 when an act of parliament was passed, allowing a cut linking Chichester with the sea. Further proposals were made in the early 19th century, with schemes being proposed in 1801, 1802, 1803 and 1811, but none of these came to pass and as a result the first link to the sea was via a branch of the Portsmouth and Arundel Canal opened in 1822. In 1817 it had been decided that the section between Chichester and Chichester Harbour, unlike the rest of the canal, would be built large enough to carry boats of 100 tons. Putting this into practice required a new act of parliament which was obtained in 1819. In the same year the construction of the Chichester branch began. During the construction of the basin a hoard of 300 Denarii was found. The section of the canal that would become the Chichester Canal was formally opened on 9 April 1822.
The Portsmouth and Arundel Canal was conceived as part of a bigger plan to provide a secure inland canal route from London to Portsmouth, but by the time the route was completed, the war with France had ended. With the reason for its construction removed, the canal was not a commercial success, and apart from the Chichester section, it had fallen into disuse by 1847.
Today the Canal is a leisure waterway linking historic Chichester to the sea. The canal runs 4 miles from the Basin to the Harbour at Birdham and, today, the 2 miles as far as Donnington is navigable.
It is valued by local residents and holidaymakers who enjoy the many activities: narrow boat trips, rowing, canoeing, rambling, fishing, and cycling. Management of the activities and maintenance of the canal is the responsibility of Chichester Ship Canal Trust, who lease the canal from West Sussex County Council.
Just after the canal you enter the large Chichester Marina here you can admire the boats as you walk over the lock gates or stop for a cuppa at the Spinnaker Cafe Bar which is open to the public.
From the marina you can look out over the water to Longmore Point.
In this field is the former now forgotten Military Airfield at Apuldram. Opened in 1943 and closed in 1944. It was situated south of Appledram / Apuldram on the east bank of the Chichester Channel, between the channel and the A286 road. The airfield was an Advanced Landing Ground, for the Royal Air Force 11th Fighter Group comprising an area of 1600 by 1400 yards equipped with a steel matting landing surface of a type known as Sommerfeld Track, which also served as hard standing. This landing surface was composed of a wire and chain link mesh with metal rods inserted at narrow intervals. The accommodation for the airfield was a tented camp, there was one “E.O. blister” type hangar and by 1985 the site was given over to agricultural use.
I found this piece on the web, which mentions the airfield in 1944 and one of our lucky brave Airman making it back to safety despite damage to his Hawker Typhoon.
Three days before D-Day (6 June 1944) Wing Commander Withey was operating with his No 183 (Hawker Typhoon) squadron out of Thorney Island when his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft flak as he was attacking a radar installation near Le Havre. He described how, after firing his rockets into the target, he pulled away from the target and opened his hood, ready to bail out. After re-trimming the aircraft to counter the drag caused by the damage to the Typhoon’s wing he turned north for England. In the climb he called his squadron but only heard an English speaking German controller offering him an airfield if he made a 180 degree turn! Ignoring this ‘assistance’ he continued in a northerly direction.
His engine was still functioning but spluttering when he finally saw the English coast and an airstrip (Apuldram) on his port side. At that moment the engine gave a final cough and he knew he would have to make a dead stick landing. The landing was fast and took him to the end of the strip where there was an area of boggy land, into which his Typhoon (HF-L) tipped onto its nose. He described how he climbed down from the aircraft and how Apuldram’s station commander, Group Captain ‘Sailor’ Malan, came out and picked him up, put his parachute into his jeep and drove him back to Thorney Island.
Very humbling, Wing Commander Withey makes it sound like it was all in a day’s work.
Nearing Fishbourne at Dell Quay, the end is in sight and the day is drawing to a close. It has been a very good walk and I can strongly recommend a stroll in this area, beautiful. Also check out the Crown & Anchor Inn, if you come this way, we did not have time, but it looks lovely in this setting.
Fishbourne, meaning “stream with fish”, is located at the head of Chichester Channel, one of the long arms of Chichester Harbour. It was amongst the first Roman settlements when they first entered Britain. They laid down the foundation for development, progress and established the Fishbourne palace in 75 AD, which is still considered as one of the great architectural works in all of Britain. It’s only a quarter of a mile to the train station from here and our long journey home, however sadly for us our train was cancelled and our last minute dash was unnecessary in the end. 18.30 miles