diamond geezer

 Monday, May 27, 2024

Walking the coast of Britain can be a tortuous meandering slog round umpteen bays and inlets or it can be a simple stroll along a gentle curving shoreline. The coast of Sussex is mostly the latter which makes it ideal for a good long coastal walk. At the weekend I headed to the urban shores of the Brighton and Hove Built-up Area, one of England's largest conurbations, and walked over 13 miles of its beachside edge. Very roughly it looks like this.


The major towns and cities are Littlehampton, Worthing, Hove and Brighton, and inbetween are a score of smaller settlements linked together like a string of pearls. Non-residential firebreaks are few and far between. The railway runs about one mile back from the seafront, past a nigh endless stream of houses, and also ticks off inland villages like Angmering and Durrington. The two blue lines are the rivers Arun and Adur, and I walked from one of these to the other because that's the only stretch I hadn't walked before. Would Littlehampton to Shoreham be 13 miles of monotonous shingly suburbia or would there be rather more to it?

LITTLEHAMPTON: I described that yesterday, thanks.

RUSTINGTON: This first transition is the easiest to spot, courtesy of a Welcome to Rustington sign and the fact the first building is the grandly enormous Rustington Convalescent Home. But the beach carries on relentlessly, a ridge of shingle sloping down to the lapping waves, duly protecting a line of well-appointed three-storey blocks of flats. Residents are currently up in arms that the parish council are thinking of adding beach huts to a brief patch of coastal lawn, or at least one resident's furious and has gone to the bother of attaching inkjet posters to local street furniture inside A4 punched plastic pockets. At this very spot a commemorative stone points out that two world air speed records were set just offshore, both on 7th September, one in 1946 (616mph in a Gloster Meteor) and the other in 1953 (728mph in a Hawker Hunter).

EAST PRESTON: The word you soon learn if you walk this stretch of the coast is 'greensward' - a substantial stripe of grass. In this case it's about 10 metres wide and a full mile long, providing a useful barrier between the sea and the suburbs now the coast road's turned inland. The housing offer here comprises large posh rustic mansions with spacious gardens, each occasionally glimpsed over its back wall, and all without even the bonus of a sea view because a separate mile-long gorse thicket shields the shore. And such upmarket presence means this stripe of grass is all private greensward, i.e. ramblers and dogwalkers re merely tolerated and subject to several minor regulations like No Camping, No BBQ's and No Hard Ball Games (whatever a hard ballgame is).

ANGMERING-ON-SEA: My heart sank when I saw the greensward end and the path ahead demoted to the shingle ridge. I'm never going to manage 13 miles if it's relentlessly pebbly like this, I thought. I scrunched past Salt, the shacky kiosk which is the sole beachfront refreshment outlet hereabouts, then a beachfront guest house where a 70th birthday celebration was in muted swing. I then passed a row of utilitarian beach huts, only one of which was unlocked and occupied and Union-Jacked, then thankfully the greensward returned and it was all going to be alright.

KINGSTON: If you look on a map it appears that this is where the conurbation finally takes a breath, but if you're walking the seafront you'll never notice because a single residential road hugs the shore blocking knowledge of the fields behind. These are again large exclusive houses, none in any way identical to a neighbour, and again a bit snooty because the greensward regulations now include No Playing Music. On a quiet day the sea looks benign but a plaque on the back of a bench points out the remains of Kingston's chapel, 250 yards out, which slipped beneath the waves in December 1626 and are occasionally visible at low tide.

FERRING: The private shoreline finally ends with a brief pebble scrunch past the front of the Bluebird Cafe, where the less energetic are to be found tucking into drinks and light lunches. The next set of beachfront residents are much less shy, their pristine mown gardens open to view from the path so everyone can admire their stripes and statuary, or whatever word best describes a treetrunk carved into a sea-scene featuring boats and dolphins. Ferring's residents are particularly proud of their rare Type 26 pillbox, and a little less keen to remind visitors that the greensward was once mined with five tons of high explosives.

GORING GAP: Not to be mistaken for the chalk feature on the Thames in Oxfordshire, this Goring Gap is the one place where seafront development finally pauses. 150 acres of arable farmland have somehow survived untouched, providing a useful roosting spot for seabirds and finally offering a view of distant undulating Downland hills. The other big contrast is that seafront parking is finally allowed and this appears to be a favoured spot for those with campervans to pull up, spill out and unpack a picnic, sunbathe on a lilo or get overexcited by a game of beach cricket. Make the most of it, the next unbroken five miles of housing starts behind the trees.

GORING-BY-SEA: This is now starting to feel more mainstream, a seaside suburb where just one lucky row of detached homes gets a good view of the waves. In front of Marine Crescent is the largest greensward yet, easily big enough to support a kitesurfing launch (for expert fliers only), and behind that a raised coastal path lined by over 250 beach huts. The going rate in Goring is currently just over £30,000 for a teensy enclosed space and a 9 slab patio. In the centre of all this, beneath the pirate flag, the local fisherman sells sea bass, skate and freshly dressed crabs from eight o'clock in the morning. If the sailing club's operational, mind the tractor on the slipway.

WEST WORTHING: Abruptly the beachfront properties stop and three miles of proper promenade begins. This has identikit lamp standards, intermittent beach shelters, plentiful benches, an appropriate number of litter bins, occasional refreshment kiosks and sufficient breadth for a cyclist to overtake a mobility scooter to overtake a dawdling family with toddlers. Inland are flats and houses which need repeated repainting to cope with the salty onslaught, and far offshore is the first row of an extensive swirling windfarm. West Worthing has the feel of utterly generic seafront, and only when the former hotels start to appear do we finally enter Worthing proper.

WORTHING: I didn't divert into the town centre because I had far enough to walk already, but I did absolutely go for a walk down the pier. The current incarnation is from the 1930s and very much what a good pier should be - longish, promenade-friendly and not a tacky dive overrun with amusements. The first building is the Pavilion Theatre, prestigious enough that Jimmy Carr and Rob Beckett are both playing here this week. Halfway down, past the heritage glass panels, is the understated Neptune Arcade and at the far end is the two-storey bar and eaterie, The Perch. On my circuit I got asked to take a photo of a happy family with a toddler stuffing his mouth with ice cream, and also successfully dodged a wedding photographer inviting his happy couple to pose in front of a marine backdrop. Dazzling.

EAST WORTHING: Continuing along the promenade I first had to filter through the multitude of Sussex rowers who'd turned up for the Worthing Regatta, then try to pass the daytrippers thronging the bottleneck by the minigolf. But these bank holiday vibes gently faded as the distance from the pier increased, out past the ornamental lawns and ex-guest houses, past the grounded boats and fishermen's lockers, past the Moderne flats and BP garage, and past a very badly bunched stream of Coastliner buses. Yes I could have completed this entire journey a lot faster aboard the 700, but where's the fun in that?

LANCING: You don't see much of Lancing from the coast path, which branches off from the main road at the Platinum Jubilee bandstand to follow the far side of Beach Green. The old fishing boat filled with flowers looks authentic until you read the sign underneath which says it was built by inmates from HM Prison Ford in 2001. I felt somewhat sorry for the bride-to-be spending her hen do queueing patiently at the kiosk behind a small child trying to make up their mind about ice creams. Beyond the sailing club is a cramped cluster of holiday homes populated by sun-grizzled couples clutching cold drinks atop terraced decking, and then the beach starts to veer gently away from the land.

Widewater is a brackish lagoon cut off from the sea by longshore drift, a rare ecological habitat which stretches for over half a mile behind a protective shingle bank. Its most obvious wildlife is a colony of mute swans, parented by a cob and pen called Stanley and Hilda, but these waters also contained a tiny sea anemone found nowhere else in the world (although this is now thought to be extinct). The Lancing residents with the best view are those in the big houses along Brighton Road who have all this at the bottom of their garden, and everyone else just gets to walk past along the parallel disjoint Lancing Beach.

SHOREHAM BEACH: If you don't want to live in Shoreham proper you can live on Shoreham Beach, a large housing estate on a shingle spit at the mouth of the river Adur. It's all a bit storm-facing and climate-hazardous for my tastes, although you do get a fabulous view of the chalk cliffs stretching off into the distance along the East Sussex coast as far as Beachy Head. On the inland flank the riverbank is lined by an exceptionally motley collection of bohemian houseboats, and the footbridge across to the mainland has been replaced by a much broader span than the dodgy narrow concrete aberration I remember from last time I was here in 2011...

SHOREHAM: ...which is why I terminated my walk here - I'd already blogged the next bit. Last time I hiked here all the way from Brighton, indeed if you add on my achievements on three other lengthy coastal rambles I've now walked the entire coastline from Eastbourne to Littlehampton, a distance of about 40 miles. It's a drop in the ocean compared to walking the entire perimeter of Britain but hey, small steps, and maybe one day I will at least be able to tick off the whole of Kent and Sussex.

Kent: QE2 Bridge → Greenhithe, Gravesend, Cliffe, Allhallows, Grain, Rochester → Chatham, Sheerness → Minster, Leysdown, Sittingbourne, Faversham, Whitstable → Herne Bay → Reculver, Birchington → Margate → Broadstairs → Ramsgate → Pegwell Bay, Sandwich, Deal → Walmer, Dover → Folkestone, Dungeness
Sussex: Camber, Hastings → Bexhill, Eastbourne → Seaford → Newhaven → Peacehaven → Brighton → Shoreham → Worthing → Littlehampton, Bognor Regis, Selsey, West Wittering

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