Golden beaches within sight of the South Downs
The only breathing-spaces in the relentless march of buildings along 17 miles of coastline are a gap of 2 ½ miles west of Littlehampton, and a smaller one at Ferring. Towards the east the green ridge of the South Downs not far inland becomes more and more apparent. Two winding rivers, the Arun and the Adur, cut into the coast, providing Littlehampton and Shoreham with harbours that are now favourites with small-boat sailors.
Now joined to Felpham, Middleton is the easternmost satellite of Bognor Regis, a residential area of largely private estates. The gardens of its houses lead down to the sea-wall, and there is safe bathing from the sand-and-shingle beach. The single road through Middleton ends at a holiday village. During the First World War, Middleton was the site of a seaplane base, and the village developed largely between the wars.
South of the village of Climping, a narrow country lane runs past cottages and farm buildings to the beach, ending at a large car park behind the sea-wall.
The National Trust protects almost 1,000 acres, including 2 ½ miles of coastline, and so this reminder of what the entire West Sussex coast was once like will be preserved for future generations. Swimming is safe, though the sandy beach is scattered with patches of weed-covered stones. There are good walks along the foreshore in both directions – to Middleton, and to the mouth of the Arun opposite Littlehampton. The medieval church and houses of the village of Atherington now lie under the sea, somewhere off Climping Sands.
Above the gentle windings of the Arun looms the battlemented grandeur of Arundel Castle, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Norfolk, formerly Earls of Arundel, who have lived there since the 16th century. Though the bulk of the castle dates only from Victorian times, its 11th-century keep and gatehouse and its magnificent setting give it an authentic medieval flavour. Inside are family portraits of the Norfolks, the earliest painted as far back as the 15th-century Wars of the Roses.
Arundel also has a Roman Catholic cathedral, a 14th-century Gothic parish church and a museum of local history. Down the lane that skirts the castle park are the ponds, hides and interpretation centre of the Arundel Wildfowl Trust, where wildfowl from all over the world, including a colony of black swans, can be seen in idyllic surroundings.
With its busy harbour at the mouth of the Arun and its seafront of red-brick Victorian and Edwardian houses and hotels, Littlehampton manages to cram plenty of variety into a small space. The road crossing over the Arun is a good mile upstream. Foot passengers can cross by ferry in summer, or use the cycle and footbridge downstream from the road bridge.
Littlehampton’s boatyards and marina are on the west bank of the Arun, down Ferry Road. The road ends at West Beach, a wide sandy beach, backed by high dunes and safe for swimming except near the harbour mouth. The river is fast-running, reaching 7 knots during the spring tides.
The built-up side of Littlehampton is on the east bank of the Arun, where the area beside the harbour mouth is devoted to seaside amusements, car parks and a funfair. Between the seafront houses and the sea is a wide green, with gardens and a miniature golf course; bathing huts line the promenade.
Littlehampton’s harbour was already flourishing in the Middle Ages, when stone from Caen in Normandy was landed there to build the great Sussex churches and castles. The town’s later seafaring history is displayed in a small museum in River Road, which has a fine collection of maritime paintings and ship models.
East of Littlehampton the coast road runs along the sea-wall before turning inland to the old village centre of Rustington, which still has a few flint-walled cottages and a medieval church. It was in Rustington that Sir Hubert Parry, who lived in the village during the First World War, wrote his setting of Blake’s Jerusalem.
Rustington has no proper seafront; but the sea can be reached down various lanes. Parking is very limited.
A maze of narrow roads leads from East Preston down to Angmering-on-Sea, 2 miles from its inland parent at Angmering. The houses, largely grouped in private estates, are shaded by mature conifers and evergreens, which give the village a more permanent look than many resorts. The shingle-and-sand beach can be reached only along paths between the houses.
Reached across a level crossing, Ferring consists of an old village engulfed by later housing. It is still separated from the western suburbs of Worthing by an open expanse of fields and greenery, backing directly on to the beach, with a magnificent plantation of conifers along the Worthing side.
Fishing boats are drawn up on the shingle above the beach, which is pebble-scattered and sandy, and which gives a good view round the coast as far as Worthing pier. There is room to park beside the road.
Laid out with plenty of open space, Goring feels quite distinct from Worthing, though it is in fact its western suburb. Swimming is safe from the shingle-and-sand beach, which is separated from the road by a low grass rise, topped with a row of bathing huts. South of the road is a large car park, with a slope leading to a wide wooden ramp over the shingle. There is a buoyed powerboat channel from the end of the ramp, and sail-boards can be hired.
The biggest resort in West Sussex, Worthing is a seaside town with plenty of style. It has fine gardens, 5 miles of seafront and a pier that is still fully functioning. There is an open-air swimming pool on the wide promenade, and in summer open-topped buses run along the front.
Worthing became a resort towards the end of the 18th century. Before that, it had been nothing but a few fishing cottages down by the shore, below the old village of Broadwater. Perhaps its atmosphere of peace and quiet compared with the fast pace of Brighton had something to do with the differing characters of the people who put the two places on the map; at Brighton it was the larger-than-life Prince Regent, while at Worthing it was his delicate younger sister, Princess Amelia.
Swimming is safe from nearly all the beach, which consists of sand below shingle; however, there are warnings of submerged sea defences at both ends of the beach, which can be hazardous for swimmers and small boats. East of the pier there is a magnificent view round the coast, past the chimneys of Brighton power station at Portslade and the high-rise towers of Brighton, to the chalk ramparts of Seaford Head and the Seven Sisters.
Worthing’s museum and art gallery has an excellent and varied collection, including displays of costume in period settings. The Archaeology Gallery contains outstanding Anglo-Saxon jewellery and glass from the Saxon cemetery at Highdown Hill.
Two miles inland, at the hamlet of Sompting Abbotts, is the Saxon church of St Mary’s, whose tower, built about AD 1000, has a ‘Rhenish helm’ roof- the only one in Britain. It consists of four diamond-shaped surfaces, rising between four gables and meeting at a central point.
For much of its length the coast road has houses along both sides, and the beach, of sand backed with shingle, can be reached only down paths between them. Towards Worthing, an open space of grass is edged by white beach huts. Inland is Lancing College, whose chapel, completed in 1978 after more than a century, is a landmark along this part of the coast and an impressive monument to the survival of the Gothic architectural spirit.
Only a few hundred yards from the sea, the River Adur makes a right-angled turn to the east, forming a natural harbour 1 mile long and running parallel to the shore line. In recent years the resort of Shoreham Beach has sprung up on the shingle bank between the river and the sea; it can be reached either by road from west’ of the Adur, or by footbridge across the river from the town centre.
The road through Shoreham Beach ends at the coastguard station by the harbour entrance, where there is plenty of parking space. The harbour wall is a favourite place for fishermen, and there are fine views down the coast to Brighton and beyond. At the foot of the coastguard tower is the base of
MUSEUM PIECE The Marlipins Museum in Shoreham dates from the early 12th century, and is older than most of its exhibits. a Victorian fort, built in 1857 at the time of a French invasion scare.
The footbridge across the Adur gives a magnificent view of Shoreham, crowned by the Norman church tower of St Mary de Haura. Known as New Shoreham church, though it dates from 1130, it was the successor to Old Shoreham church, which still stands half a mile upstream. Near by, in the High Street, is the fascinating little Marlipins Museum, housed in an early 12th-century building which is said to be one of the oldest secular buildings in Europe still in active use.
The harbour’s commercial centre has shifted eastwards, to the canal that runs parallel with the sea almost to Hove. The shingle bar on the southern side of the canal is dominated by the twin chimneys of Brighton power station.