I was aiming at least a post a week or so, but a sudden change in the weather to warm early Spring (for which I suspect we’ll pay later in Spring, usually means a wet April that) meant I started the season early for this year.
In boating of all sizes they do something called a shakedown cruise – it’s the first voyage either of the season or that particular boat if it’s new/refurbished…and this is where you find out usually all the stuff that’s broken, all the things you’ve left behind, or taken too much of. It’s like you’ve kind of forgotten all the ways of the previous year…this walk was my shakedown cruise. I forgot my shades so was squinting in the sun and at the alien storm-ravaged landscapes (more of those later) and I didn’t believe the optimistic weather report so took my big coat and boy did I swelter. That’s easily done with coastal walks since they tend to either lie or make out it’s lovely and warm but ignore the big fuckoff breeze that means it’s actually arctic. I never understood why they measure the temperature in a shaded sheltered box, like wot no-one else has around them, anyway? Bognor was very proud of theirs, they had a special fancy iron fence and sign for it!
…just not their sausage rolls. Or shingle.
So walking from the station I needed to get supplies – I hadn’t gotten my new supply of emergency M&Ms yet (like runners and their jelly babies, when you’re cold, wet, everything is closed and you are miles from anywhere you cannot underestimate the fortifying power of an instant sugar rush). I usually like sausage rolls, but sadly went to the only place I could find, Greggs which was completely rank. Funny how I’ve worked with guys who swear by (not at) Greggs but they are usually of the twentysomething sort that does not worry about becoming a lardy blob like their products yet. Annoyingly I saw a much nicer looking place nearer the seafront, I should have bought something there, or another one. I was still hungry even after eating the horrible one.
So onto the seafront – classic 1950’s fare, mostly…with the love of concrete and parades, and a small pier-like-thing. Mostly closed kiosks as too early in the season (although I’ve found beach cafes and kiosks need no real reason to close at random times of the year even during the season) but I got a coffee from a friendly place that was open – and unsurprisingly doing a roaring trade. Kids and families on the beach, loads of groynes which people either sit on or use as clothes hangers, or in warmer times use as diving platforms for the completely insane. Old people, electric carts, wheelchairs…crazy golf, old Palmist sign, and a very impressive grand-looking Royal Norfolk Hotel.
All these were quickly left behind and became mostly dog walkers – I didn’t veer off with the road and stayed on the beach where I saw some rather odd looking rocks, then the remains of a Mulberry harbour or prefab landing craft from WW2 looking more like a downed AT-AT walker:
These things are littered across this coast, as during World War 2 for the Normandy landings the Mulberry Harbours were created in a fair amount of secrecy, but unsurprisingly for a floating lump of concrete some of them failed and got left where they sank. There is one in the middle of Langstone Harbour, which on one of my next walks I’ll probably go see.
At the end of the beach you come to some rocks – not sure if this is accessible all of the tides, but a small set of steps means you can get around and onto a new beach, one that looks far less accessible to the outer world. There were dog walkers and locals here too, but certainly with the houses there didn’t seem to be that many ‘outs’ so be careful if unlike me you don’t want a long walk. There seemed to be a path out via the outfall halfway along – but you might be a little trapped here. I took photos of the surf, the staves which looked quite dramatic against the spring sunshine, and caught nets and ropes, as the staves always seem to catch these, a bit like beards do soup.
Further along you have some quite fancy beach houses, kind of thing Jarman used to love:
At this point as the beach was purely shingle it reminded me how much I hate walking on shingle, pebble beaches and the like. It’s exhausting, hard on the ankles, and after a few miles you either try and walk along the water which tends to be sand or small pebbles – at risk of getting wet – because the sheer existential crunchy boredom of walking on shingle is getting to you. In my notes I just put ‘fucking shingle’ which in two words pretty much gets it. I’ve walked miles and miles on shingle before – around Dungeness there is nothing but – but still will try and walk on anything but.
I suspect this bird had had enough of shingle too, and decapitated itself, probably on a passing sharp flint. I know how it feels. SHINGLE DIE DIE DIE.
So onto Pagham harbour, which having not walked here I wasn’t sure but seems to have subsided and changed a lot because of the severe storms a few months ago. Harbour is a bit euphemistic nowadays, it’s more like a succession of sandbars then a large muddy lagoon which seems popular with bird people. But the landscape was almost martian, or Saharan – very strange, pools of water, large sand areas looking inviting but also seeming a little quicksand-like, islands of shingle that you could temptingly paddle over to then get stranded as the tide came in.
Sort of place that’s ideal for children, or at very least conveniently losing a few to the tide. Five Go Mad And Coastguard, that sort of thing.
I think the tide was out…
So crunching onward, past the rusting harbour entrance and curious crows, via the worryingly previously flooded path and onto the harbour itself.
Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for sinking to the bottom never to be seen again until 2459. (hold that thought)
No it’s not bone, it’s wood. I like it’s boneyness though.
So there’s beautiful scenery, there’s birds, mudflats, paths, shingle, Pagham Church…so what’s missing? Mobile homes of course! There’s a rash of them all over the South coast, like some mutation of a Caravan virus leaving blocky Stepford ideas of holidays and health. There’s a new parking lot of them (I don’t think there is a collective noun for them, so I claim it should be a ‘parking lot of mobile homes’ – or a scourge. A scourge of mobile homes. That might be better) here, depressingly…
I mentioned mud – well this is going to be a recurring theme of the next 3 walks. Mud. Mud vs Shingle, who would win? Mud, I think, since I can walk on shingle thinking how much I would bash each stone into tiny bits. Whereas mud, of the much glutinous sort, has usually to be navigated around.
This is the current path just after the delights of the Scourge Of Mobile Homes. Bring your swimming costume! Ford across with you pack above your head and think you’re in the jungle!
I’m only usually wearing cross-trainers* (they are waterproof, North Face Hedgehog XCRs – OMG I HAVE BECOME A TRAINER BORE – sorry) so I had to go around, as there is a gate to the shoreline, which was almost as bad as this in parts, I have to say. Obviously like many places flooding and rain still have left their little H20 presents for us to all enjoy. This is generally why I don’t walk this early in the year, it’s May or July. To give you a hint of what the shoreline was like, here’s a later demonstrative example:
A lot more mud. May it stay where it is and not bother me again.
So having survived the mud barely, onto the bridge. Cute man with white beard there (sorry no picture, seemed rude) holding court, he looked familiar. Onwards along the top of the harbour – at least the paths here are raised, so were dry, mostly. Very beautiful views across the marsh/grass land.
This is where the mud kicked in again…the rest of the path as it turns south follows the shoreline, which made the previous Paddling Pool look like a puddle, and with extra scratchy gorse or some spikey evil shrubbery. BONUS!
So I backtracked…and saw that their were paths across the fields so I could go round, and rejoin the shore. This ended up with me lost in the middle of a very muddy field, trying to re-find the shoreline path, and failing. And sinking slowly into the mud. Gladly I saw no farmers with shotguns, in fact the fields seemed abandoned with open gates. I suspect the farmer got tired of all that mud too…I found the end of one of the paths walking along Church Lane, so no idea how it got there, since I saw no gates just hedgerows and barbed wire. And a LOT of mud. By this time, this mud thing was getting really old.
The plan was to continue round Pagham harbour to join the bit I started last year, where I walked from West Wittering to Selsey, and did part of the other side of the harbour – when there was less mud, of course. It was starting to get dark, but I had a torch and the buses run later. As I got to the busy main road at where the RSPB welcome centre is, with the pavement of course on the other side, then managed to dash across without being killed for the path. To be greeted by…you guessed it – not just mud, but another party pool. At this point, I called it and decided I had linked the two up sufficiently – because last time I walked miles up the Selsey Road, so if I walked to Selsey I’d connect the two walks.
So walking along this busy road, just thinking ‘I’m glad this pavement is here, it would suck without it’ – guess what? The pavement ran out. It’s not fun walking along a road with 30-50+ cars a minute and no pavement or much of a verge. Dangerous in fact – this is the problem of empty buses and trains and everyone driving in these areas, no-one around rush hour can walk the roads, and even other times. I got to the place I remembered from last time, and then flagged down the bus. This is Stagecoach Gold (cue fanfare) which replaces a dead railway line to Selsey called the Selsey Tramway. They’re very proud of it, it’s frequent but it has the world’s slowest WiFi. I mean, it’s slower than mobile data, it’s that slow. At least this time it actually worked, last year it wouldn’t even let me connect.
So that was my first walk of 2014. Learning points? Fuck mud, fuck shingle, avoid Greggs and wear less clothes. Which I did next time, and freezed my balls off, which is another story.
You can find more pictures and a fancy map over at the Picasa gallery, or see some of the pictures on the map below.
what’s a walking blog without some Bridget Jones Diary level statistical fluff? Can’t promise to make this a feature, or even do it again!
* Yes I wear trainers but not walking boots – I used to, really posh Swiss ones, but they become a bit too slippery and heavy for walking. Thing is, on scrabbly pebbles, diagonal wet or scree cliff paths or climbing rocks – or even ice you need something that can grip. Traditional boots give support, and yes you can ford streams with them, but they make your ankles ache with their weight and are shit on smooth rock or even wet grass. I’ve found cross-trainers, the waterproof ones for those insane people who run along tops of cliffs and cross-country are the best trade off. Maybe not when it’s muddy, though…