The taxi driver that takes me back to the shoreline is a recently retired gentleman from Maidstone who “has never looked back” and loves Selsey and its people. He has also cycled the beach from Selsey to Bracklesham, only dismounting a few times, so I feel a little better about tackling 4 miles of shingle with the tide coming in. With the windmill as a landmark I set off down a narrow grassy path which then leads me through a newly built leisure centre and a little later a sign that I choose to ignore.
I can see the outline of big diggers and trucks in the distance but all is quiet and there’s plenty of space for me to walk on semi-firm sand close to the water. Huge piles of rough grey boulders have been deposited at regular intervals to act as breakwaters – I recall the taxi driver telling me they have been brought from Norway. Walking on the sand is easy and when I’m forced higher up the beach by the tide I discover a service road that I can walk on, away from the dreaded shingle. In the distance I see a couple of men in hard hats and high viz vests and have a moment of worry about whether they are going to tell me to go back but they seem totally disinterested in me. The beach houses of Bracklesham are soon visible, some of them adding a touch of modernism and bohemia to the traditional bungalows.
This one catches my eye…….the sea right behind it.By now the sun is really hot and I’m starting to feel a little faint – perhaps I need sugar? Or salt? I come away from the shops of East Wittering with a packet of peanuts and some dates.
The next part of the walk to West Wittering is an interesting picture of social class. Blocks of retirement flats and sixties bungalows gradually give way to more interesting wooden houses and modern flats. The houses get bigger and grander until the concrete path turns into a wide grassy track with sand dunes and the sparkling sea on the left and a line of almost impenetrable hedge on the right, the defence only broken by elegant entrances to these coastal palaces.
Leaving the path I join the crowds down on the beach, feeling a little conspicuous in my leather walking boots and rucksack amongst the colourful beachwear and suntanned bodies. My feet are now craving cold water but I need to find the path that will take me up the Chichester Channel to West Itchenor and the ferry to Bosham. Wandering worriedly around the immense car park behind the dunes I see a tap for people to wash sand off their feet. Oh the joy of cold water on hot, throbbing feet! I decide to stop for a cup of tea at the beach cafe. As I drink my tea I see a few groups of people heading off to my right on what looks like a path heading into the marshes – this is my path. Soon I am striding confidently up the side of the estuary, entranced by the colours of the hundreds of small sailing boats out to play.
I pass a couple of children playing in the water on a lilo, not far away from a sign warning of strong currents. I ask them to be careful but they just stare at me and don’t answer. Of course I realise the question is more for my benefit than theirs but I can’t help asking just the same. The path from now on is clear and well signposted, I am sometimes exposed to the searing heat of the sun and at other times led into cool shady lanes.
Although this part of the walk is lovely I am now very tired and extremely relieved to see the the boats in the harbour at Itchenor (or Itchner as the locals call it) – I celebrate with an ice-cream and wait for the ferry. As I wait I get talking to a man in a sailing cap with the most weatherbeaten face I have ever seen. He is the captain of the harbour trip boat moored in the same place as the ferry. Catching sight of movement under his boat he tells me the fish I can see are sea bass – I am surprised to see them so close to the harbour.
Five minutes later the little ferry arrives, stacked high with bicycles and people. I am taken aback by the speed of the crossing and even more when it appears we get off onto a damp concrete causeway quite a way away from the shore. I am assuming that this can only be done at low tide.
Arriving on dry land I follow the footpath up the side of Bosham Channel and soon after I spy the church spire of Bosham Parish Church. As I approach the village I notice big puddles and green algae on the road and I suddenly realise that I have been lucky enough to come this way at low tide – I would otherwise be walking through front gardens to get to the village on the other side.
A sign on a wall confirms my suspicions………
This is enough for today and after a pint in the pub I catch the bus to Chichester where I will be staying in a student residence at the university.