The Optimistic Walker: the joys of coastal walking in Sussex

David Bathurst shares his passion for walking and explains why it might just be what we all need in these difficult times - particularly when we are in a county as beautiful as Sussex.

Sunday, 28th June 2020, 6:10 am
David Bathurst

The other day I decided to take myself out on a very long walk – and I mean very long! It wasn’t as long as the 60 miles I’d walked in 24 hours in December to celebrate my 60th birthday, but it was still an appreciable distance. What I hadn’t bargained for was the glare of the sun for most of the first half of my walk and the overall effect of the summer heat. Despite doing all the “right” things, from avoiding burnt skin to staying hydrated and eating lots of high-energy food, I tired myself out and didn’t manage to walk quite as far as I’d planned. Perhaps on this occasion I had been the OVER-optimistic walker!

Still, there were some positives that came out of the experience. My very early start – before 4am – allowed me to enjoy the sunrise, and the dawn of the new day, and I loved the view to Arundel from around Littlehampton, the clear skies above the wooded hills to the north of Arundel contrasting beautifully with the swirling white mist that hung around the river Arun below. Better still was the coast walking I did, following the various promenades, footpaths and cycle tracks beside the shore between Littlehampton and Brighton.

In my previous piece I wrote about the joys of exploring smaller towns on foot. Coastal walking in Sussex also has its distinct advantages. The walking should not be too strenuous, and although there may be patches of shingle to negotiate, or equally unforgiving sand dunes, most of the Sussex coastline can be followed using firm footpaths, pavements and promenades. There is no real risk of getting lost; you may be unsure how far you are from the nearest town or village, but in Sussex at any rate you will never be too far from civilisation.

If the tide is low enough, you may, as an alternative to following a coastal path or coast road, be able to walk along the sands, and there are fewer more exhilarating feelings as a walker than to follow a stretch of firm sand with the wavelets lapping at your feet. (Just be mindful of incoming tides!) Sussex has a very rich variety of bird life; if you choose to follow the coastline round Chichester Harbour you may see wild swans, brent geese, shelducks, curlews, dunlins, sandwich terns, ringed plovers, redshanks and oystercatchers.

You may also see a number of plants that flourish in coastal areas such as glasswort, sea lavender, sea purslane, horned poppy and sea holly. You might think the views would suffer because you are at sea level with nothing “below” you, so to speak, except for the sea itself. But often you will enjoy very fine views to the South Downs, and as you look back, or ahead, along the coastline itself, you’ll be able to pick out landmarks such as Shoreham Power Station or the i360 at Brighton.

I’ve mentioned that you’re never too far from civilisation – there are indeed precious few truly rural sections of coastline from Bognor Regis all the way to Seaford – but the up-side of that is that refreshment is very easily available. As I write this there are still restrictions in place on the serving of food in cafes, but there are numerous takeaway cafes where you can get an ice cream, a coffee or a helping of good old fish and chips. Last but not least, on a really hot day, being by the sea can be very refreshing; temperatures on the coast will always be a few degrees lower than those inland.

Remember to be sensible: protect yourself from the sun, keep hydrated, wear reasonably stout shoes (flip-flops are NOT recommended for a long coastal walk) and of course keep your distance in accordance with current guidelines. And don’t make my mistake. If anything, plan to walk a little LESS than you know you can manage. If you end up walking more than you’d planned, well done!

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