Saturday July 24th 2004
Pagham to Elmer
This walk proved to be one of our favourite walks so far, with a good variety of scenery and surfaces, plenty of interesting places and a lovely surprise at the end.
Glyn drove us to Guildford in the morning for the now familiar 7.42 train to Havant. From Havant we travelled to Chichester and picked up the number 63 bus to Pagham, arriving on the seafront at 9.30. We were very pleased to see that the old-fashioned beach shop had just opened for the day and decided to buy a postcard. A postcard – of Pagham Beach? Oh No, no postcards. We could have had a sherbet-coloured bucket, a dragon-shaped rubber ring or a spade in any size from tiny to huge, but not a postcard!
So, after a quick photo of Jen on the beach we set off. We had been worried about the first section of the walk today because there appeared to be no alternative to shingle as the properties on the edge of the beach open directly onto it, leaving no room for a path. Very nice if you can afford one of the houses, but we do so hate walking on shingle! The guide book suggested walking at low tide and we were lucky enough to be there at the right time. This meant that it was possible to walk right next to the sea on beautiful firm, damp sand. We could see that it would have been difficult at high tide but we enjoyed a lovely start to the day.
The houses to our left were part of the exclusive and very wealthy Aldwick Bay Estate which was developed in the 1920s. There are paths in and out but visitors do not seem to be particularly welcome.
After a while we came across a strange looking structure that we decided that must have been a boat but which we later discovered to be a piece of Mulberry Harbour. The pontoons were stored at Pagham prior to the D-Day landing, many of them being towed out to sea a short way and sunk for safe-keeping before being re-floated and taken across the channel. This one, however, got caught in the sand and left behind and has been there ever since. Another bonus to passing at low tide as the wreck is underwater most of the time hence seaweed and green slime.
Soon we met a fisherman who chatted for a while and pointed out the way up to the prom at the beginning of Bognor Regis not far ahead.
We climbed up the beach at the place he indicted and found some gardens with toilets where we stopped for a while.
The route then took us for a few miles along the concrete prom into the centre of Bognor itself, resisting the temptation of a lift on the Dotto Train.
We passed lots of refreshment kiosks, bucket and spade shops and ice cream stalls and admired the carvings on the sea wall, each section having a different maritime design.
On this section of the prom is the bandstand, very elaborate but deserted at this early hour, although it is well used in the summer with regular concerts and performances. The structure, with its ironwork columns and beautifully intricate roof, is grade 2 listed and dates from the early 1900s. It has been restored in recent years and looked splendid in the morning sun.
We bought a postcard (of Bognor – still none of Pagham) at the entrance to the pier and browsed at a rather out of place craft shop. The prom was very busy with families enjoying the seaside on a lovely sunny morning as we wandered along and were rather tickled by this signpost near the pier. A little further on we encountered Bugs Bunny, who was trying to capture children for a photograph. He then charged the parents four pounds for a copy! We resisted the temptation to offer to take them for free and walked on. The ice cream was too much to resist though and a 99 apiece seemed to be in order.
Very soon we passed Butlins Southcoast World with its distinctive white roof, visible for miles. The holiday camp here opened in 1960 but Billy Butlin had operated a fairground and zoo in the town centre since 1932. He came to an agreement with the town council in the 1950s to move to the present site and the camp was an immediate success. Times have changed but so has the camp and from the basic chalets and regimented holidays it has developed into luxury accommodation in a hotel complex. It still has a gate onto the beach though and the visitors must bring a fair amount of income to the town every summer.
Once we had passed Butlins, the path became quieter but continued as a good concrete promenade and we made steady progress.
Soon we began to think about lunch and as we arrived at Felpham, we passed some beach huts then the sailing club and discovered a café serving food of all sorts. It just escaped being tacky and we decided that lunch there would be a good move. We had planned to have a snack but were tempted by Scampi and Chips (Jen) and Ham and Chips (me). We had not realised how hungry we were, and we made short work of our meal. We also enjoyed a chat with an elderly gentleman who explained that he came here every day for his lunch. He said that he was not much good at cooking and had worked out that it was cheaper to eat here and had the added bonus of making him go out each day and he loved meeting new people and having a yarn. He was very interested in our journey and came to the café door to wave us off as we set off again much refreshed by food and good company.
After a while, the concrete prom finally ended and changed to a dirt track which then became shingly for a short while. At Middleton on Sea it ended at a gate which gave way to a lovely wide grassy strip which was gentle on the feet.
All too soon, the grass ended abruptly at a fearsome concrete wall. We had been prepared for this part as the book described it in great detail and it appeared that it can be very tricky to negotiate. At the top of the beach is a high wall while stone and wooden breakwaters divide the beach into sections. At high tide, each section is completely filled by the sea and there is no way across. At low tide, it is possible to get through by scrambling across a ledge at the bottom of the wall and clambering over a set of stone steps over each breakwater. The steps have worn away and in the top of each is a rock pool which is presumably re-filled each high tide.
The sand is beautiful and as long as people understand the tides it is a great place to play. We met a family of children exploring the rock pools and finding crabs and shells and other creatures. We clambered up and down half a dozen sets of steps before emerging on the other side onto Elmer Sands. What a surprise!
The sands were beautiful and almost deserted. It seemed very strange to see such a lovely stretch of sand almost devoid of people. Sands like these in Bournemouth or Blackpool would be overwhelmed with bodies. We later discovered that Elmer is at the end of a road leading east from Bognor, has limited parking and a small private estate of homes, so the lack of access gives this an almost secret feel. We felt as though we had stumbled on a hidden gem.
As we walked further we saw the latest attempt to curb the damage done by the sea. Huge heaps of boulders have been piled in the sea to protect the land and presumably dissipate the speed and power of the waves. There were about six of these and the sea comes in between them very gently making little bays excellent for paddling and rock-pooling.
Elmer’s remoteness meant that we had reached as far as we could go in the day because of the need to find public transport home. The village is the end of the bus route which was a shame because we could easily have walked a few more miles but we would then have ended up in the middle of nowhere. So we sat down and enjoyed the sunshine and had a paddle before reluctantly heading off the beach to find the bus and begin the journey home.
Running Total 107 miles