Villages of Chichester Harbour
Chichester Harbour is a large natural harbour and an AONB. It remains for the most part undeveloped and is a draw for both wildlife and boating enthusiasts alike.
There are several attractive harbourside villages set around the harbour which are steeped in history and each worth a visit. Nearby country capital, Chichester, shouldn't be missed either.
Birdwatching, sailing, fishing, boat trips, watersports, walking, cycling and the golden sands of West Wittering and East Head mean that there is plenty to do in the area and the pubs, cafés and restaurants provide welcome pitstops after all that outdoor action. There is also plenty of accommodation options to choose from as well so why not book a holiday in sunny West Sussex? We'd love to see you!
On the manhood peninsula, near the mouth of Chichester Harbour, the twin villages of East and West Wittering are home to stretches of unspoilt coastline. The golden sandy beach of West Wittering is a summertime hot spot, hugely popular with day trippers and holiday makers keen to enjoy the wide sands and shallow waters (pre-booking car parking here is encouraged).
East Wittering, with its thriving community and vibrant selection of independent shops and cafes, boasts a sand and shingle beach which neighbours Bracklesham Bay on its eastern edge.
Both beaches are a year-round mecca for thrill seekers, with a host of watersports experiences on offer, as well as tuition and equipment hire. During cooler months, when dogs are welcome in all areas, the quieter beaches are the perfect location for wintry walks, with plenty of places to warm up afterwards.
Famous as the home of the UK’s oldest and largest Roman dwelling, Fishbourne is a small village close to the city of Chichester, and perched at the top of the Chichester Channel, one of the creeks of Chichester Harbour.
The harbour can be reached from the water meadow to the south of the village and where wildlife flourishes – kingfishers frequent the stream and many migratory birds overwinter in the harbour. From Fishbourne, walkers can traverse the many trails around the harbour, exploring the neighbouring waterside villages of Bosham, Dell Quay, Chidham and Itchenor along the way.
Cyclists can take the Salterns Way cycle path which winds through Fishbourne, onto the Manhood Peninsula, ending at the golden sands of West Wittering beach. Emperor Way cycle path connects the village with Chichester.
Bosham is renowned as one of the most photogenic locations on the South Coast and is a lovely combination of being both buzzy and chilled at the same time. It can get busy in the summer months but is never packed.
Bosham is also a village of historical significance, thanks to its reputed links with King Canute, who is said to have commanded the waves to retreat from here. King Canute’s daughter’s final resting place is thought to be below the foot of the chancel steps in Bosham’s Holy Trinity Church, she is thought to have drowned in Bosham Mill stream.
Bosham also features in the Bayeux Tapestry – the tapestry depicts the moment King Harold, who lived in Bosham, and his entourage rode to the village church before sailing to meet the Duke of Normandy in 1064.
A hive of activity in warmer months, the village is a sailing hub, providing mooring for countless boats and yachts. It is a popular place for dinghy sailing and there are sailing courses for children available most of the year.
Bosham Quay is a perfect people-watching location, and an ideal point from which to admire the views across the harbour in all seasons. There are plenty of places to buy coffee or ice cream to have in or take away as you amble by the water’s edge, watching the world go by.
Do be careful where you park your car though; when the tide comes in it usually floods the road immediately next to the harbour. There are some cautionary photographic tales to be seen on the walls of the nearby Anchor Bleu pub of cars swamped in water.
Footpaths lead along the shoreline in either direction, affording views of the village and a thrilling causeway allows walkers to cross the harbour at low tide. Keen photographers are highly recommended to experience the stunning sunsets above the coastline.
A ferry connects Bosham with Itchenor which enables a splendid 10 mile circular walking route around Chichester Harbour area and taking in six of the Harbour Villages.
Chidham village lies on a loop-road, halfway down the peninsula and sits opposite Bosham on the west side of Bosham Channel on the middle of the three promontories that make up Chichester Harbour. To the ancients, Bosham Harbour looked like a sort of moneybag which filled up twice a day. The old English word for pouch was ‘ceode’, which became ‘chid’; ‘ham’ could mean ‘watery meadow’ as well as the more usual ‘village’.
Cobnor Activities Centre can be found here with all the watersporting activities the Trust offers. The only road leading out to Cobnor Point is a private road, so access to and from the harbour is limited but there is a network of public footpaths for walkers, giving access to the shore and intertidal mudflats of Chichester harbour. The land is largely flat so makes for easy walking around the Chidham shoreline. There are about twenty-five different species of waterfowl commonly seen along this shore, not including various species of gull. Look out for little egrets, now established due to warmer weather – about 200 live in the harbour complex.
Famed for its sailing, the picturesque village of Itchenor sits on the eastern shoreline of Chichester Harbour. Itchenor is the perfect base from which to discover more of the Harbour, with the tiny Itchenor Ferry connecting the village to Bosham for endless walking and cycling possibilities.
Chichester Harbour Conservancy is based in the village, the organisation which looks after the Harbour for recreation, leisure, and nature conservation, and is responsible for the safety of navigation. The Conservancy’s Solar Heritage is a near silent, solar-powered catamaran which runs regular harbour tours, and offers a chance for visitors to get closer to the harbour’s wildlife and habitats.
Southbourne is a village lying east of the Hampshire County Border at Emsworth and west of Chidham. Southbourne as a place name did not exist until 1876.
At one time this small area of Sussex had 4 flour mills; three tidal mills and one windmill. Nutbourne is mentioned in the Doomsday Book as having a cornmill worked by the tides.
Historically, the area was agricultural with market gardens, orchards, and cattle farming. Since Roman times, the main artery has been the modern day Main Road, the A259 (formerly the A27). Seeing it today, it is hard to imagine that the road was used extensively for driving cattle and taking produce to the markets in Chichester and Portsmouth. Cattle was still being moved along the road from field to field as late as the 1950's.
The area South of the Main Road with access to Chichester Harbour is known as Prinsted. It is a pretty village with several old farmhouses, barns, thatched roofed properties and timber-framed buildings. Prinsted is also mentioned in the Doomsday book and was connected with and used by the Hermits of the Causeway; the word ‘hermit’ in this instance does not refer to a recluse as in the modern sense, but to one having responsibility for the maintenance of a bridge or causeway and, in this instance, the causeway to Emsworth.
A good way to explore this area is to stroll along easy paths following the Chichester Harbour shoreline from Prinsted to Nutbourne Bay with splendid views of the Thorney Channel and back through countryside and a commercial orchard. This walk is excellent for bird watching in the wintertime on the mudflats at low tide. In summer watch the dinghy sailing at high tide.
Birdham is a sailing village situated on the inner reaches of Chichester Harbour.
The village, which is somewhat spread out with plenty of desirable harbourside houses, gives its name to the easternmost of the four main channels that reach inland from the main part of the Harbour - the Birdham Channel.
The most notable feature of Birdham is the huge number of yachts moored at Chichester Yacht Basin and Birdham Pool. The yachts and the attractive harbour views make Birdham one of the more interesting places to walk around on the Manhood Peninsula - the flat expanse of land south of Chichester that pushes out into the sea at Selsey Bill.
At Chichester Yacht Basin, Chichester Canal reaches the sea and there are pleasant walks alongside the restored canal from here, all the way to the canal basin at Chichester, passing Donnington and Hunston on the way.
Birdham is also very popular with holidaymakers as it's just a few miles from the lovely sandy sweep of Bracklesham Bay and West Wittering Beach.
Spring Field in Birdham is named after bare knuckle boxer Tom Spring. In 1824 Spring won the All-England boxing championship in a brutal 70 round fight with John Langan. Spring's prize was £500 - a huge amount of money back then.
Don’t miss: Scuttlebutt Café at Birdham Marina
Thorney Island is a peninsula which juts out into Chichester Harbour and and is perhaps is best known for its military airbase, but before the airbase was built there was a small but thriving village of West Thorney. The 13th century Church of St Nicholas is the best remnant of the village.
The fate of Thorney Island was determined by a chance event on 25th September 1933. A Hawker Fury biplane crashed on Thorney Island on that day, killing the pilot. When officials from the Air Ministry decided to check the scene of the accident they realised that Thorney Island would make an excellent site for an airbase.
Thorney Island was well used by the RAF in the second world war. Bombing raids on German ports and shipping, reconnaissance flights and coastal patrol operations all took off from Thorney during the war. Once peace arrived the airbase continued in service - it had been metalled in 1942 and substantial amounts had been spent on its infrastructure. The RAF finally left Thorney Island in 1976 and the Army now have a barracks on the island.
Life at West Thorney on Thorney Island had always been tough. Until the 20th century the island was much more remote than it is today. Thorney was a genuine island in those days - although it was possible to ford the flats between Thorney and Prinsted on the mainland at low tide, but this was a precarious business. The church records at Thorney contain details of a number of deaths caused by the sea and misjudged crossings. The remnants of those dangerous currents no longer flow through the Great Deep - the channel which separates Thorney Island from the mainland - because modern engineering and the partial silting up of Chichester Harbour means that you can now pass to and from the Island without realising that you have left the mainland.
Unsurprisingly, with such a large amount of shoreline on Chichester Harbour, Thorney Island is a valued Nature Reserve. There is a popular walk - the Thorney Island Circular - which takes you to Longmere Point and the sandbanks of Pilsey Island - the central part of Chichester Harbour. There are some restrictions on access to Thorney Island's interior due to the military presence but don't let that put you off, it's a wonderful walk and forms part of the Sussex Border path. There is nowhere to buy refreshments on the island so remember to take supplies with you.
(There was once an East Thorney on the other side of Chichester Harbour near East Wittering. The parish has now almost completely been washed into Bracklesham Bay.)
Apuldram, which is sometimes spelt Appledram, is a small, quiet village which is a little strung out along its single road. As well as a fine 13th church sitting in a lovely setting, the village contains a special manor house called Rymans. Rymans was built in the early 1400's and has an unusual design, featuring a central tower with a pyramid shaped cap, which was added to it two centuries later. Although Rymans isn't open to the public, look out for the occasional chance to have a look at the house when its gardens are opened to the public.
Apuldram village used to be a more substantial place largely as a result of its medieval port. A survey in 1433 noted that there were three main streets in the village, two of which no longer exist other than as footpaths. These lost streets ran between Apuldram Church and the what would then have been a relatively busy harbourside.
Cyclists and walkers can use the excellent Salterns Way cycle path which runs through fields in Apuldram before heading on to Birdham and Chichester Marinas and on towards the mouth of Chichester Harbour at East Head.
Apuldram parish contains the old port of Dell Quay. Although Dell Quay is now only used by smaller yachts and dinghies, it used to be a fairly major port, serving Chichester. The silting up of the northern reaches of Chichester Harbour made Dell Quay's commercial viability slip away over time, just as the Roman port of Fishbourne further up the Birdham Channel had become redundant before it.
Dell Quay today is a beautiful place and the garden of the Crown and Anchor pub is a great place to watch the sun set across the Chichester Harbour AONB, listening to the sounds of the birds across the water and the clinking of the boats moored nearby.
Don’t miss: Crown and Anchor
St Leodegar's Church in Hunston stands away from the village by an overgrown pond in a peaceful setting and merits a visit. The Victorian church has a rare dedication which is unique in Sussex, it has also been spelt St Ledger in the past.
Don't miss: the popular annual Hunston Fireworks and Funfair held on the playfield field.
Emsworth is a picturesque small town lying at the north end of Chichester Harbour, nestled between the South Downs and the sea and across the county border in Hampshire. With its Georgian architecture, narrow streets, waterside views, interesting independent shops and several good restaurants the old fishing village is an attractive place to visit. Emsworth has a strong fishing, sailing and boat building heritage. Until the last century, the town was renowned for its oyster beds supplying all the best hotels and restaurants in London daily with Emsworth oysters by train.
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