Access to the ‘Island’ is restricted but walkers are permitted. There is no vehicular access allowed and you can’t take a shortcut across country, so either you complete the whole peninsula walk (seven miles) or you have to turn back. There is an excellent description of the walk [pdf file] published by the MoD.
But before I reach the military area, I come across a marina and am forced off the coast while I detour around the boat yard. I find it amusing that the MoD allows access around its land but the marina does not.
Beyond the marina the walk continues and this stretch of path is well maintained. To my left is the wide, open expanse of Chichester Harbour with mud and water beyond. The sky is covered in clouds and the light is too dull for good photography. I am missing my DSLR Olympus camera, broken a few days ago when I dropped it on the hard floor at a pub. Today I am using my old Sony Cyber-shot.
After a long, straight stretch of path, I come to the military check point. Among the warning signs there is no indication that there is a right of way through here. It is a good job I did some research before this section of the work and I know that walkers are allowed through the gate.
There are no guards at the gate, just an intercom device with a button to press. I was warned I would need to give my name, address and mobile phone number. In preparation, I have even learnt my mobile number off by heart. So, I am slightly disappointed when, despite the fact I can hear people chatting over the intercom in a distant guard post, nobody asks me any questions or talks to me. There is a buzzing sound and the gate’s lock clanks open. I pass through.
The path follows the shoreline and deviations are not permitted. I pass some bird watchers and meet a couple of walkers and some joggers. Later, as I progress towards the point of Thorney Island, I meet fewer people.
I walk past an old airfield runway and along a path lined with wonderful blackberry bushes, covered in juicy berries, where I spend some time enjoying a snack of fresh fruit.
The sky darkens and it begins to rain. I don my waterproof jacket and stow my camera and iPhone in plastic bags. Just as I finish weather-proofing my equipment, the rain stops.
Longmere Point is deserted. I don’t know how many people make the complete walk around Thorney Island, but on this dull Saturday I don’t meet any walkers as far along the path as this. There is an area of sandy dunes at the point and great views across Chichester Harbour to the open sea beyond the harbour mouth.
I stop in a bird-hide and have a drink and a snack. Through binoculars I can see the area around West Wittering where I walked before, including the large house with the tall fences that so irritated me at the time. (I have to confess to a perverse sense of pleasure that the owner’s attempts to shield his house from sight are so easily circumvented with a decent pair of binoculars.)
The path winds through shrubs and bushes and I lose sight of the coast for a short period. Inland I see a group of people in a field, staring into the sky. For a moment I think they are clay pigeon shooting. Then I realise they are flying model aircraft.
Coming back to the shoreline, I find an area where there are two wooden seats with flowers and other memorial items. But, instead of bearing the names of elderly people, these benches are in memory of two young soldiers – Steven Jones killed in an air crash in Baghdad and Sean Reeve, killed in Afghanistan.
With daughters the same ages as these young men, I find this almost unbearably sad.
Later, I do some research about the young men and discover that Sean Reeve may not have lost his life if he had been travelling in a more robust landrover. Steven Jones may not have died if he had not been in a vulnerable Hercules aircraft. The Hercules had not been fitted with special safety foam and the coroner ruled he and his companions had been unlawfully killed due to serious failings by the RAF. What a waste.
In sombre mood, I continue walking on a raised bank along the west side of Thorney Island. I meet nobody. There is mud and sea to my left and ditches to my right. I startle a large bird (a marsh harrier, I think).
After a period of time, I pass fresh water ponds on my right. This is The Great Deep. And I negotiate another set of security gates – again without having to talk to anybody, just buzzing the intercom and I am let through – to leave the MoD land behind.
A long straight path stretches ahead. For the first time since before the blackberry bushes I come across other walkers; a couple are hovering just on the other side of the MoD security gate. A man is walking with tripod and huge lenses, on the hunt for birds.
It is nearly 2pm and I am hungry and tired. Ahead I can see the buildings and sailing vessels of Emsworth Marina. There I meet my husband and we have lunch in the Deck Cafe overlooking the small harbour. The food and service are excellent.
From the marina, I walk into Emsworth and make my way around the Slipper Mill Pond. This is a lovely walk and I had no idea how beautiful Emsworth was, having never heard of the place before. It is well worth a visit.
In the middle of Slipper Mill Pond is a small island. It is covered in the black shapes of cormorants. Among the black figures is a lone, white egret.
I wish I had my old camera with its zoom lens. Although the sun has finally appeared, the snaps taken by my Cyber-shot are of poor quality. I resolve to buy a new camera – soon!
I curse inwardly and traipse along the town’s streets until I find my way back to the shoreline.
Now I am in a very scenic setting. The sun is shining. People are out enjoying the afternoon. The tide is in and ships are bobbing in the water. My bad temper quickly disappears.
A wide promenade leads from the shore. This is the Town Mill Pond Promenade (yes, Emsworth has two mill ponds) and it loops out into the water to form a large semicircle, joining the shore again further along.
I really enjoy this part of the walk. The promenade is lovely and the walk along the waterside (called both ‘The Wayfarer’s Walk’ and ‘Smugglers’ Way’, depending which map you look at) is wonderful. With the tide in, the walkway itself is very narrow.
I pass a jetty where small ships are being launched. There are children in the ships and adults shouting instructions from the shore side.
Further out to sea, races are taking place. Sailing boats are passing to and fro. I am not a sailor and, although I know there must be organisation behind it all, the scene looks chaotic to me.
Further on, I pass a small beach where families are enjoying the weekend and youngsters are messing about in boats. Another perfect English day.
The footpath leaves the shore (for no good reason that I can tell) and passes through fields. If the tide was low, you could continue round on the beach. But today it is covered in water. So I walk through a field of cows and then along the sea wall to a wooded area.
I realise this is one, enormous graveyard. There is a mixture of old graves and new graves. I sit on a seat in the graveyard to adjust a blister plaster and to unzip my lower trousers and convert them into shorts. As I do this, I realise I am sitting in section of the cemetery devoted to children; full of little graves with toys among the flower tributes.
Leaving the cemetery behind, I walk towards Hayling island. This area is called Langstone Harbour. Ahead I see the tower of an old mill, while just across the water I see a large hotel building among trees. I have been told to watch out for this building as it was the venue of some friends’ wedding reception, many years ago.
Dutifully I take photographs, knowing that the quality will be poor.
Hayling Island is a real island and, therefore, I am excused from walking round it. I was tempted because I am told the Island is scenic, but I looked at the OS map and saw there is no footpath access to most of the shoreline (why, I don’t know). Since I don’t fancy spending a day walking on roads, I am sticking to the mainland.
From here, I can see the road bridge across the island. It is busy with traffic.
I walk past a pub and around the Langstone Mill. This is a listed building and has been converted to residential use. Apparently Nevil Shute stayed here for a few months, escaping the wartime bombing blitz on Portsmouth.
Later, I learn this area has a great literary heritage, having been home to Keats, P.G. Wodehouse, Kipling and Nevil Shute, among others.
I found this amazing photo of Langstone Mill, circa 1895, surrounded by ice floes.
I cross over the busy A3023 leading to Hayling Island. It takes me some time to find the footpath on the other side. I walk down a cycle lane and find myself back at the bridge. Frustrated, I retrace my footsteps and find a footpath sign that directs me through a newish housing estate. After a couple of wrong turns, I find the footpath leading westwards.
Initially, I pass a number of people out for a late-afternoon stroll. As I walk further, the people disappear. Looking back, I can see the bridge to Hayling Island, as viewed from this side.
Tired now, I find this section of the walk rather boring and hard going, as many sections consist of loose gravel. I am walking into the sun. Ahead, silhouetted against the bright sky, is Portsmouth. I can make out the Spinnaker Tower.
I pass through an empty car park and the path winds along the shore, below a high bank. A familiar, and unpleasant, smell fills the air. Yes, there is a sewage works here – hidden behind the bank.
By the sewage works is a creek. I follow the footpath up the creek, heading through an industrial area. Across the creek is an industrial complex belonging to Tarmac. In front of the industrial structures, incongruously, is a large group of beautiful swans.
The path runs alongside an electricity substation. I meet a couple picking blackberries. With the stench of the sewage works nearby, I am not sure I would want to pick blackberries here and I remember the wonderfully tasty berries I picked on Thorney Island.
The footpath ends in a road – a small industrial area. I wait for my husband to arrive in his car.
Miles walked = 13 miles
High points = discovering Emsworth
Low points = sad thoughts on wasted lives, Thorney Island
Resolutions: to buy a new DSLR camera a.s.a.p.
Later, when I look at the OS map to plan the next day’s walk, I realise I have crossed the county boundary and have left West Sussex behind. I am now in Hampshire. This crossing was unmarked and, therefore, unnoticed – and happened just as I left Emsworth Marina after lunch. Another milestone passed!