This month’s walk is situated on the western side of Chichester Harbour and goes around the military camp that is Thorney Island. Jutting out into Chichester Harbour Thorney Island is now more of a peninsula, separated from the mainland by a narrow creek called the ‘Great Deep’, whereas 150 years it would have been more of an island, before 72 hectares of tidal mudflats were reclaimed in 1870. Thorney Island was used as an R.A.F. Station from 1935 until 1976 and the southern part of the island is still MOD property. Pedestrian access is allowed on the perimeter path and access is via security gates, where you will be allowed to enter after giving a few details. The coastal path is easy to navigate and must always be followed, it is clearly marked by a Curlew on the waymarker sign. It is also a good idea to check the tides, as the path on the foreshore may be subject to tidal flooding.
I Parked up in the small car park at Prinsted and followed the Sussex Border Path across the fields passing Thornham Farm to Emsworth Marina. At the marina the coastal path is picked up by heading south atop the long straight high bank. After passing through the security gate the path crosses the ‘Great Deep’, which once formed part of the route of the Portsmouth Arundel canal. The path continues to follow the water’s edge and presents some fine views across the harbour towards Hayling Island. Chichester harbour has a resident colony of both Common and Grey seals and a good location to see them is near to the southwest corner of the island. A perfect place to take a break and if you look out to sea at low tide you are very likely to see some of the seals that reside in the harbour.
At the most southerly corner is Longmere Point, a bird hide situated here overlooks the RSPB Local Nature Reserve of Pilsey Sand. As a special area of conservation access is not allowed to this nature reserve, however still a great location for birdwatching where many wildfowl including brent geese, oystercatchers, lapwings, curlews, and shelduck can be seen.
From Longmere Point the route heads northwards back towards the mainland and again has some terrific views across the harbour to Cobnor, Itchenor and the South Downs beyond. As you head back the coast path passes the small village of West Thorney (no facilities or access to village allowed) which is home to the Anglican parish church of St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. The original building dates from around 1100 A.D. and the ancient churchyard has some gravestones dating from the 1760’s, along with commonwealth war graves and graves of the German Luftwaffe, perhaps brought ashore by an RAF launch stationed on the jetty.
The walk is completed by following the path along the eastern edge of the island back to Prinsted.