The last surviving stretch of undeveloped coast between Bognor Regis and Brighton forms the backdrop to this fascinating walk.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Field paths, roads and stretches of beach, 1 stile
Landscape Sandy beaches, open farmland and riverside development
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 121 Arundel & Pulborough
Start/finish TQ 005007
Dog friendliness Off lead on enclosed paths and beach area, under control near the Arun and on road at Climping
Parking Car park at Climping Beach
Public toilets Climping Beach
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1 From the beach car park take the road away from the sea, passing the entrance to Bailiffscourt Hotel on the left-hand side. Continue walking along the road until you reach the Black Horse and take the next footpath on the right, by some thatched cottages.
2 When the track swings left, continue ahead across the field to a junction with a byway. Go straight over and follow the path through the fields, heading for some derelict outbuildings.
3 Join a track on a bend and turn right. As it swings right, take the signposted path and begin by following the boundary hedge. Stride out across the field, cross the concrete footbridge and bear left at the footpath sign to follow a deep ditch known as the Ryebank Rife. When the path veers away from the ditch, cross the field to a line of trees. There is a stile here, followed by a footbridge.
4 Turn right and walk along the road to a turning on the right for Littlehampton Golf Club. The walk follows this road, but before taking it, continue ahead for a few steps to have a look at the footbridge crossing the Arun. The buildings of Littlehampton can be seen on the far side and, if time allows, you may like to extend the walk by visiting the town.
5 Continuing the main walk, follow the road towards West Beach and the golf club, veering right at a car park sign. Follow the enclosed path to a kissing gate and briefly cross the golf course to enter a wood. The greens and fairways are visible as you pick your way between the trees. When the woodland thins, there are good views over this unspoilt coastal plain. Keep to the path and eventually you reach a house known as The Mill. Avoid the path on the right here and keep left.
6 Continue on the footpath and soon it reaches West Beach. Look for the interpretation board which explains how this open stretch of coastline has been shaped and influenced by climatic conditions and the sea over the centuries. Follow the footpath sign towards Climping, skirting the beach and avoiding a byway on the right as you approach the beach car park.
Much of the Sussex coast has grown and evolved since early pioneering photographers captured classic seaside scenes at Worthing, Hove and Littlehampton, and now a chain of urban development extends almost continuously from Bognor to Brighton. Here and there are still hints of the coastline as it used to be before the builders moved in, but Climping Beach, where this walk begins, is an altogether different place. There is a welcome feeling of space and distance here, rarely experienced on the south coast.
One of Climping's main attractions is its remoteness. It is approached along a country lane which terminates at the beach car park. A glance at a map of this area might cause some confusion. The village of Climping, which has a 13th-century church, lies a mile (1.6km) or so inland and the nearest settlement to Climping Beach is Atherington. The medieval church and various dwellings of this old parish now lie beneath the sea, which has steadily encroached upon the land, and all that is now left of low-lying Atherington are several houses and a hotel.
Climping Beach, together with neighbouring West Beach, is popular with holidaymakers as well as locals who want to enjoy the space. The National Trust protects more than 2 miles (3.2km) of coastline here. The low-water, sandy beach is backed by shingle banks which, in places, support vegetation, a rare habitat in Britain. In addition, there are active sand dunes, which are another rare and fragile feature of the coastline. Only six areas of active sand dunes survive on the south coast between Cornwall and Kent and three of them are in Sussex.
After crossing a broad expanse of flat farmland, the walk eventually reaches the River Arun, opposite Littlehampton. From here it's a pleasant amble to West Beach, finishing with a spectacular stroll by the sea, back to Climping Beach. There is much to divert the attention along the way, but it is this lonely stretch of coastline that makes the greatest impression - a vivid reminder of how the entire West Sussex coast once looked.
As you begin the walk look for the entrance to Bailiffscourt Hotel. Roger de Montgomery, William the Conqueror's cousin, permitted Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Seez to establish a chapel at Climping. Their bailiff occupied what is now the hotel. The building was later remodelled in the authentic medieval style.
Read about the history of the bridge over the Arun. The river, which is fast flowing and reaches up to 7 knots during the spring tides, effectively separates the town of Littlehampton from the adjoining countryside. The view downstream from the bridge is of various boatyards and Docklands-style warehouses which have been converted into apartments. Littlehampton was a thriving port during the Middle Ages when stone from Normandy was landed here for the construction of many of the county's churches and castles. Later, it became a fashionable seaside resort with its seafront lined by striking Victorian and Edwardian villas.
The Black Horse near Climping Beach is located on the route of the walk and is an ideal stop if you're completing it on a summer's evening. Eat and drink outside or relax in the cosy bar. The inn offers a range of ales and a wide selection of hot and cold food. Littlehampton has a good choice of pubs, including several in the vicinity of the Arun.