A Day in…Littlehampton
On the West Sussex coastline, Littlehampton is almost a traditional seaside resort. For decades, Londoners caught the train down for either a day out or for a week’s break in a guesthouse. Those days are long since gone you might think but no, you meet people who have been going to Littlehampton for years and years. It breeds loyalty like a lot of our seaside towns.
Is it due to nostalgia for holidays when you were a child? Is it because it’s child friendly? Is it because there is a long sandy beach that’s quite shallow and islands that pop up at low tide so kids can go crabbing or wade out to them giving them a feeling of their own desert island? It could be all of these things and more.
You can either drive or go by train. There’s lots of parking in the town or along the beachfront but you have to pay.
This is the town where Ronnie Barker based “Open All Hours.” (There is a Granville Street which is supposed to be where the David Jason character got his name.) This is where Ian Fleming was based during WWII in intelligence before he started writing the James Bond novels, and where Anita Roddick began The Body Shop empire.
There are two beaches each straddling the estuary of the River Arun. The East Beach is where most people go as it has the Harbour Park funfair, the cafe and a more commercial feel. The West Beach has dunes and a golf area and seems less busy.
At the beginning of the estuary side of the East Beach is the fun fair; ideal for kids but watch out for the rides. You can buy 10 tickets for £15 which seems a bargain until you find out that some of the rides need a couple of tickets. Walking along the beach path you come across a continuous bench made from wooden slats. Except the first and the last part is almost a children’s climbing frame area. The bench then weaves its way around the contours of the path. If you thought the idea of sending postcards was old hat, you could do what others have done. They haven’t sent postcards to their relatives and friend. They leave messages on the slats which mostly say how much they enjoyed the beach. As a way for Littlehampton to gather its own satisfaction information it’s a great idea. And if the messages changed each year, then the town could publicise the results as demonstrating what people thought each summer.
At the end of the beach is the famed award winning architectural cafe known as the East Beach Cafe. For such a recognisable building with over 20 awards, it has rather a prosaic name. Described as being like a piece of driftwood, the architects saw in the beachfront a raw beauty and wanted the cafe to be part of that. To me it looks more like a long, almost cylindrical wormcast that are often seen in the sand as the tide goes out.
The West Beach is partly designated a site of special scientific interest because of the dunes and the wildlife. It’s also not a bad place to find the odd fossil.
As you leave the East Beach to walk down along the Arun towards the marina, you will be hard pressed to find a space at the rails to watch the swans and the boats. The estuary is a popular spot for crabbing and children, encouraged by their parents, will toss over lines. Buckets by their feet are ready for the catch and I was surprised to find that quite a lot of them had crabs, small ones but of a size to please most children. Along the Riverside Walk, there are plaques. But these don’t honour those connected with the town as you might think but display recipes for the locally available fish. And I met one person scribbling furiously in her book as she took down the ingredients so the idea works.
At the end of the walkway there is the Royal Lifeboat station. Not only is there a boat to see but a shop where you can contribute and buy souvenirs. Bearing in mind the RNLI exists solely on the public for its work, it was good to see quite a few people inside. Opposite is the tourist office which is well stocked unlike the railway station where there is little to find and the Look & See Visitor Centre.
Back in the town, they had gone overboard with flowers. The pedestrianised areas had huge hanging baskets to brighten the way. And the way led to a small free museum just off the middle of the town. I say small but they actually have over 20,000 exhibits but only a few on display
On a sunny day or weekend the beaches and the dunes are the draws. On a wet day there is less to see but more than enough to pass a few hours before you wander off to a pub lunch to enjoy some of the local brew like Arundel Gold