This canoe trip took place quite some time ago and has had many of the details blurred with time. I do recall it was extremely hot and getting badly sunburnt noses. Getting used to Steve's cooking took a little time too, as it usually involved tuna, sweetcorn and curry powder! We never suffered from food poisoning however and were always full. So no matter how bizarre the cuisine, we were satisfied! This was the second paddle on this river for me, having made a two-day trip earlier in the year. We planned to spend four or five days on the river and to camp and fish as we went.
It was back in June or July 1989 and we had decided to spend a week paddling up and down the River Arun. Something that could probably be done in a single day by determined people. But we decided to take our time and fishing tackle and a guitar and other bits of gear we thought essential, and set off for relaxed time.
Our original plan was to leave the car in the car park at Climping beach, paddle the short distance to the river mouth and then head up river. Unfortunately, due to our lack of organisation we hadn't counted on the strict parking regulations at the beach car park. A change of plans meant that we'd stay overnight at Climping before driving to Arundel where I knew of a launching place that would be safe to leave the car. So our first night was spent around a driftwood fire on the beach. Not bad!
I think at this point I should mention, during preparations for the trip the weather forecast had predicted wind, rain and all the worst conditions we could imagine. We took appropriate gear and left the sun cream at home.
After a warm night, we woke to sunshine and got ourselves together for the short drive to Arundel. We used the steps by the boat hire centre in Arundel to launch at what was fairly low tide, while they offer secure footing to launch and land the canoe, they can be very unnerving as the water flows very fast at certain stages of the tide and flows swiftly round a corner and under the (what seems like at speed) very narrow bridge supports. Having loaded and launched we set off up stream, we soon left the city behind us and started to enjoy the scenery. We soon passed through Amberley Wild Brooks which is an old drainage system and home to much wildlife. In fact shortly after passing where the stream from Swanbourne Lake enters the river, you pass the Arundel Wildfowl Reserve. Past this and on, steady paddle strokes as we gain a rhythm.
We were heading for a place I had camped at many times. South Woods at Houghton, it's a lovely place, what looks like an old chalk quarry, which has left a chalk cliff nearly 100 feet in height in places. In front of this is a clearing, then a belt of trees, another clear space and the river. A wonderful place!
We arrived at what must have been low tide as the climb up the bank was slippery and steep. Quickly up with the tent and organise the camp. Firewood collected, we were set for the night. A couple of cans of beer helped wash down Steve's Tuna and sweetcorn curry, we had a pleasant night around the warmth of the camp fire!
Up fairly early as we wanted to see how far upstream we could get. Good weather again as we set off. Past the boat hire at Houghton up through Greatham bridge and on up to Pulborough. All through gentle farmland, we surprised a couple of guys fishing at Pulborough, they were none too pleased to see us!! A brief stop at the pub for a pint and feeling fully refreshed we were off again.
Just upstream of Pulborough, the River Rother joins the Arun. A hundred yards or so above that you can just make out the entrance to the tunnel that avoided an awkward section of the Rother. Long since collapsed, the tunnel made life a lot easier for those making their way to Midhurst years ago. It's a reminder though of the importance of the river during the age of canals. The Wey and Arun navigation linked London to Portsmouth and I'm told was used to transport money for sailors wages among other things.
Soon we passed through Stopham with its wonderful old bridge. I always find it amusing to think that the concrete replacement constructed during the 70's was already subsiding. While the original, which has stood for something like 600 years remains intact! After passing through the new bridge we started into uncharted territory for me and was delighted to find the river becoming even more beautiful. Trees lined the banks, water lilies covered the surface and fishing tackle was brought to light. We caught a few smallish Roach and Dace including Steve's monster! Just as we set off again, we were surprised by an Eel, which seemed determined to join us in the canoe. It leapt a couple of times clean out of the water and came very close to joining us. Most peculiar behaviour!
We spent a couple of hours fishing before deciding to press on. At one point the river narrowed so much it became difficult to pass through in the canoe. I still don't understand how this is possible, although it remained very deep even though very narrow. It soon broadened out again. But started to get smaller as we approached Pallingham Quay Farm. Pallingham Quay was the limit of navigation by river, from here the navigation used the canal which took you to the River Wey and on to London. We tried to push on passed the old lock gates up river, but it soon became clear we weren't going any further. Time to turn around and start our descent.
Having spent time fishing and then pushing and pulling the laden boat through shallow stretches above the lock. We made it back to good clear water again, but not before it became apparent we were unlikely to find a spot to camp any better than the fields we were currently passing. A brief discussion and I drew the short straw to go ask the nearby farm house for permission to camp. The farmer was quite happy for us to be there, so up went the tent and on went the pasta!
We had another comfortable night and awoke to glorious sunshine yet again. Breakfast over and the canoe packed once again, we set off. Back through the narrow section and on through the water lilies. On through Stopham and too the waiting pub at Pulborough. We sat outside to eat a meal and enjoy our pints, but it was very warm now. In fact it was becoming uncomfortable under the glare of the sun. We pushed on now as we intended to camp at Houghton again that night, only stopping at a bank of sandy silty material that had large Swan Mussels on it. Approximately six to eight inches in length and the colour of their salt-water cousins, this was the first time we'd seen them alive and most impressed we were too!
Our next bit of excitement came as we approached Greatham. We could hear the sound of rushing water. Clearly we hadn't passed through any on the way upstream so what could it be? On passing the next bend, we could see that as the tide was going out, the river water being lower than when we passed through before had uncovered a series of mud banks. The faster moving water was easily negotiated, but it was a strange experience. As you passed the mud banks, strange marks could be seen. It looked as if some one had pushed an applecorer, about a foot in diameter through the surface of the mud and scored spiralling lines along their length. We guessed these gouges where made by the propellers of motor boats as they had pushed through the obstruction, leaving these peculiar marks. The ribs of an old wrecked boat were clearly visible, looking like the bones of a dinosaur resting in the mud! A bit of an odd place for sure
It was late afternoon when we arrived back at South Woods and it was in the cooler evening that we made camp. Another campfire, on which I made twist's for Steve. Twist's and dampers (for those who didn't go to scouts or guides) are a simple flour and water dough with a pinch of salt, baked over an open fire. To make a twist you need a stick about an inch thick, peeled of bark and heated in the flames of your fire to kill any bugs and beasties. Make your dough then roll it out into a long thin snake. Wrap the snake around the end of your stick to form a sort of cone and bake over the glowing embers. When the outside is golden brown, remove from the stick, put some butter and jam in the cone and enjoy!
We sat and ate twists with jam and butter running down our chins that night in true `Swallows and Amazons' fashion.
We woke again to glorious sunshine. You know that, wake up, realise your stifling hot and make a mad dash for the tent door! It was one of those mornings. Too hot to do anything, so we lazed about, fishing, reading, I even played my guitar for the first time of the trip. We explored the surrounding area and pondered over the making of the landscape. Hot sunny summer days, just like the ones you remember from childhood.
A bite to eat at lunchtime and it was time to move. Packing the kit for the last time, we set off with white T-shirts over our heads in place of hats. Noses peeling badly and the backs of hands quite sore, it felt like quite an adventure. Not the Amazon I know, but not bad for the south of England! Before long Arundel castle came into view, and we knew we where nearly home. We swept around the last corner and landed at the boat hire in Arundel having enjoyed for a few days a completely different pace of life. I promised myself then and there I'd do this again. A year later I was back and did it again by myself. You never know, I might even get round to writing about it!
Pictures and words, Al Girling.
Many thanks to Steve Turnbull for sharing in this trip with me.