Or as Paul put, two portly fellows explore Chichester Canal to the sea!
Our initial plan was to meet at the canal basin in Chichester, launch there and paddle down the canal toward the harbour and see how far we got. If things went well and we got to Salterns Lock and we had time we'd head up Fishbourne Creek to try and find a way back to land there. If this wasn't possible then we could always head back down to Dell Quay to the public slipway.
Despite our planned paddle being on a Monday, the carpark at the basin was very busy with only space for one car left. Some messing about with cars and the boat was on the water ready to go. Part of the reason the place was so busy was because of the South Downs Collage having a training day with kayaks and canoes. It was very nice to find a local collage making good use of the canal, and I must also say those we met were very polite and well mannered. So the first couple of hundred yards of the canal was spent dodging beginners, but we soon had the canal to ourselves. Anyone reading this, who like Paul, went to Chichester High School will be very familiar with the towpath here as it was part of the cross-country course and part of the reason Paul was keen to paddle here.
Moorhens and Coots hugged the banks as we passed with many smaller birds flitting between the branches of the bankside trees. Some serious looking brambles holding the promise of plenty of fruit later in the year. We soon passed under the bridge carrying the A27. Only a couple of people with dogs walked the towpath and a solitary angler before Hunston exchanged a few cheery words with us. As you leave Hunston you pass the old line of the Selsey Tram which crosses the canal, though the bridge is long gone. Only a short paddle now to the first portage for us where the B2201 crosses the canal. Just before the road, on the bank opposite the towpath was a Swan on her nest. Completely oblivious to our presence she sat on her nest while we pulled the canoe from the water and waited for a gap in the traffic to cross the road.
On the other side a scaffold and plank platform made getting back on the water easy. This section of canal is obviously less well used, only light craft and anglers come here it seems and the trees stretch across the water as if trying to reach the towpath. I'm sure we would have seen more bird life along here, but I guess our steady stream of chatter gave plenty of warning to them. We soon arrived at what was once the Cutfield Bridge which carried the Birdham road over the canal. Again, the bridge has gone, but here a small culvert allows water to pass under the road. Only briefly did we look at culvert as a possible means of avoiding the portage. This is a much busier road and we had to wait awhile before we could cross. With the road behind us a thick mat of weeds and reeds lay before us, and a choice between re-launching into this or making a longish carry to clear water. With both of us being pretty idle at best, the carry not at all appealing, we slid the boat into the gloop. I think we both had second thoughts about the wisdom of this move, but with a bit of punting with paddles we managed to clear the mess.
Casher Lock proved to be our next obstacle, the get out easy, but getting back in needed a bit a carry.
We were now in the last pound before the harbour and this brought us to the house boats with mooring lines and individual little ferries with ropes crossing the canal. These could be passed with a bit of a limbo and what appeared to be dead trees in the water proved to be water lilies just starting to sprout leaves for this year. Under Egremont footbridge and Salterns Lock blocked our path. This lock gives access to the harbour and the sea and as we'd made good time and still had a couple of hours til high tide we chose the salt water option and made our last portage into the harbour.
Heading out onto the salt water brought back many memories as I used to sail from here as a schoolboy.
So we made our way across the creek to the far bank for our sarnies. We passed a Cormorant doing a spot of fishing and enjoyed having the place to ourselves. Such a shame that we were so close to millions of pounds worth of boats and yet we were the only ones on the water!
Our picnic spot was in the shade of some gnarled Oaks and while we sat enjoying the sun, sea and sarnies a pair of swans made there way over to us before continuing their courtship. Shellducks and various wading birds were working the shore as the tide came in.
I'd borrowed a Kelly Kettle before heading south and brought this with me in order to give it a proper field test. I have to say that I'm not actually that wild about the things, but we boiled some water and had our brew from it. It's very efficient at what it does, but it's a huge numb thing otherwise. I can't see myself buying one.
Back in the boat, we headed north with the intention of finding our way to Fishbourne. I was pleased to note we had been joined by a kayak and a couple of sailing dinghys by this time. To our left a field had a number of Little Egrets, always nice to see, but it doesn't seem that many years ago the sighting of one at Pagham had twitchers travelling the length of the country for a view. Past Dell Quay and the Crown and Anchor, the water opens out to a pretty wide section of harbour again. Plenty of birds to be seen up here including the plastic owls on yachts to ward off seagulls.
Getting near the end you pass over the bank which forms the barrier from the days of the salt mill.
On and into the reeds to try and find a way to Mill Lane. Unfortunately, we couldn't see a way that didn't look as though we would be going through a private garden. So, it was about turn and head back down to Dell Quay.
Before very long the crunch of shingle under the bow signalled the end of our trip. A phone call and a shuttle organised. We soon had the boat on the car. We drove around to Fishbourne to see if we could find suitable access and I'm pleased to say we have found a way, so another time we'll be able to get out at Fishbourne.
To round things up, would we recommend this trip. Overall I think yes, the first two sections of canal were very pleasant and the harbour is always great, but the section from the Birdham road to the harbour needs some consideration because of the weeds, locks, houseboats and uncertainty about access passed Salterns Lock. While I checked at the office/shop of the Chichester Ship Canal Trust about the access at the lock, they were unable to give a definitive answer. So if you wish to follow us you'd best make your own enquiries. A license is required for the canal, but at £12 per annum from the CSCT it's hardly going to break the bank. Harbour dues are also payable. Details from www.conservancy.co.uk. Finally, you might be interested to know about a DVD called "Lost Wey to the Sea". A recreation of the 1867 journey by J B Dashwood and his wife from the Thames at Weybridge to Portsmouth.
Written by Al Girling