Watermills and tidal marshes at Pagham Harbour
A walk along the edge of the tidal marsh and mudflats of Pagham Harbour.
The mill’s tale
Until 1919 the tranquil views of Sidlesham Quay as seen from Pagham Harbour were very different. A large watermill with three water wheels driving eight pairs of stones occupied the grassy area bounded by the Bembridge limestone quay walls (a bench now marks the spot). Towering over the adjacent cottages, it was built in 1755 by Benjamin Barlow for the splendidly named Woodruffe Drinkwater, and replaced a more modest tide mill. The new mill could grind a whole load of corn in just one hour.
By the 1870s Pagham Harbour’s trade had declined, and in 1876 the whole harbour was dammed and turned over to agriculture. Without a water supply the mill went out of business, although it had attempted to fight back with steam power. Nature took a hand, however, and in the great storms of 1910 the sea broke through the dam, flooding the harbour and surrounding land and also washing away a long stretch of the Selsey Tramway. Despite the water coming back, it was too late for Sidlesham Mill and it was demolished in 1919. The large millpond that stretched some 500yds (470m) north of the causeway was drained and is now farmed, apart from the modest pond by Mill Lane.
Pagham Harbour looks as if it has been tidal mudflats and salt marsh for ever, but it has been subject to numerous unsuccessful attempts to drain it and convert it to farm land, the most recent and apparently successful one being that from 1876 until 1910 when 700 acres (283ha) were reclaimed. After 1910 no further attempts followed and the harbour soon became much as you see it now. It is protected as a nature reserve in which many species of birds have been recorded, as well as marsh plants and – on the shingle ridges further out – rare plants such as the childling pink.
The nature reserve covers 1500 acres (607 ha), of which about half is intertidal salt marsh and mud flats with shingle, some open water, creeks and wet grassland habitats. It attracts huge numbers of waders and wildfowl and is an important stop over for migrating birds.
From Sidlesham Quay go along the lane past the Crab and Lobster, shortly passing the Old Malthouse dated 1738 – a ‘modernisation’ of a 16th-century timber-framed cottage. Out of the village where the lane bears left go right and through a hand gate by a sign ‘Halsey’s Farm Barn’ and along a metalled track.
At a footpath junction just before a gate at the entrance to the grounds of a house bear right over a stile beside a field gate. Continue along a path between hedges. At the end cross a stile into cattle-grazed meadows with distant views of the Goodwood racecourse on the South Downs skyline. Continue alongside the hedge and through a hedge gap carry on alongside the hedge. Ignore a 'permissive path' signposted by a stile on your right. At the far corner of the field go through a kissing gate and up to the Pagham Harbour sea bank, Pagham church spire visible on the other side of the harbour ahead.
Bear right onto the path along the sea bank wall, soon descending to a path alongside, actually on the mudflats, then back onto the bank. Generally speaking follow the path alongside the sea bank wall, sometimes on it, but more often than not alongside. At one point you descend concrete steps to cross a watercourse: be careful they can be very slippery (if it is impassable, retrace your steps to the permissive path by the stile, and cross the field as signposted to join the sea wall further round).
Pass a footpath sign pointing inland (indicating a path that could be used to bypass the final part, which can get submerged at high tide) and shortly the sea bank wall becomes a sandstone one. The path along the harbour’s edge passes Alley Cottage, a slate-hung cottage and then a stone-built former warehouse and you are back at the quay.
Lanes, field paths and a coastal path, several stiles
Lush watermeadow cattle pasture and the Pagham Harbour salt marshes and mudflats
On a lead on the lane and through the cattle pasture before you reach Pagham Harbour
AA Walker's Map 20 Chichester & The South Downs
None on route (nearest are in car park by B2145 to the southwest)
At high tide parts of this walk may be submerged.
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.