Sussex has a million delights. But some of them are more of a secret than others.
Walkers have a lot to love in this historic county: the South Downs, the High Weald, Ashdown Forest, the Seven Sisters. So far, so appreciated. But it also has hidden corners; places off the beaten footpath with rich, diverse, welcoming landscapes that surprise and delight you.
One of these blind spots is the enormous swathe of Sussex that sits between the A27 and the sea south of Chichester, where the great yellow line of the Channel coast scooches round to meet the quiet wetland idylls of Chichester Harbour. It’s a great big area that stretches from West Wittering beach in the west, down to Selsey Bill in the south, and across to Littlehampton in the east.
The walking highlights are myriad: the long, blissful promenades of Felpham and Bognor Regis, the tranquil RSPB reserve of Pagham Harbour, the beaches at Atherington and Littlehampton. Further north are the delights of Glorious Goodwood and the medieval town of Arundel, with its castle, parklands and strikingly French gothic cathedral presiding over a series of meanders in the gentle River Arun.
There’s a timeliness to this part of the world, too. Bognor Regis was the likely inspiration for the fictional seaside resort of Sanditon, the title star of Jane Austen’s final, uncompleted novel, which this month has been brought to ITV in an adaptation by Andrew Davies. Sanditon’s rogueish hero Sidney Parker is a thinly veiled version of real life developer Sir Richard Hotham, the man who transformed the quiet sandy beaches of Bognor into a seaside pleasure village that earned Royal visits from Queen Victoria and King George V (and thus the suffix ‘Regis’).
Austen spent much time on the south coast as Bognor blossomed, and would have been aware of the dashing impresario Hotham; it’s no big leap of imagination to think of Parker as Hotham, and Bognor and neighbouring Felpham as the original inspirations for Sanditon itself.
Felpham makes the best base for an exploration of this unsung corner of Sussex. It retains its village feel, along with its classic beach promenade, yet sits close enough to Bognor for easy access to all the jazz and jingo that comes with a seaside town.
Sitting right on the seafront at Felpham is the Beachcroft Hotel, the perfect basecamp for walking adventures along this elegant coastline. The coastal footpath goes right past the front door – but best of all, right on the beach, the Beachcroft has just opened four five-star luxury beach huts, each with private terraces and sea views extending along the glistening coastline for five miles.
Designed to echo traditional beach huts with contemporary furnishings and thoughtful touches, each Beach Hut suite can accommodate two adults and two children in a chic master bedroom and bunk bed room with a family bathroom. There’s a light and airy lounge area with a charming portico window and wall-to-wall glass doors opening onto the private terrace, with the beach just steps beyond.
The Beachcroft itself boasts a beautiful beachfront garden, spacious rooms, a heated indoor pool, a cosy bar and restaurant, and instant access to Felpham’s sandy beach and promenade.
And it’s mere minutes away from picturesque Hotham Park (named, of course, for that pioneering founder), and a short drive or bus ride from the serene wildness of Pagham Harbour, while the walking delights of the South Downs Way. Arundel, Goodwood and Chichester Harbour are all within 30 minutes of the reception desk. Pets are welcome for a small supplement, so if you’re walking with a four-legged friend, they’ll feel perfectly at home here too.
So wherever you’ve walked – along the beach, around the marshes, across the fields, over the downs – this hidden corner of Sussex will surprise and delight you. And the prospect of post-walk drinks relaxing on your own private beach hut terrace? Life doesn’t get much better.
MAPS: Ordnance Survey Explorer OL8 and OL10, Landranger 197.
CONTACT DETAILS: The Best Western Beachcroft Hotel, Clyde Road, Felpham, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, PO22 7AH. www.beachcroft-hotel.co.uk