Paul Power extols the virtues of his West Sussex hometown as a great stopover destination for sailors on the South Coast of England
Described by Vogue magazine as one of the coolest seaside resorts in Britain, this seaside town nestled along the south east coastline is enjoying a new lease of life following decades of declining fortune.
Situated between the port of Shoreham and Chichester Harbour, Littlehampton Harbour has undergone considerable investment and regeneration in the past 10 years and provides a welcome stop-over point for many boats traveling to or returning from the Solent or further afield.
The historic harbour, where many of the 800 or so Hillyard yachts were built, is enjoying a new lease of life with the iconic Thomas Heatherwick-designed East Beach Café, as well as what was – for a brief period – the world’s longest bench.
Close to the Cathedral town of Arundel, Littlehampton welcomes visitors from all over the world each summer, with many visiting boats from Holland and France.
Old dilapidated buildings have been demolished and replaced with smart new waterfront residences on the east side of the harbour with ambitious plans for the west bank area, including proposals for a new marina. A new public walkway links the town centre to the seafront courtesy of a joint £22.5m regeneration project by the Environment Agency and local councils.
Entering the harbour
Visiting Littlehampton by boat is relatively straightforward. First-timers are recommended to arrive from High Water -2 to +1 hour. Beware that the spring ebb stream can reach five knots.
Harbourmaster Billy Johnson advises sailors to tune into Ch71 for harbour traffic news and follow any instructions.
The level of Littlehampton bar which extends 600m southwards from the end of the West Pier is 0.7m above chart datum.
The depth of water covering the bar can be calculated by subtracting 0.9m from the water height indicated on the harbour tide boards. Tide boards are marked in 20cm units and coloured white, red, black, red, black. On approach, the tide board on the west pierhead can be read from sea using binoculars. Consideration should be given to the sea state and allowance made for swell over the bar.
From 1.5 hours before until 4 hours after high water, a westerly stream runs across the harbour entrance. The easterly stream begins 1.5 hours before low water and continues until 2 hours before high water.
On closing the harbour from seaward, a safe approach can be made by bringing the leading lights into line on a bearing of 346° True. From abeam the west pierhead, a course favouring the east side of the fairway should be made for the deeper water and to allow for the effect of the strong westerly set. Once past the east pierhead, keep the flashing green light on Fisherman’s Quay ahead while keeping to the starboard side of the mid-channel.
Inside the main harbour, visitor moorings are on the east side, on the pontoon below the Littlehampton Harbour Board offices. During busy periods be prepared to raft. Showers and toilets are within the harbour office, accessed by a code entry system. Electricity and water is provided.
Fuel is available at Littlehampton Marina. A retractable footbridge has 3.6m clearance at Mean High Water Springs (MHWS is 5.9m at Littlehampton) and gives access for masted craft. It is opened by request to the Harbour Office before 1630 the previous day.
The marina also offers visitor moorings, quiet berthing and excellent onsite facilities including a popular restaurant.
Littlehampton offers a variety of restaurants and pubs serving food. Along Pier Road, Mussel Row restaurant has an excellent reputation for fish dishes. My own personal favourite, the Raj Doot Indian restaurant, stays open late. The Gravy Boat offers a carvery with great harbour views. The Empress Bar is located directly above the visitor moorings. For take-away fish and chips, try Fred’s or Oscars. Seated dining is available in the River Breeze restaurant.
Continue along the riverside walkway and the popular Arun View Inn serves lunch and evening meals seven days a week. Pre-booking is advised.
The town centre is just a short walk away and offers Italian, Portuguese, Jamaican, Chinese and Indian foods. The Portuguese Grill sells a range of delicious fresh pastries and wraps. Fish lovers should check out the Fish Factory in East Street.
East Beach Cafe
This amazing structure, inspired by the sea, came about by accident when entrepreneur Jane Wood and her daughter Sophie purchased a holiday home on Littlehampton seafront overlooking an unimaginative local-authority let seafront café. When the then café owners applied for planning permission Jane was dismayed with their extension plans so purchased the business and building, which she demolished. She commissioned renowned architect Thomas Heatherwick to design something amazing, and East Beach Cafe was born.
Since opening, the café has won a number of prestigious design awards and is popular for its wonderful fresh food and uninterrupted views over the English Channel. It’s this building that attracted the attention of Vogue magazine.
Shopping and Provisioning
The family-run Riverside Fish Kiosk has an amazing fresh fish display. I’d recommend their dressed crab and prepared lobster. Jamie Oliver sourced brown crab for the barbecue from this kiosk when filming for his new TV show. It is located on the main walkway in Pier Road opposite the junction with Arun Parade.
The town centre is where you’ll find a number of supermarkets and pharmacies. A large Tesco is a little further out of the town centre, just past the train station. Littlehampton enjoys excellent train links to all towns along the coast with London Victoria only 90 minutes away.
Littlehampton town museum is worth visiting, entry is free.
Book lovers should visit Fireside Bookshop, which stocks many rare titles. It’s located in the covered arcade alongside an independent fresh fruit and vegetable shop.
David Hillyard established his boatbuilding business in Littlehampton during World War I and built small vessels for the Admiralty. When the war ended, he began building wooden yachts for the private leisure market and somewhere between 600 and 800 magnificent Hillyard yachts were built in Littlehampton before the business went into administration in 2009.
Bodyshop founder, the late Dame Anita Roddick, grew up and lived in Littlehampton where she started her first business, an upmarket bistro.
Ronnie Barker had a holiday home along South Terrace. Around the corner was Coopers convenience store, where many believe he based his comedy Open All Hours. Although this is disputed, Coopers was open all hours and Ronnie was a regular customer, even turning up at 2am looking to buy an air pump for his lido as he was going on holiday later that morning.
James Bond author, Ian Fleming, was an intelligence officer and worked with the specialist 30 Assault Unit based in the Marine Public House in Selborne Road during World War II. The pub closed in 2008 but a blue plaque marks its past.
Littlehampton has two separate beach areas divided by the River Arun. The main and busiest beach is the East Beach, where you’ll find the East Beach Cafe and Harbour Park amusement centre. During the summer, a train runs along the length of the promenade. Alternatively walk along the seafront, past the café where you’ll find the departure point for the Littlehampton Miniature Railway. Take a trip on the miniature railway to Mewsbrook Park where you’ll find another café. A new swimming pool is due to open in Easter 2019.
West Beach is Littlehampton’s sandiest beach and provides a quieter and welcome break from the busy seafront area. Here you’ll find the remains of a Napoleonic Fort, currently being restored. The beach has sand dunes and is the place to enjoy a swim and a picnic. During the summer months a passenger foot ferry can take you across the river. Alternatively, a pleasant walk along the riverside and across the red, opening foot bridge takes you the West Beach area, also home to Arun Yacht Club.
The Oyster Pond dates back to the 1880s and is one of Littlehampton’s oldest features. Located just off the new walkway on Arun Parade, it was built to store the fishermen’s oyster catch. Today it’s a pedal boat lake and home to a model boating club. The pond is topped up by the River Arun at high tide via underground piping.
On the seafront, the Windmill Cinema doubles up as a theatre.
The RNLI station and gift shop is regularly open to the public with volunteer guides available to provide tours.
The cathedral city of Arundel is only five miles away and buses run every hour from Anchor Springs in Littlehampton. There’s a lovely walk along the west side of the River Arun to Arundel, with a stop off at the Ship & Anchor pub, just past Ford.
Arundel Castle, home to the Duke of Norfolk, offers fabulous gardens and magnificent views across the River Arun and West Sussex landscape but make sure you allow plenty of time. There’s a lot to see and it’s relatively expensive so you’ll want to make a day of it.
You can also walk along the River Arun to Swanbourne Lake and back across some beautiful countryside to emerge out just in front of Arundel Cathedral, which is also well worth visiting. Or continue along the River Arun to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Wetland Centre. The centre has a café and offers free electric boat safaris.
Arundel has a museum, quaint shops and restaurants. The town also has its own brewery with a shop by the river and a micro pub located in the Norfolk Arms hotel.
To the east is Shoreham, Brighton, Newhaven, Eastbourne and Rye and to the west, Chichester, Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, Southsea, Gosport and Portsmouth.
- Littlehampton Harbour Board
Tel: 01903 721215
- Littlehampton Marina
Tel: 01903 713553
About the author
Paul Power is a freelance writer living in Littlehampton. He learnt to sail in a Heron dingy in West Cork, Ireland where he grew up. Together with his partner they sail a Super Seal 26 from Portsmouth Harbour.
As published in the January 2019 issue of Practical Boat Owner magazine.