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The small, coastal village of West Wittering is approximately 7 miles southwest of Chichester in West Sussex, at the mouth of one of the largest natural harbours in the world. The lovely sandy beach backed by dunes and grassland overlooks Chichester harbour and the South Downs. It is possible to see the Isle of Wight on a clear day. West Wittering beach is a Blue Flag beach, testament to the cleanliness of the seawater and absence of litter on the sands. My husband grew up in West Wittering so the place has always been very close to our hearts and we have spent some wonderful holidays there over the years.
One of the plus points compared to other seaside resorts is the excellent car parking right on the sea front, some 20 acres which can take many thousands of cars. It is a neatly kept grassy area. We used to love to go there early in the day (the quietest time) in the camper van and have an al fresco breakfast. The spacious grassy parking area means you can play games away from the water's edge. It is less windy than being on the beach, so shuttlecocks or sponge balls don't blow away so easily. Many people sunbathe on the grass and have barbecues. The car park is open from 6.30 to 8.30 in summer and from 7.00 to 6.00 in winter. Day tickets for the car park cost £1 (weekdays) and £2 (weekends) in winter, rising to £5.50 (weekdays) and £7.50 (weekends) in high summer. Admittedly, this seems outrageously high and so if you're just fancying a quick walk along the beach, you might want to think twice during the summer months and may be better heading for nearby East Wittering, which is less picturesque but does at least have free car parking. However, if you're planning to spend a whole day on West Wittering beach, the car parking cost is more acceptable. There is a beach café where you can buy ice creams, drinks and takeaway snacks as well as beach items. It is open between April and October. I have always found the toilets to be clean and satisfactory. There is a baby changing area and also showers to wash off any stubborn sand.
A small group of local residents (one being my husband's grandfather) got together in the 1950s to form the West Wittering Preservation Trust when a private developer tried to buy a strip of coastland for a hotel and golf complex. West Wittering Estate Ltd was subsequently formed by 126 residents, who bought the land around the car park area, to protect it from over-development and preserve it as a peaceful and safe place for public access. We are very proud of this and anyone visiting West Wittering would quickly realise that it has warded off the 'tacky' feel of other seaside resorts and remains wonderfully unspoilt.
My husband has a lot of memories from his childhood, which are still of relevance to families visiting the beach with their children today. He remembers the sand being wet enough at low tide to build all sorts of things beyond mere sandcastles. On one occasion he and a group of other youngsters built a boat in the sand. When the water came in, they all proudly sat in their boat until the sand was breached. As he got older, he remembers playing hide and seek games in the dunes and later, as a teenager, walking along the coastline at night with a girlfriend. He would walk along the main beach towards East Head then turn right at the end of the car park to walk along the edge of a natural harbour known locally as 'the creek.' This leads to the sailing club where the boats are moored by local sailors, then back through West Wittering village.
West Wittering beach is popular with wind surfers and kite surfers and there is a windsurfing and kite surfing club, where tuition is available. This is not something I have any personal experience of, however. My children always loved rushing in and out of the sea, jumping over the crashing waves, and it was reassuring to know this was one of the cleaner beaches in the country. They also enjoyed exploring the tidal pools, often finding a crab or two. Lifeguards patrol the beach in summer and a Be Beach Safe scheme operates.
Walking on the beach is fabulous in any season. The sandy areas stretch eastwards for miles, all the way to Selsey Bill. As a teenager, my husband would often cycle along the beach at low tide to see friends in the small town of Selsey (before he learned to drive). Alternatively, you can walk west, and either explore lovely walks around East Head, or head for the harbour shoreline towards the villages of Itchenor and Birdham.
Quiet stretches of beach are accessible if you know where to go. In West Wittering, many locals walk down Berry Barn Lane to access a beautiful stretch of shoreline, that is still less than a mile from the café and toilet facilities in the main car park.
I enjoy looking at the pretty beach huts in their various shades of blue, green and pink. Looking is as far as it goes, however. They are highly sought after and ludicrously expensive. I understand that Keith Richards (West Wittering's most famous resident) purchased one for £60,000. Most bids, however, are between £25,000 and £40,000. Still, I can dream.....
One of the downsides is that at weekends in good weather the beach can get VERY busy. It is not uncommon for traffic jams to be backed up several miles in high season. This was never as big a problem for us as it would be for those who didn't know the area. My husband, having grown up in West Wittering, knew a few alternative routes to the beach. You would be advised to get there early or arrive around 2 p.m. when the bulk of the traffic has parked. Alternatively, you might try to park in the village and walk to the beach (about 15 minutes). To do this, you would need to travel light as it is a 1-2 mile walk, depending where you park.
West Wittering makes the perfect venue for an old-fashioned family holiday, where you don't need much beyond a bucket and spade and a swimsuit to have a lot of fun. Because of the family connections, we haven't only visited during the summer. A walk on the beach at Christmas certainly blows the cobwebs away but I doubt we would be doing that if we weren't combining it with a visit to the relatives. Keen birdwatchers, however, might find it an interesting place to visit out of season. (Apparently thousands of birds flock to Chichester harbour in the winter.)
I would not recommend this beach for people with disabilities. Although there is a ramp by the windsurf club, the pebbled and sandy terrain is not wheelchair-friendly. Dogs are excluded from the main swimming area of the beach between May and September.
The beach is not easily accessible by public transport. The nearest railway station is Chichester. Buses from Chichester bus station (next to the railway station) will take you to West Wittering, but the nearest stop is at least 10 minutes' walk from the beach, and the bus service is infrequent, especially on Sundays.