I’ve often thought that Britain’s natural character is best displayed by its beaches and – with 7,000 miles of craggy, crenellated coastline – no beach has more character than West Wittering.
I was born and bred in Sussex and the sands of West Wittering are what I return to whenever I go home. One of the south coast’s most beguiling stretches, it’s a landscape of giant golden dunes topped by grassy green locks, a thick wedge of beach that ebbs and flows with the tide, and a parade of jaunty beach huts that lend a timeless, bucket-and-spade feel.
Here, walkers bear into the elements, sandy dogs run into the spray and children glide gleefully down sand dunes. It’s a snapshot of Britain in microcosm: resilience in the face of adversity (mainly, at the weather); dry humour, while ploughing on with the pre-planned picnic; a determination to eke out enjoyment from every grain of sand.
In summer, it can be glorious: all bustling group gatherings and long, lazy days that seem to stretch out as infinitely as the horizon. Come winter, it can transform dramatically from crisp, clear skies one minute, to an eerie, lunar landscape of shifting sands the next.
If you’re in this part of Britain, it’s not to be missed. Here’s our guide to West Wittering, as well as a few other sandy slices of perfection…
COASTAL VOTE: THE BEST SUSSEX BEACHES
The lowdown A long sweep of golden beach stretching between Chichester Harbour and East Wittering. Great for watersports, long walks, beach picnics and (hopeful) sunbathing.
Play Look out for the shaggy-haired surfers denoting the West Wittering Windsurf Club at the east end of the beach. As well as the eponymous watersport, you can also try surfing, kite-surfing and stand-up paddleboarding here. If you take a walk down to East Wittering, Billy’s on the Beach is a great seafront cafe and refuelling stop, while Drifters offers craft beers and crispy squid with aioli.
Stay Combine coast with an ancient inn at The Crab & Lobster, which stands on the edge of Pagham Harbour, close to a wetland bird and nature reserve. Given the inn’s name, it’s unsurprising that the menu focuses on seafood, supplied by fishermen from nearby Selsey, renowned for its local crab.
The lowdown Another glorious Sussex beach that, in the right weather, might be mistaken for coastal California. Go here for white sands and five miles of sandcastle-making space. Children will love the giant sand dunes to the back of the beach.
Play Shallow seas and safe conditions make this is a great spot for watersports. The Kitesurf Centre and Rye Watersports are two specialist outlets. And speaking of Rye, the beauty of a visit to Camber is that you can combine it with a visit to the historic Sussex town, packed with half-timbered pubs, tearooms and antiques shops along age-old cobbled streets. Grab a pint at the clapboard-clad Globe Inn Marsh, all roaring log fires in winter and lobster-pot-decked outdoor terraces in summer. The fish platter is worth lingering for. The Devil in Rye is a more upmarket alternative, using produce picked from local markets and fish plucked from the Camber coast.
Stay You’ve got two options: stay on the coast or head inland. On Camber itself, The Gallivant is a pedigreed pad, with a restaurant run by an ex-French Laundry chef and a spa in a converted beach hut. Rooms take on a nautical New England feel, with sea blues, soft greys and whitewashed walls. In Rye, The George in Rye is a classic coaching inn with antiques-lined interiors, especially in the downstairs bar and restaurant. Its on-site boutique, The Shop Next Door, sells bedspreads, mohair throws and rattan mirrors to recreate the look back home.
The lowdown A pebble-dashed shoreline fronting the coolest city of the south coast. At the east end, the Brighton Palace Pier is a whirl of amusement arcades, candyfloss counters and fairground rides. At the opposite end, the skeletal remains of the 19th-century West Pier – ravaged by storms and fires – have become a local landmark.
Play The city is your oyster, but let’s start with coast… After years of financial wrangling, the West Pier is slowly rebuilding itself, with the i360 observation tower and a new restaurant, the West Beach Bar & Kitchen, allowing you to gaze on to the hauntingly beautiful relic. Away from the beach, Brighton’s tangle of ‘Laines’ – packed with antique shops and one-off boutiques – show off the city’s independent streak, and food outlets are also thick on the ground. Don’t miss the world’s first zero-waste restaurant Silo; award-winning, small-plates specialist 64 Degrees; and Brighton’s oldest vegetarian address Food for Friends.
Stay Nowhere reflects Brighton’s left-leaning, creative credentials more than Artist Residence. This formerly run-down Regency Square guesthouse has been transformed by the young couple behind it into a bohemian lair with 24 rustic-chic rooms, a crowd-drawing, cocktail-shaking bar and a compact 20-cover restaurant. As the name suggests, art abounds: from full-wall murals to pop-art prints and neon signs by the biggest talents around, including Pure Evil, Andy Doig and Bonnie & Clyde. The model’s been so successful that Artist Residence now has acclaimed offshoots in Cornwall, London and Oxfordshire – ideal if you want to extend your tour from coast to city and countryside.
Featured image is West Wittering beach; photo via Getty