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We were out into the street by 8:09 which I thought was pretty good for a Saturday. It’s a fine sunny day, just right for what we have in mind. We waited for a bus at the Angel Clock Tower. I like this clock, even if it does rather blatantly advertise J. Smith & Sons who presumably paid for it. It’s running 5 minutes slow today.
We changed buses at Moorgate where I always admire this lovely old barber’s shop, Flittner’s. I have to admit that I have never had a haircut there because the prices are a little on the high side. Perhaps I’ll go there one day for a birthday treat.
Because of rail works, we have to go from London Bridge rather than St Pancras which is just down the road from us. The route is rather indirect too. First we take a train to East Croydon, then another train to Gatwick and finally a third train to our destination on the south coast, Littlehampton.
We have been to this pretty seaside town before. On one visit we discovered the beach spiders (probably wolf spiders, according to the expert I contacted) and we are hoping to see them today.
As I write, the train is trundling through Preston Park station on the outskirts of Brighton, a place of memories for me, but our sights are set on other targets today.
Littlehampton is a seaside town with an extensive beach suitable for bathing and other water activities but it is also situated at the mouth of the River Arun, which serves it as a harbour. Further up, the river gives its name to the famous old castle town of Arundel. All along the town reaches of the river are moorings, boat yards and boating clubs.
The beach to the east of the river is the most used but the broad stretch of shingle to the west also has its devotees and this is where we hoped to find our friends, the beach spiders.
Littlehampton is a charming town but which provides a range of entertainments for all tastes. There is an extensive fun fair, plenty of cafes and restaurants, facilities for yachts and motor boats and, as indicated, a choice of beaches. The sandy dunes along the western beach have been closed off to the public to allow them to recover from the pressures of large numbers of people and have been designated an SSSI.
Before going off to find the spiders, we decided to take a look at the museum as we had not visited it before. It is sited in quite a pretty house and the exhibits cover the usual topics such as the Saxons and the Romans and other aspects of life up to modern times. However—bad points, in my opinion—neither is photography allowed nor is there a public toilet in the museum. I think these two faults should be reviewed by the Council as a matter of urgency.
We also had a look around St Mary’s Parish Church. I would like to say that this is a lovely old church but unfortunately, I cannot. It is an ugly blocky lump of an eyesore whose ancient tombstones and pebbled boundary walls clash strangely with its obviously recent construction.
I believe that in ancient times, the River Arun was called “the Wanderer” because of the way it would split and often change course. In modern times, it has been stabilized and the section from the town to the sea has been straightened to make a safe channel for ships entering the harbour which is, itself, another section of the river. In the latter half of the 19th century there was even a cross-Channel ferry service but this is now long gone, killed by competition from Newhaven.
One of the picturesque features of Littlehampton is its large mute swan population. There are not many places where you will see so many of these beautiful birds within such a relatively small area.
There is also a massive gull population. You expect to see gulls at the seaside but here again they occur in unusual concentrations. These are mainly herring gulls and a few black-headed gulls. I didn’t see any lesser black backed gulls despite their proliferation in other places.
Incidentally, if you look at the above photo, you may be intrigued as I was by the fact that although the sea beaches are shingle, the west bank of the river is sand or, rather, soft mud, into which the decaying hulks of abandoned boats gradually sink.
We had lunch in the Riverside Restaurant where we have been before, then walked along the eastern bank of the river to the Littlehampton Swing Bridge, to give it its official name.
The bridge may not be very pretty but it has a rather interesting feature (see photos above). When it opens, it slides horizontally in two sections and there are railway tracks for it to run on. At either end, there is a building like a bus shelter for pedestrians to wait until the bridge closes again.
We followed the footpath down the western bank to the mouth of the river. Here you can see boat yards where building and repair work is going on; boats moored to ramshackle walkways, awaiting their owners; boats that are possibly someone’s home; and, sadly, old wrecks, decaying and falling to pieces. You cannot help wondering where and when they sailed and what hopes, joys and despairs they carried with them before fetching up in a muddy graveyard.
At the sea end we turned west along the shingle beach, looking for somewhere to sit where we thought there was a chance of seeing the beach spiders. This beach is not too crowded despite a continual two-way flow of people, but there is a disagreeable factor: beach barbecues are apparently permitted so you may have to put up with greasy smoke and the stink of burnt flesh.
The sun was hot and this, together with the continual movement, probably explains why no spiders were visible. In any case, I think they prefer to come out in the evening.
I dozed off for a while and when I awoke Tigger said she had briefly seen a spider. We sat and watched but for a long time saw nothing. Then one popped up from the shingle right between Tigger’s feet and we watched it scurrying among the pebbles until it was lost to view.
Later, we caught sight of a couple of others but that was all. Had we been prepared to sit and wait long enough, we would probably have been rewarded with the sight of larger numbers but we decided, now that we had seen them that it was time to make a move.
I would not in any case have tried to photograph them because they are too small, too fast-moving and too shy. You cannot get close to them and any movement sends them scurrying away. All you can do is sit still and watch them.
We followed the footpath through the dunes to the West Beach Cafe where I had a surprisingly good cup of coffee. I could wish it were that good in all cafes.
While on the beach, we had noticed considerable activity among the gulls on the breakwater at the river mouth. Sitting in the cafe I could see that this activity still continued. So I decided for once to swap lenses, something I am rather lazy about, and see if I could get some shots with the long lens. I climbed rather nervously onto the breakwater and shuffled along it as far as I dared and took some photos holding on with my left arm around a post.
This picture may give you an idea of the concentration of gulls that I mentioned. They seemed to be fishing for small fish, diving, scooping and flying up again with something in their beaks.
After this we began to retrace our steps along the west bank to the bridge though we did sit for a while on the sandy bank, enjoying the sunshine and watching the gulls fishing. It’s good to see gulls earning their living instead of surviving on chips and ice cream, though no doubt these gulls are familiar with those treats as well.
At a particular moment, the RNLI speedboat shot past, whether on a call-out or a rehearsal, I do not know.
An inquisitive swan came to investigate. Maybe we had some food to share…?
We crossed the bridge and walked down the east bank once more. The railway station is only a short way along. Should we catch a train home or take another turn around town? There was a train in 30 minutes and we decided to take it. We are aboard that train now and again passing through Preston Park station as I write these words. It is a Victoria train but we prefer to change at Haywards Heath or East Croydon to a London Bridge train as that is more convenient for us.
Thus ended a day of sun, sea and river, not forgetting spiders! But we shall return…