RICHARD WILLIAMSON Country Walk...East Head

One of the joys of living in West Sussex is the near access to the sea. This walk is the shortest and sweetest you will get as you breathe the ozone and paddle your toes in the brine.

Thursday, 12th May 2011, 11:23 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 5:51 pm

I have done this before but not for six years and make no excuse for a repeat as I point out what to look for at the start of the flower season. The huge cost of the car park at West Wittering (£5 at peak times) is worth it in my opinion once or twice a year. Parking at the far western end shortens the walk to about 1.3 miles (2.1 kms).

If you go at low tide you can enjoy the vast sand flats near the harbour outflow, known as The Winner. The best walk is then clockwise, keeping East Head sand dunes to your right. The main channel to left is close to Hayling Island.

At this time of year until September you should see common, little and Sandwich terns fishing, diving headfirst for sprats and sandeels.

The many pools left by the last tide often have tiny fishes trapped there.

In winter you would see a gang of tiny silvery-white wading birds on these sands. These sanderlings have now travelled back to the arctic to breed. But you may see a few ringed plovers which might breed on the Head (see this week’s Nature Trails below).

Reaching the farthest point north look across to Pilsey Sands and island attached to southern tip of Thorney Island. Again the channel holds many unusual water birds apart from fishing terns. In winter, brent geese, merganser ducks, eider ducks, and red throated divers. Rounding tip of East Head note exclosure where ringed plovers might breed.

Ninety different species of plants grow on shore and dunes. Most are in the eastern sheltered side. Including common and lax-flowered sea lavender, both very rare plants in Sussex. They bloom in July.

On this muddy shore grows samphire, and clumps of sea rush which are about half a metre tall. If you enter the five hectares of dunes you may come across rare plants such as sea bindweed, sand spurge, and yellow horned poppy. There is also a large slack in the middle of the dunes, a wet flat where specialised plants grow.

Near the tip of East Head on this sheltered side you might see one of the rarest of all Sussex plants, sea heath, growing in flat clumps and having minute, fragile, mauve flowers in July.

Look east on the way back, into the mud flats, on which rice grass (Spartina Townsendii) grows. Shelduck and curlews feed here in season, and black-headed gulls, redshank, greenshank and dunlin in winter.

Look for the tiny plant sandwort on dry shingle near gates back to car park, also the tall white flowers of rock samphire, near the tamarisk bushes.

On the way home, the Morris and now the Alvis wave to the bronze smiling face of Sir Henry Royce at The Studio in the village, remembering how the great man thought of the designs for the Spitfire engine and scratched his ideas on the sands of East Head.