Saturday Walkers Club
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by Andrew Murphy

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by Andrew Murphy

Southbourne to Emsworth via Thorney Island Walk

Easy coastal walk around Thorney Island in Chichester's tidal harbour.


8.6 miles ( 13.8 km), add a mile for a loop around Pitsey Island. Ascent : none

OS Maps Explorer map : OL8 (was 120) (Chichester)
Toughness 1 out of 10. Level, no hills.

This is a coastal walk along a peacful and remote sea wall around Thorney Island, a peninsular in tidal Chichester Harbour, with an optional to visit the sand dunes and beach of Pilsey Island.

The coastal path is part of the Sussex Border Path, and this section of it is maintained by the army - the lower half of Thorney Island is an army base. The coastal path is always open. Access is easy, but strictly regulated, at 2 remote controlled gates with CCTV (one on the east, one on the west of the island). You may have to give your name or show id on the way in, on the path, or on the way out, on the other side of the island. In practise this isn't a problem.

The 2 highlights of the walk are both excellent picnic spots:

  • the well tended West Thorney church, in a picturesque coastal position
  • Pilsey Island, an RSPB reserve, and despite the name, a peninsular, connected to Thorney Island. Its at the south east tip of Thorney Island, the mid point of the walk. Its eastern side is salt marsh which is closed to the public (except for a landing stage for boats). The western side, with public access, has a sandy beach, backed by sand dunes, with a very large expanse of sand at low tide. You can walk out to the southern tip of the island, along the beach, or inland through the sand dunes along a car-wide path that leaves the main Thorney Island coast path.

The walk is mostly open, but along the southern 'coast', there are a couple of short sections when the path is away from the coast, or enclosed by tall vegatation.

The walk has a different character according to the tide. At low tide, mudflats are exposed, with many birds, but at high tide it more like an inland lake with many day sailors' boats in the harbour.

This is a picnic walk - no pubs on Thorney Island. However the Scout Hut at the start of the 'island path' section of the walk may do tea and coffee on summer weekends. In many ways, this is a nice walk to amble along. Lots of nicely positioned benches, and places to take photos.

The last section of the walk, back to the rail line, is quite different, it passes houses around a tidal lake, then along Emsworth's narrow historic high street, with a couple of pubs towards the end (just before the main A27 road).

Option 1: Car drivers can easily make this into a circular walk - there is a small car park at Prinsted (on the route), although it may be full as this walk is quite popular with local joggers and dog walkers. Stick to the lane though, when crossing from one side of the island to the other, not the footpath. Its unused, and (in summer) very overgrown with nettles

Option 2: There is a small extension towards the end of the walk along a picturesque tidal lake.

Swimming "Swimming in the Harbour is permitted [but] discouraged... Please be aware that swimmers are very difficult to see from a vessel so keep aware and keep..." close to the shore. [In June 2015] the harbour was full of jelly fish as well!" Also, be aware at the south end of the island that tides and currents near the harbour mouth may be be very strong and fast.
Spring "In spring, many birds nest on the shoreline. Please keep to the footpaths and have dogs under close control to minimise disturbance..."

Trains from London Waterloo (1 hr 30, change at Havant) and London Victoria (1 hr 45, direct, cheaper) go to Emsworth. About 2 return train an hour, not evenly spaced, so check the times beforehand.

From Waterloo, buy a ticket to Southbourne. From Victoria, buy a ticket to Emsworth (there are Southern-only tickets which are cheaper). The normal price ticket is valid on both routes.

By Car: there rooms for several cars to park in Prinsted Lane, PO10 8HR

Lunch and Tea

Near the start, the Scout Hut in Prinsted Lane (by the small parking area) does tea on summer weekends

Near the end, try the Ship Inn, or the Crown Inn in Emsworth, just before the busy A259. The Railway Inn, just before the station, is an OK spot to await your train


Help us! After the walk, we would love to get your feedback


Upload your photos to the SWC Group on Flickr, and videos to Youtube. This walk's tags are:


Out: (not a train station)

Back: (not a train station)

By Car

Start: PO10 8LE | Directions at 4pm

Finish: PO10 7PN | [Directions] at 10am


Start walking Large print Using GPS data

National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234



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