For me, this walk gives a resonance of the East Anglian Fens, especially in winter, and there lies its charm. I can imagine a Peter Scott painting of greylags dropping into the flat cabbage fields which are bordered by willows.
The best thing is to go out to Jury Farm and return again, giving you a different perspective on the light and the sky. If you decide to do the full circle this will entail very nimble feet and a high visibility jacket to keep you safe from traffic on the return roads. Out and return is 4.6 miles (7.4 kms), full circle is 3.6 miles (6 kms). Park at free visitor car park Birdham lock south of Chichester off the A286 Witterings road SU835010 next to the 1826 canal. Worth it just for that alone.
Walk west towards Chichester harbour channel and final lock gate, down Salters Way. Lots of water birds to brush-up your identification on as they are all quite tame, being fed by the houseboat owners.
Moorhens with their dusky black plumage and red beaks, dull yellow feet. Coots with sooty feathers and white beak. Tufted ducks, the drakes with white flanks on black plumage. Pochard ducks, the drakes having grey bodies and terracotta heads. Bulrushes (aka reedmace) and common reeds in canal. Reed warblers breed here in spring.
Two bridges over canal, the Egremont swing, or farther on to the final lock gate. Both lead you through very pleasant oak hedgerows or footpath alongside marina to Broomer Farm, past which you turn left into the fields. The hedges you have passed are of wind-blasted oaks, blackthorn and dogwood, field maples with old pigeons’ nests, brambles with blackbirds.
Now around field to cross the A286 and follow signs to wildbird hospital and butterfly gardens southeast down next road. After 150 yards left at cottages into the fields like the Fens.
Smooth pebbles show how close in time to the sea here. Rabbits in the hedgerow banks. The path runs easterly then northeasterly for a mile to Jury Farm. New oakwood planted at the end, where always a roe deer or two.
Return here or press-on to road where keep left to Cutfield bridge over the canal off the A286. The road walk isn’t that bad, and actually I quite enjoyed walking on the grass verges, but it is dangerous.
You see a bit more of the canal if you go full circle with some very nice reflections of willow trees which will remind you of Monet’s years at Giverny. Painters’, or should I say artists’ paradise around here, and Peter Scott had an Alvis too, maybe even a Morris Traveller.
* See the January 5 issue of the Observer to view a map of this walk.