The signs were rather discouraging: ‘Restricted Area – Out of Bounds’; ‘Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted’; ‘No Unauthorised Access’. Then there was the barbed wire. And, even after negotiating all of that, there was a small red buzzer that you had to press in order to gain admittance. All things considered, I had had warmer welcomes when setting off on a walk. But, the map clearly marked the route as a public footpath, and so determined to uphold my rights as a rambler, I carried on, undaunted.
The circular loop of Thorney Island is about 9 miles in distance, and takes about 4 hours to complete, starting and finishing at Emsworth. Much of the island is Ministry of Defence property, hence the various warning notices.
I elected to do the circuit of the island in a clockwise direction, with the picturesque village of Prinsted my first point of call. Every cottage appeared to be in competition with its neighbour for the title of most beautiful garden, or most spectacular thatched roof, or most perfect appointment. Here was the physical manifestation of what happens when too many Joneses inhabit one place: an ever-spiralling vortex of keeping-up-withness.
At the end of the village is a small carpark and beach, and from here the footpath hugs the shoreline. Short, sea-swept stumps of wood, which once would have made part of an old shore defence protrude from the waters like the top of a submerged forest, or the remains of an ancient shipwreck.
Around a small promontory, and the view begins to open up. It is a flat landscape, bringing to mind the dykes of Holland. A warm, sunny day has populated the sea with a flotilla of day-sailors, their little craft idling across the calm waters, like the swans that follow them.
The island proper does not start until you reach the Great Deep, a slightly grandiose name for a water channel that can stretch for no more than about thirty feet in distance. It is here where I encounter the MOD checkpoint, find myself buzzed through by an anonymous presence at the end of a video camera, and take my first steps on Thorney Island itself.
The footpath continues to follow the shoreline and while signs warning of patrolling guard dogs persist, the thick and tangled vegetation is sufficient deterrent to prevent me from straying too far from the designated path.
The Church of St Nicholas stands testimony to a larger community of fishermen and seafarers once having inhabited the island than is now the case, and is a pleasant place to stop, explore, and to eat the sandwich, which I had thoughtfully pre-prepared, mindful of another warning that I had read stating that on Thorney Island there are ‘no facilities’.
The halfway point of my walk finds me staring out across conjoined Pilsey Island to an enclosed expanse of water, with Hayling Island to my west, and the peninsula of West Wittering to the east. Beyond is the Solent, the English Channel, the Isle of Wight; ultimately France.
I turn towards Emsworth again, at times on the path, at others walking on the shingly shore. One or two families are playing on the beach and paddling in the very shallow water. There are bleached, stunted trees and, unexpectedly, a herd of cows blocking my path, but a few, quiet reassuring words––more to myself than to them––sees me safely past.
Another MOD checkpoint as I recross the Great Deep––counting you on, and counting you off again––and here, amongst the tall reeds and secluded channels, I can see why this area is renowned as a go-to for twitchers. I spot a nesting heron, and several little egrets, while an earnest-looking middle-aged couple inform me that they think they may just have seen a Cetti’s warbler. I am still basking in the reflected glory of their excitement as my path ends at a large boat marina, and I find myself back on the road at the same point that I had started.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny does not know the meaning of No Unauthorised Access.
E. C. Glendenny’s latest book of travel writing is now available on Amazon: Slow and Easy.