59b – West Wittering to East Head

To the east of West Wittering stands East Head, a spit of land that stands at the entrance to Chichester Harbour, made up of sand dunes and held together by marram grass. Today, it points north, at about two o’clock, although 125 years ago it pointed more towards eleven o’clock, because the sands slowly move over time. Indeed, 225 years ago the spit showed about half past nine. The shift of the sands has slowed over time, no doubt due to the defences put in to halt their progress, although there is no stopping Mother Nature, and the spit continues to shift today.

East Head DefencesThe East Head spit is formed by shingle and sand dunes, built up over millions of years. At low tide, fossils can be found here dating back some 53 million years. In 1994, a Roman body was discovered here, believed to date back to AD 75. The dunes were originally created by driftwood and other such objects (even seaweed) which trapped the wind-blown sand. These small build-ups of sand were then populated by coastal plants and, in particular, marram grass, which in turn trapped more sand. Over time, the dunes increased in size and height. Today, they are quite impressive. This one is about three times as high as I am.

East Head DunesMarram grass is good stuff. As more and more sand is trapped by it, the grass itself grows through. This means that its roots are long and deep, binding the dune together. Despite this, the trampling effect of human feet can kill it, and without the grass the dune would quickly blow away. In 1966, East Head became National Trust property and fell under its protection. Since that time the spit has doubled in size.

Dunes at East HeadThe National Trust has laid down boardwalks so as to protect the grass.

Boardwalk at East HeadThe spit today is about a mile in length. As we rounded its northern end we saw our first glimpse of the many yachts moored around here. The symmetrical look of this one was particularly appealing, I thought.

Yacht at East Head

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • East Head: N 50° 47.200 W 000° 54.800

Walk #59 Statistics (of which this post forms the second part):

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