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My Holidays on Inland Waterways - Cruise X

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THROUGH SUSSEX BY THE RIVERS ROTHER AND ARUN. From Midhurst on the Rother to Littlehampton on the Arun.

FOLLOWING on our experiences we resolved to do the Rivers Rother and Arun, and a surprisingly delightful trip it turned out to be. We trained to Midhurst on the L.B. and S.C. Railway late in the afternoon to find our boat awaiting us, as previously arranged.

This we procured from Mr. Port, the local boatman, and, strangely enough, in all his experience of some ten years back, he had never let a boat for such a through journey, although we did hear of one crew that came up stream, so the Rother is left severely alone in this respect.

The Rother rises at Empshott, in Hants, and flows 30 miles in all, but is only navigable for such a type of craft as ours, from Midhurst for some 12 miles down to Stopham Lock, just above Pulborough, at the junction with the Arun.

This river, at one time, had been canalized, in so far that there are seven locks in that distance, but these are all totally in disuse now, and entail very heavy and troublesome portages thereat, sometimes extending to, say, 50 yards or more. Then again some miles down shallows are encountered, this necessitating careful navigation.

In our journey we were fortunate with the volume of water, owing to previous floods, and the current assisted us very much on our way. There are several small weirs, which, however, we just managed to negotiate without lifting out the boat. All this made a variety in the day's pleasure, but it entailed hard work.

At Moorland Lodge Brick Locks, had we not had the kindly assistance of two young farmers (whose residence was close by), who accompanied us a part of the way giving further help, we should have had some trouble in getting along. Moreover, our crew was one short, "our ship's surgeon " having lost the train and missed his connection with the party. This brought the fact home that in doing the Rother two things are necessary, and these are a light boat and a full crew.

This is one of the most charming little rivers for its size one could find, and all along the valley one comes through varied picturesque views, showing beautiful, well-wooded scenery. The weather, too, being very fine after a spell of sunless days, made us appreciate everything all the more. The waterway tourist has the novel advantage of seeing the country from the river point of view as he passes along; a unique advantage and one which is consequently the privilege of the few.

The only other obstacle we came across so far was a floating bridge at Kelsham, a mile from our stopping place. This can be opened by raising up one end, but we just lifted the boat over the platform.

Shortly after this we came to Coultershaw Lock, just adjacent to Petworth Station, and here we moored our craft for the night, under the bridge at the mill; then proceeded to the town of Petworth, itself some 1½ miles from the lock.

The distance travelled - 7½ miles-took us 3½ hours, in which we had three portages.

We were very comfortably accommodated at the Swan Hotel, and ready we were for our late supper after our exertions.

Petworth is a very quaint old-world place, and has a population of some 2,300 inhabitants. It has many old-fashioned buildings and a market square, and agriculture seems to be the chief industry.

Here Lord Leconfield holds sway. Petworth House, his mansion, is of a fine type, and it is said the walls round the estate extend to some 14 miles.

We came across several persons who remembered the time when navigation was carried right up to Midhurst from Littlehampton. We also heard of an Oxford rowing man who at one time pulled from Oxford, via Godalming and the Wey and Arun Canal and Stopham Lock, to Midhurst.

Next morning, in fine weather, we continued our progress down stream from Coultershaw Lock, having driven there from Petworth. The river from here is very tortuous and wants careful steering, besides which we had to avoid the overhanging branches across the river.

In bygone times, when commerce was conducted on these waters, the haulage of the barges was done by horses, but all traces have now disappeared of the towpath.

That day we came over some more shallows, shot some more weirs, and did three more portages, all tending to keep us busy and on the alert.

Fittleworth Lock and Mill we arrived at in due course, and landed to see the Artists' Room in the Swan Hotel, celebrated in those parts, as being the haunt of artists. The room, of panelled oak, is full of studies from the brushes of many well-known artists, and these are alone well worthy of a special visit, some of the examples being very fine indeed. The value of these pictures is very much enhanced by the fact that in a great many cases they are painted direct on to the actual panels referred to.

The signboard of the Swan is of special interest, being painted on both sides by R. Caton Woodville, and is much valued.

To our surprise, when ashore here, the missing passenger - the doctor - unexpectedly turned up, and right glad were we to see him, as, apart from medical advice, he was the strong man of the party. He had followed on by the next train to ours, and since then had been careering all over the countryside in his endeavours to find, what was to him, the "phantom ship."

The scenery is more or less varied on the route to Stopham, which was our last lock, with a further portage, and a severe one it is. Below this point we at last came to the junction of the Rother and the Arun.

After all our experiences on the Rother, we were rather satisfied with ourselves, considering the fact that the trip, so far as we were told, had not been accomplished for many years back, with the exception referred to. Our successful attempt certainly amply repaid us.

The distance is only about a dozen miles in all, but this took us about eight hours to do, owing to the sculling being continually interrupted by the disused locks, weirs, portages, and overhanging branches causing obstruction and making progress very slow.

The Rother, I may add, does not vary much so far as width is concerned.

After a short distance from the junction, we came to Pulborough, a good-sized market town of about 1,700 inhabitants, and here we did justice to lunch at the Swan Hotel. Still another Swan, as the reader will note - a favourite cognomen in these parts, but oddly enough the swans themselves are not plentiful, only half-a-dozen or so being observed throughout. We were much amused at one swan, who was so scared at our presence, that he forsook his mate and cygnets and travelled fully a couple of miles ahead of us, and, although we endeavoured to stay his progress, it was only through becoming exhausted that he had eventually to give up and let us go by.

And now the Arun - so well known by name - was our next water. It rises in St. Leonard's Forest, five miles east of Horsham, and flows 46 miles in all to the English Channel. The river is tidal up to its junction with the Rother, and fortunately we just caught the ebb from the beginning, which greatly helped us for the remaining 14 miles we had to travel to Arundel.

The scenery, generally, from here does not call for any particular remark, as one passes along a winding river of no great width and with average height of banks.

As the lower reaches are approached, however, the aspect changes for the better, and the surroundings assume a much bolder form, and an excellent view is got of the South Down Hills, with all the fine woods in the perspective. This makes a picturesque scene, and the adjacent chalk cliffs all help to enhance the view. The places en route are very few - Amberley being the only one of any importance - and there are no waterside landing places of any consequence, with the exception of the Black Rabbit Hotel, which appears to be the rendezvous of the Arundelites, and is a Rosherville Garden type of place on a small scale.

Comparatively few boats for so fine a river are to be seen. The motor boat, I am glad to say, is gradually making headway here, and there are about a dozen or so to be found on the lower reaches, while at the mouth of the river they are in several cases let out for hire.

After a hard pull from Pulborough, we at length, in spite of a strong head wind and rather inclement weather, arrived at Arundel, putting up at the Bridge Hotel close by, our run for the day on the two rivers being 19 miles.

Arundel is a fine old city, with many interesting and prominent landmarks such as the castle, likewise the Duke of Norfolk's estate and park, all commanding the attention of the tourist.

Leaving our boat here to be railed back to Midhurst, on this our third and last day we changed our means of progress by chartering a small motor boat - the good ship" Gwendoline" by name - and soon we were spinning down with the tide to Littlehampton, 6 miles down; and one gets along, too, with such a stream.

This is an awkward and swift tidal way, and it wants some handling. The river widens out about half-way down - where Ford Junction railway bridge is passed - and it gives one a good impression of a fine commercial river, the banks of which are well protected, being made up of chalk blocks. Considerable tonnage is carried up to Arundel, Amberley, and Creatham. Close to Ford are traces of the disused Portsmouth and Arundel Canal, which made a link of through connection from London to Portsmouth. It seems to have had a short existence, as it appears to have started about the year 1817, and in 1853 the greater portion of it had ceased to exist for working purposes; the remainder, some four miles, is now open at Chichester.

We eventually reached Littlehampton, going on to the harbour mouth, and close to which we landed and did the town generally. It is a favourite resort in the summer months for visitors, and has an attractive golf course. This latter is on the west side of the river, which is crossed by a ferry, but, in addition, a bridge is now available. As we had ample time, after our short stay at Littlehampton, we decided to motor back by the "Gwendoline," and in doing this journey we encountered the full force of the tidal stream referred to, and our craft had difficulty at times in forging ahead. However, Arundel we duly reached, making a pleasant change after our hard work. On this part of the river we passed a powerful racing motor boat - "Challenger," it turned out to be - doing some 16 knots, we were told.

Our next move was to train from Arundel to Pulborough, to finish that part of the Arun above the junction; thence to Pallingham Quay, for which we chartered another skiff. We took with us a boatman - A. Strudwick by name, who, by the way, would be of service to intending tourists in these parts, as one may say he has been born and bred on the water, and we found he gave us interesting local lore of bygone times.

The four miles or so up here are well worth seeing, and there are some distinctly attractive spots, with plenty of foliage, particularly at Stopham Bridge; and so we reach Pallingham Quay, the highest point for our type of craft, although canoes may have got to New Bridge through the weeds in earlier days.

We here dispensed with the skiff and took an "overland route" from Pallingham Lock to New Bridge, by the banks-our destination, some four miles farther on. At Pallingham Quay it is of considerable interest to note that the first lock is here of the derelict Wey and Arun Canal, which ran to Godalming, some 32 miles on, and formed a through connection with the River Wey to the Thames, and from here we stuck to the old towpath along the old canal, and had a particularly pleasant ramble along its banks, which revived associations of its past, when it was once a busy water thoroughfare.

This canal had its inception about 1813 and ceased to exist in 1868 through the absence of traffic. Our waterman, Strudwick, it is interesting to note, travelled through this canal as a bargeman when a youth, and his father also did service on both the River Rother and the Portsmouth and Arundel Canal.

The River Arun, by the way, runs as nearly parallel as possible to this canal; in fact, it was never lost sight of on our journey all the way to New Bridge, and the two waterways meet there within a few yards.

We finished our "water" journey at this point, and thereafter took to the road for Billinghurst, some 2 miles farther on, where we supped at the Railway Hotel, and from there got back to town after a most successful and enjoyable trip.

Our walk along the bank was such that to us it seemed to open up a new source of pleasure by traversing the disused canals in England, with their unfrequented routes and scenes; and another thing, too, one is practically always walking on the level!

The Rother is particularly worth doing, even with all its difficulties, and the Arun, too, is a fine navigable river, with pleasant rural surroundings and fine scope for motor boating, and by accomplishing these journeys we have done these rivers to the full so far as it is possible. And so closes another delightful acquaintance with our inland waters.

Distances traversed.-River Rother: Midhurst to Stopham (near Pulborough), 12 miles.

River Arun: New Bridge to Littlehampton, 26 miles.

Total, 38 miles.

Picture related to this cruise

Bridge on the River Rother

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Jim Shead Waterways Photographer & Writer
Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
Home Introduction Waterways List Waterways Map Links Books DVD Articles Photo Gallery
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