Hitched to the sea by a gently flowing canal, Chichester is a great base for couples and solo travellers who want to have a go at paddle sports. Several local businesses run private and group introductory sessions with as much emphasis on fun as there is on technique, and paddle power is a novel way to see the sights and get closer to nature.
Chichester is also home to some cultural gems, with a distinguished theatre and top-notch indoor and outdoor art galleries.
This itinerary is for both people who want to try paddle sports and those who prefer to stay dry. Bear in mind some activities depend on tide timings, so you might have to be flexible with your schedule. You’ll go home with new skills, new stories and a camera packed with Instagram-worthy snaps.
Getting there and around: Chichester is 1 hour 30 mins by train from London, or just over 2 hours by car. Much of this itinerary can be done on foot, by public transport and taxi, or you can easily drive.
Get wet: Dive straight in with TJ Boardhire’s Learn to Paddleboard on the Chichester Ship Canal. It’s a calm and sheltered stretch of water that’s perfect for beginners (and days when the weather isn’t so generous). After a chat about safety and an introduction to the equipment, you’ll get on the water and soon progress from kneeling to a parallel standing stance.
Take in the view as you paddle along a thriving wildlife corridor towards the distant spire of Chichester Cathedral – the only medieval cathedral spire in England that can be seen from the sea. Look out for herons, kingfishers, moorhens, water voles and buzzing dragonflies. Depending on the season, the banks are a riot of yellow flag iris, water forget-me-nots, meadowsweet and swaying reeds. With a drop of luck and a scrap of balance, you won’t get wet at all! www.tjboardhire.co.uk
Stay dry: If you’d rather not risk a dunking, arrive at the main entrance of Chichester Cathedral at 11.15am for a free 45-minute guided tour (also 2.30pm, Mon-Sat) and find out about the cathedral’s history and architecture as well as its surprising cultural heritage. Don’t miss Marc Chagall’s stained-glass window, composer Gustav Holst’s memorial plaque, and the moving medieval effigies that inspired Philip Larkin’s poem, The Arundel Tomb. www.chichestercathedral.org.uk
A 5-minute walk away is the Pallant House Gallery. The 18th-century townhouse houses a collection of Modern British art, including important works by Tracey Emin, Paul Nash, Peter Blake and Walter Sickert. There’s a lively run of temporary exhibitions too. www.pallant.org.uk
Have lunch in the Pallant House Café and Restaurant. If the weather is fine, bag a table in the courtyard garden near Tracey Emin’s delicately lifelike bird, Roman Standard. pallant.org.uk/your-visit/eat-drink
A 10-minute drive from the city centre, Cass Sculpture Foundation is a world away from the Pallant’s traditional gallery set-up. Here, art is immersed in nature, with contemporary large-scale sculptures set against bluebell-carpeted woodland, landscaped gardens and far-reaching views of the South Downs. The displays are never the same, thanks to both the seasons and the ever-changing programme of artworks. Look out for Song Ta’s enormous grey bust of Chairman Mao set against trees sprayed grey to match, and Robert Montgomery’s beat poetry about experiencing nature in the city. www.sculpture.org.uk
Have a three-course dinner from Purchases’ pre-theatre menu before catching a performance at the renowned Chichester Festival Theatre*. Laurence Olivier was the theatre’s first artistic director when it opened in 1962. www.purchasesrestaurant.co.uk; www.cft.org.uk
Accommodation: The Chichester Harbour Hotel & Spa has boutique rooms in a Grade II-listed Georgian building close to the theatre. The Goodwood Hotel, 10 mins from Chichester on the famous Goodwood Estate in the South Downs, is a destination of itself, with an excellent restaurant and heritage sporting experiences on tap. Dogs are welcome at The Salterns, luxury self-catering apartments overlooking Chichester Marina. With stylish rooms, free parking and a central location, tiny Number 19 B&B is a good choice for couples on a budget.
Get wet: Get back on the water with a day-long introduction to sea kayaking with Fluid Adventures. The tour starts in the sheltered waters of Chichester Harbour, but you’ll explore beyond the harbour as your skills develop. This tour is better for those who have tried kayaking before. If that’s not you, or you’d rather not devote the whole day to paddling, try Fluid Adventure’s Pub Paddle or their tour of Chichester Harbour instead. They all launch from Itchenor Public Slipway, around a 20-minute drive from Chichester. www.fluidadventures.co.uk
Stay dry: Let someone else do the hard work and see Chichester Harbour AONB’s mudflats, sand dunes and salt marshes on a solar-powered catamaran tour. Solar Heritageis virtually silent as it glides across the water, so the birdlife stays put as you get up close to the thousands of waders and waterfowl or 40 harbour seals that visit the harbour. Chichester Harbour Water Tours also runs regular public and charter tours. www.conservancy.co.uk; www.chichesterharbourwatertours.co.uk
You’ll be hungry after all that fresh air and paddling, so grab a bite to eat at Chichester Marina’s bright and airy Boat House Café or Itchenor’s traditional Ship Inn. www.idealcollection.co.uk/venues/the-boathouse-cafe; www.theshipinnitchenor.co.uk
Next, stretch your land legs on the Centurion Way, a 5.5 mile (9km) walking route with Roman heritage between Chichester and West Dean on the edge of the South Downs, or treat your hard-working shoulders to a vineyard tour and tasting at the Tinwood Estate. ; www.tinwoodestate.com
Squeeze every available drop of paddling out of your weekend on one of Fluid Adventure’s sunset paddles (6.30-8.30pm, Fridays and Sundays, Apr-Oct). Then dine at The Goodwood Hotel’s highly rated field-to-fork restaurant, Farmer, Butcher, Chef. www.fluidadventures.co.uk/inventory/double-kayak-sunset-tour, www.goodwood.com/stay-dine-relax/the-goodwood-hotel/dining
For more information on Chichester’s attractions and local events, you can check what’s on in the local destination guide: www.visitchichester.org
*Tickets usually need to be pre-booked
Photo credit: Alex Hare/Experience West Sussex