Prepare for adoration. This is a tiny pub with luscious beer and wines, a restaurant, with unpretentiously terrific food, provided you love to eat from and by the sea, and marvellously comfortable bedrooms.
Despite of its name, Pagham Harbour is no longer a place where boats come, the entrance silted up years ago. But you can see its shape and it changes.
After the death of the harbour, the land was reclaimed for farming in the 19th Century. Then, during a violent storm in 1910, the unforgiving sea broke through the banks and claimed it back. Now this area is an important nature reserve.
Walk out of the Crab & Lobster Inn round the back and look towards the sea; its right there. Depending on the time of day, you have a perfect 1500-acre vista of tiny grassy islands, patches of mud and sea pools. Tide in, less grass, tide out more grass. It is a tranquil scene of near perfect saltmarsh.
No matter how much energy your magnificent breakfast has given you, don’t attempt to get out the ‘wellies’ and start to walk across Pagham Harbour – there are acres of mud, creeks and rivulets – but with care you can walk around it. Just get some advice. You won’t be trapped by the sea but you can get quite stuck and muddy.
There are a number of paths to choose from, so stick to the route that takes you closest to the distant sea. There is an ‘RSPB boating map’, so with care you can follow a footpath that is well maintained and in places has paving slabs and wooden steps over the mud. Here and there, as you slip and slide along a muddy section of path, you will see debris on the marshy grass, – tiny carcasses of little white crabs.
As the sea is gradually reclaiming this area, over a cycle of many decades it is taking over the ancient footpaths and drowning the trees. But neither the sea nor the land is likely to win.
Inevitably, after yet another evening of crab and lobster or whatever was ‘catch of the day’, cooked to perfection, not to mention a night of sleep in utter tranquility you start to want to learn about this place. Its not just a lot of sea and grass and mud.
The Seagrass beds, provide an important food source for wildfowl and offer protection to the juvenile fish and shellfish found amongst them at high tides.
There’s the rare lagoon sand shrimp. A 2mm lagoon snail, with colonies only known to occur in three locations in the UK.
As the mud becomes less water-logged and the salt content drops Sea Aster, Sea Lavender and Salt Marsh Grass pop up, followed by Sea Purslane, Sea Plantain and Sea Spurrey. Glasswort and Annual Seablite are found on the lower part of the saltmarsh. Its all very different.
But the true joy in this saltmarsh idyll are the seabirds, the wading birds and wildfowl, too many to mention. The Black Tailed Godwit, Little Egrets, Little Terns, stirring up fish fry from the muddy bottom. And so much more, you’ll want a book and binoculars next time.
Dainty little White Herons, and vast patient Grey Herons. The list goes on.
But if the detail is too much, in summer, look out for young birds making their first venture into the outside world. Autumn brings large movements of migrating birds, and also, at the busiest time across the Harbour with up to 20,000 birds feeding and roosting across the reserve sometimes there’ll be visits from common and grey seals which can be seen basking on the grassy islands, sleeping off a heavy meal.
Just as will you, after yet another night in paradise.
In every department his charming hostelry is close to perfect, it is a ‘feast’ not to be missed. Three nights, with ‘wellies’ and a coat, is recommended.
One tiny spoiler though. Even with GPS The Crab & Lobster Inn is difficult to find in the chaos of the Sussex lanes. Not really a spoiler at all. In fact it’s so good you might not want to tell anybody about it.
Chichester PO20 7NB
Tel: 01243 641233