The subtitle says it all. Chichester Harbour really is England’s Coastal Gem.
And it is celebrated in a new book by journalist Liz Sagues, who was asked by Chichester Harbour Conservancy to explore all that makes Chichester Harbour quite so special.
For Liz, the result was absorbing and enjoyable in equal measure – a great opportunity to deepen her knowledge, once she’d overcome her initial shock of being asked.
“I thought ‘Oh my God!’ but then I thought that it would be interesting to learn more.”
Chichester Harbour is an area of outstanding natural beauty, a place of tranquility in the crowded south of England. Recognised nationally and internationally, it is appreciated by many hundreds of thousands of visitors each year – not least Liz, who has sailed on the harbour for many years.
Her book, which includes previously-unpublished memoirs, features famous figures from King Canute to PG Wodehouse, drawing together the myriad threads that have given the harbour and its surroundings their unique character, telling an engrossing story that stretches far into the past, present and future.
The topics range widely from the geological to the historical; Liz also underlines the harbour’s vital importance as a refuge for threatened wildlife.
The change from commercial port to centre for leisure pursuits and the impact of war and the threat from climate change are among the many aspects Liz covers, as are the people who have contributed to its story, from the saintly Saxon cleric whose practical fishing skills ended a village famine to environmentally-committed 21st-century farmers; from a king’s favourite mistress to Olympic medal-winning sailors.
Kings Canute and Harold, Sir Henry Royce and Clark Gable are among the others to people its pages.
As Liz says: “A lot of the history is so intriguing... the piracy, the smuggling!”
Liz says she has pitched it all very much at the level of general interest, for people who live around the harbour or who simply like to visit.
“It is just so beautiful. There is so much within a small area. It is very well-used by the people that live and work there and all the recreational aspects, but it still preserves that sense of tranquility.”
Which isn’t to say there aren’t significant threats.
Liz also looks at the pressures the harbour faces: “Without the Harbour Trust, the Conservancy, the Friends, I dread to think what would happen.
“There are major issues: the sea level rising, pollution, development pressure. It is very vulnerable.
“Pollution is a big issue, as is increased development around the harbour. And there is also the flood risk. If you look at the flood risk areas, it is frightening. A tiny sea level rise, and Thorney Island would disappear.”
Liz brought to the task her journalistic experience. She has written for the Independent, the Sunday Express and Country Life, but the major part of her journalistic career was spent as features editor and then assistant editor of the Hampstead and Highgate Express.
Backing up her words is a wealth of colour photography, the book richly illustrated with around 200 colour images from a variety of sources, including friends, Liz’s own photographs and the work of Paul Adams.
Chichester Harbour –England’s Coastal Gem is published by Robert Hale; list price: £16.99; web price: £11.89; ISBN-13: 9780709097617.
The books is available from all the Kim’s Bookshops (Chichester, Arundel and Worthing) have it, plus Waterstones in Chichester. It’s also in Hayling Island bookshop and the bookshop in Petworth.