So long as you don’t get too ambitious and attempt to head out into the harbour, here’s a place where you can comfortably cycle along the surface of the sea. And get some unique entertainment too.
The trim harbourside village of Bosham, near Chichester on the south coast, lets you do that most days. It’s all thanks to the horseshoe-shaped waterfront and Shore Road, whose surface is about 4.5m or so above sea level. High tide levels through the year vary between 3m and 5m, so the tarmac is frequently covered, even submerged.
For the best water-skimming experience, come when the high tide is about 4.5m or a bit higher. Then you’ll get an hour or so of high tide with the road surface just covered, turning your bike into a pedalo and enabling some neat pictures (if you can find anyone in wellies to take them for you).
However, for the most spectacular experience, come when there’s a really high tide of 5m or more. You’ll see the water’s edge move up closer and closer to the front doors of harbourside houses; tourists with inappropriate footwear trying to get across flooded lanes; and maybe the odd vehicle left by an inattentive owner being gently immersed. (Cars don’t float away because water seeps inside, except perhaps those famously watertight Beetles; perhaps a VW owner might like to test the theory.) It happens “every two or three weeks” according to the staff at the pub overlooking the harbour. Inside it, large blackboards carry the day’s high tide heights and times chalked in large easy-to-read numbers, which some drivers still manage not to see.
Time and tide wait for no man, but they obey moon: highest tides occur just after equinox full moons. Various websites predict high-tide times and levels. They’re affected a bit by wind and sea conditions, but will be easily accurate enough for our purposes.
It was in Bosham, sometime around the 1020s, that a king famously commanded the tide to go back. He failed. Was this the action of wise Canute, the Good King, showing obsequious courtiers the limits of regal power? Or was it silly old Cnut, the Bad King, getting too big for his royal boots? No-one knows as it’s all a legend, but that won’t stop some tedious bloke in the pub stood next to you having all the answers.
A bike is the ideal way to experience Bosham’s regular maritime inundations. Not only can you do your two-wheeled duck impression, you can also flit between the various theatres of aquatic development. When the harbour road gets flooded, there’s a lane behind the pub that also links waterside shop/ cafe/ parking area with the harbour and the back of the pub, so you can zip between the bits of action.
If you are intent on some splashing activity, bring sandals and a towel. On a bright day the shallow waters, warmed by sunshine and grilled tarmac, are delightfully warm to wade through. But salt water does terrible things to chains and drive trains, so do rinse and lube them afterwards, unless you enjoy the sound of pepper grinders.
At low tide, you can cycle across the bridle path that runs across the middle of the harbour. It gives neat views of the waterfront, and if you come on a low-high-tide day, you can still get something of the water-skimming experience here, as it’s quite a bit lower than the road level and floods first. It’s a bit gravelly though and if you go off-piste you’ll sink into the mud so watch out.
Bosham (pronounced ‘bozzam’) is a pleasant little village in its own right, with its due complement of cafes and shops. On a sunny day of high tide there will be plenty of tourists, and you’ll hear the equivalent of “I told you to move the campervan higher up, but you said oh no, you said, it’ll be fine, you said”, in a range of European and Slavic languages.
There is tide-safe car parking, but the regular train services to Bosham station make this option much more convenient for cyclists. The route to London goes either to Waterloo via Havant, or to Victoria via Chichester. Both take about the same time. To get to Bosham harbour from the station, just head south for couple of kilometres until your feet start to feel moist.
Watching a car succumb slowly to the tide is a sobering reminder of man’s hubris confounded by Nature’s might. It’s also a good laugh at someone else’s expense. When the water reaches the electrics the unfortunate vehicle starts to convulse: the central locking clunks on and off, windows run manically up and down, the hazard warning lights flash. Maybe even the car alarm burbles hopefully and the airbags inflate in vain as if to float the thing to safety. In any case, it ends up a write-off.
People’s reactions to the little photo-story here demonstrate the Four Personality Types. See which you are:
Type 1 Oh dear, how terrible for the owner. I feel so sorry for them.
Type 2 Hah! Serves ’em right for not reading the signs!
Type 3 Oh no! Where did you park ours? Find it! Oh! Move it! Omigod! Go now! GO!
Type 4 Wait a minute. That’s a Y-reg Vauxhall Vectra! It’s an insurance scam!