Thorney Island: a Remote Coastal Walk

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A nature-lover's and birdwatcher's paradise, this remote coastal walk takes you around the perimeter of Thorney Island in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Thorney Island, now joined to the mainland, is only accessible on foot along its coastal path. There are two start points for this walk, one from the Sussex Brewery pub and the other from Emsworth Town.

The walk is flat and fairly easy going underfoot, with superb views. At the southernmost point there are outstanding views to Pilsey Island, an RSPB-managed nature reserve and a haven for many of the harbour's wading birds at high tide.

Those walking with dogs may find it useful to know that my dog managed the few stiles with ease.

The name Thorney Island means 'Island of Thorns', derived from the many hawthorn bushes found on the island. It is not an island anymore and has been joined to the mainland for over 125 years after the reclamation of tidal mudflats in 1870. An attempt to reclaim more land by building a causeway across Thorney Channel to Cobnor during the 1800s failed, but you can still see the remains of the stakes at the southernmost tip of the island.

The island area is a mixture of open grassland, scrub and reedbeds. This variety, along with the surrounding wetlands, makes the area one of the best sites for ornithology, with species including brent geese, oystercatchers, lapwings, curlews, skylarks and shelduck.

There is a church at West Thorney - St Nicholas - which you will walk past if the tide is high, but which can be seen from the coastal path. It was built in the 1100s and then it was much further inland. Since then the island has eroded away. I believe that the church and cemetery are now open to the public.

Thorney Island was first used by the RAF in 1935 and was a fighter station during the Second World War. You can still see the airfield as you look inland, but now the island is a base for the army. Have a look at for a wealth of information about Slipper Mill Pond. It was man-made in the 1700s and has a fascinating history. It was purchased by 34 local residents in 1980 to preserve it as the wildlife haven it has become.

England - South England - West Sussex - Coast


Birds, Butterflies, Church, Flowers, Good for Kids, Great Views, Mostly Flat, Pub, Public Transport, Sea, Toilets, Wildlife
2/7/2024 - Harry Cook

The access gate problem has been clarified. The West gate is functioning, but the East gate is unserviceable with a forecast of being out of action for a considerable time (possibly six months). It is best to check with the guardhouse 01243368269 before committing to the walk. Parking at Prinsted point can be restrictive so an alternative at grid SU756 049 may be easier. The Sussex Brewery pub at grid SU 754 057 does a fine selection of sausages and pies. Just right after a cold February walk.

1/24/2024 - Harry Cook

Tried this walk today 24th Jan 24 but the East Gate was not working, so back tracked. What was confusing was that there was a sign on the West gate stating it was not working. For clarity call 01243 388269 (the guardhouse) before you set out, otherwise you'll find your progress baulked.

1/27/2018 - Peter Andrews

We completed the walk today. A bit muddy in places and fully accessible through the gates. Lots of bird life and mudflats. Took us three hours after parking in Thorney Road.

10/27/2016 - Walkingworld Admin

We have checked with the MOD at Thorney Island Camp and they say that the western gate is now fixed. Please let us know if you have any problems.

6/5/2016 - Julia Hughes

My husband and I have walked this route a number of times and really enjoyed it but today was a different story. The western gate is STILL broken. We met a number of disgruntled walkers who had walked all the way round then had to walk all the way back - fortunately we met them when we were half way round. A significant amount of the path is very overgrown with stinging nettles and quite tricky to navigate. Very disappointing about the gate as it spoils what is a very lovely walk. Hence I have not rated it.

1/11/2015 - Anne England

On our walk today the MOD security gate on the western side of the island was broken, so the control room people couldn't open it. We had to retrace our steps and walk down the eastern side. Hopefully this is just a temporary issue. Also the path near the beach at the south-east point is VERY muddy at the moment.

2/27/2012 - Andy McTaggart

This is one of our favourite Winter walks as we tend to avoid the rural, Country and "in land" walks until Spring when the mud dries up a bit and when the Countryside bursts into life and colour. Creek, harbour and coastal walks generally offer firmer ground underfoot and one can generally avoid ploughing through mud and the like, particularly if you pick the time and state of the tide. We started our day with a hearty breakfast in the Sussex Brewery and moved the cars to free side street parking as the pub car park is relatively small. The early morning drizzle had rapidly turned into a bright sunny day and we enjoyed an immensely peaceful and tranquil wander around Thorney, including a super picnic lunch stop on the edge of Pilsey Island as the high tide lapped around our feet. We either go for a low water walk around Thorney which attracts a lot more bird life feeding on the mud flats, OR we program the walk to coincide with high water whereby the surrounding areas become one vast lagoon. Towards the end of the walk, at way mark 14 in Emsworth boatyard, we enjoyed hot drinks and snacks on the westerly facing balcony, of the welcoming and very well run "The Deck" Cafe, watching the sun set. This modern, welcoming eatery only opened in August 2011 and is the perfect place in which to round off this immensely enjoyable and highly rewarding coastal walk. Many Thanks & well Dones to Sylvia. I don't agree that this is a long distance walk as has been suggested by Stephen Harris as it is flat all the way round and is only a four or five hour walk max even when you drag it out and stop on Pilsey for 45 minute extended picnic lunch as we did. Route marchers could complete the walk within three hours, whereas families and the more leisurely minded walker may make a very gentle day of it, randomly stopping along the way, enjoying, absorbing and embracing this very peaceful coastal space.

6/8/2011 - Walkingworld Administrator

Our thanks to Sylvia Saunders for her updates for this walk. Jun 2011. Adrian (Admin)

5/22/2011 - Clive Butcher

We did this walk on 12/5/2011 and agree completely with other comments. We only saw a group of three walkers and two joggers on the whole of the coast path. It may be worth noting that Emsworth town centre car park is limited to four hours. If you want to spend longer on the walk turn in the opposite direction from the town center at the A259 roundabout on to North Street (B2148). In about 100yds turn right into Palmers Road car park behind Tesco Express (£5 all day). At the far corner of the car park take the footpath left into the wildlife area and then turn right under the A259. When you reach the road turn right and cross the road. Just before the Lord Raglan pub you can turn left to join the footpath and the rest of the walk as described in Sylvia Saunder's original description.

5/17/2010 - Angela Parry

Angela Parry 16.05.10 When reaching Thornham Marina the little bridge you would normally go over is closed. We went through the boats past Boaters Bar and Diner out onto the lane and then linked up with the walk.

8/1/2009 - Sylvia Saunders

My husband and his friends met up at the Sussex Brewery at 9am to find breakfast being served! They enjoyed a coffee, asked permission to leave their cars and after enjoying the walk, returned for a late lunch. The food was excellent, not expensive and the staff couldn't have been more helpful. Sussex Brewery highly recommended!

8/30/2008 - Julian Holt

A remote walk, with nice sandy beaches. Very quiet and few other people around. Blackberry bushes heavy with fruit, loads of birds and wildlife. Very enjoyable!

4/8/2007 - Stephen Harris

We did this walk starting and ending at the Coal Exchange car park. The total distance was 9 3/4 miles. Some great views out to sea and fairly good walking conditions all round. We particularly enjoyed the section towards the end through the fields and back through the marina. This is a long distance walk and should be treated as such, great in good weather but would be very exposed in colder times. 7/10.

9/8/2006 - Martin O'Keeffe

Walked 7/9/06. There are few areas in the SE where it is possible to walk in such a beautiful 'isolated' coastal setting. Aprox 5 miles of the almost 8 miles are on MOD land which has been well protected from development over many years. Stunnng scenery, with many places to stop and admire the view or the antics of a large variety of birds. I was surprised at how few people used the MOD land - I met six people in almost three hours (four of whom appeared to work/live on site). Perhaps it is a reluctance to pass through the 'high security' gates - please don't let this put you off - it's well worth the effort for a walk very different to most in the South!

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