Head to Chichester to try stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking and explore the city’s arty spaces.
Linked 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 paddlesports. With private and group introductory sessions emphasising fun as much as technique, 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 paddlesports 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 minutes by train from London, or just over two hours by car. Much of this itinerary can be done on foot, by public transport and taxi, or you can easily drive.
Dive straight in with a two hour paddleboarding lesson with TJ Boardhire 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 safety run-through and introduction to the equipment, you’ll be on the water and soon progressing 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, and water voles and, depending on the season, splashes of yellow flag iris, meadowsweet and swaying reeds along the bank. With a drop of luck and a scrap of balance, you won’t get wet at all!
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.
A five 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, and there’s a lively run of temporary exhibitions across the year.
Have a 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.
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.
Enjoy three courses 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.
Accommodation: The Chichester Harbour Hotel & Spa has boutique rooms in a Grade II-listed Georgian building close to the theatre. The Goodwood Hotel, just ten minutes from Chichester on the famous Goodwood Estate in the South Downs, is a destination in itself, with an excellent restaurant and heritage sporting experiences on tap. Dogs are welcome at The Salterns, luxury self-catering apartments overlooking Chichester Marina.
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. All launch from Itchenor Public Slipway, around a 20-minute drive from Chichester.
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 Heritage is 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.
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.
Squeeze every available drop of paddling out of your weekend on one of Fluid Adventure’s sunset paddles (Fridays and Sundays, April through to October). Then dine at The Goodwood Hotel’s highly rated field-to-fork restaurant, Farmer, Butcher, Chef.