A TJBoardhire blog of Paddle boarding on the River Arun , a fantastic stand up paddle board from Littlehampton to the Black Rabbit at Arundel and back. This trip is suitable for intermediate paddlers only, or as part of an organised group, new paddlers will need to find a flat, calm venue to learn how to paddle board before attempting this route.
As SUP instructors, we use the winter months to get out ourselves, develop our skills and fitness whilst scouting out new routes and risk assessing different waterways to see what new tours and adventures we can bring to our customers. On this trip we were joined by some paddle boarders from Chichester Sup Club.
The winter months bring a range of additional considerations that people need to be aware of before setting out on any paddle trip, especially on a tidal river such as the Arun. The first considerations when planning is concerning the tides, get this wrong and your adventure is over before it has begun, and secondly the wind and weather forecasts, the conditions may be favourable at the start of your paddle but you need to know the forecast for the next four to six hours. Being February, we knew the weather was going to be cold and opted for a day with a light wind forecast. On this occasion we had a light northerly wind, which brought down the temperature further and meant that we were paddling against it for the outgoing paddle.
We left early in the morning around 8.30 am, parking behind the Littlehampton lifeboat station , (this is a pay and display and all day parking is around £6.00), and launched from the public slipway at the entrance to the river. We planned our trip to enter the water two hours before high tide,(10.22 High Tide Littlehampton) enabling us to use the current of the incoming tide to glide upstream. This section of the Arun is very tidal, which is great for using to your advantage, however be warned that should you decide to turn back, you may be unable to do so, or have a miserable time trying until the tide reverses and flows back out to sea. This is a vital consideration, the water in the Arun is very cold even during the summer months, if you fall in during the winter and are not wearing adequate clothing and have to wait for the tide to change before returning to your start point, hypothermia is a very real risk. Our little group of experienced paddlers wore Palm dry suits or winter wetsuits, thermal layers and winter boots, with cags to protect from wind chill. Buoyancy aids, or Palm glide belts were worn by all paddlers and Palm Paddle specific gloves and Overboard drybags with changes of clothes, mobile phones, food and drink were also carried.
Paddle boarding on the River Arun from Littlehampton to Arundel, stopping off at The Black Rabbit pub is a total of 12km, making this a 24km return paddle. The first section of the paddle is not the prettiest section of the River Arun, with high banks and muddy waters, but becomes much more interesting as you approach the town of Arundel. As mentioned, once on this stretch of water, you are committed to staying out until the tide turns, as paddling against the full flow of the river would be a huge challenge. Around 45 minutes into this paddle we encounter Ford Marina home to the Ship and Anchor pub, along with a campsite. This is one of the only exits along this stretch of the river before getting to Arundel, so again once on this stretch of the water you are committed to staying with it.
Approaching the iconic Queen Street Bridge at Arundel, felt to be a huge achievement. By this time, even with decent winter kit, our fingers and toes were resembling ice blocks and the temptation of the roaring fire and hot drinks of the Black Rabbit spurred us on. Gliding into the town and past the winter walkers, the river opens up for a more scenic view. As the majestic Arundel Castle appeared on our left, we paddled on until the lights of the Black Rabbit appeared in the distance.
When approaching the Black Rabbit, it is important to remember to keep to the left as you approach, as the flow of the river could easily carry a less experienced paddler past the exit point. There are a set of concrete steps that provide a public accessway. From here you can carry your board up and put it in one of the wooden board storage racks.
Staff at the Black Rabbit are very friendly and welcoming of those coming off the water, you are able to access the toilets directly from the outside. Therefore, if you are a bit grubby from your trip you can go in and get tidied up before going into the pub.
We had allowed plenty of time for the tides to change direction so spent a good hour, warming up in front of the open fire with coffees, watching the water flow slowly change with the turning of the tide. Once the flow had slackened, we hopped back onto our boards and started the return journey back to Littlehampton. The midday February sun had now come out, rewarding us with a more pleasant and warmer return trip.
Paddle boarding on the River Arun took 4 experienced paddlers around 2 hours each way, on both hard and inflatable touring boards. Additionally, we stopped for around 1.5 hours, waiting for the tide to turn, so in all we were out for about 5.5 hours. Trips could be shortened by getting on the water a little later, as we did have to wait for quite a while for the tide to turn. However, for us the wait was a good opportunity to warm up and enjoy the comforts of the Black Rabbit. You also have the option of paddling this trip one way by arranging shuttle transport for the return part of the paddle.
Our top tips for paddling this stretch of the River Arun.
*A buoyancy aid should be worn by all paddlers at all times while boarding on any flowing water.
* Be confident of your paddling ability. Once you have committed to the trip, there is no turning back until the tide changes. If you are unsure, perhaps stick to a less ambitious trip whilst developing your skills.
* Spend some time planning your trip. Look at tide times, weather and wind forecasts. Remember that you will not be able to paddle against the tide effectively so will need to plan for this to work with you.
* Make sure that no matter how confident you are that you won’t fall in, that you are wearing clothing that is suitable to the water temperature, even in summer. Cold water shock and hypothermia are very real risks and should not be underestimated.
* Take a dry bag with essentials such as drinks, snacks, a change of clothing, mobile phone, small first aid kit and money for when you get to you the pub.
* Wind direction and speed can change quickly so be prepared for every eventuality. Try to go on a day when any wind is assisting you on the return journey, as this is when you will likely feel most tired and appreciate the added assistance.
* Always try to go in a group, rather than paddling alone.
* If paddling independently without an instructor who is specifically trained in safety and rescue techniques, we would strongly advise enrolling in a short SUP safety course such as those run by The Water Skills Academy. TJBoardhire also run regular half day SUP safety sessions, for paddlers to learn some basic lifesaving skills such as how to tow and recover a casualty. It is our view that the more people with these skills on the water, the safer everyone will be.
* There are numerous new paddle board schools springing up and offering to take people on guided trips on this and other rivers. Before signing up, check what clothing and equipment they are offering you. For any trips on the river, wetsuits appropriate to the weather conditions and appropriate footwear should be provided, as well as a 50n buoyancy aid. In winter, this means full winter wetsuits and winter boots. In summer either shorty or long summer wetsuits and wetsuit boots are essential in case of falling in, there are lots of sharp, unknown objects at the bottom of rivers. A reputable business will have a range of different sizes of wetsuits, shoes and buoyancy aids to ensure that you have the correct fit for you. Ask the instructors what their risk assessment is for when someone falls in.
If taking your own kit, the instructors should be checking with you before the day, to check what kit you will be using and what clothing you will be wearing and that you have a buoyancy aid. If this is not done, be very wary. Any reputable school or instructor would not be taking paying customers out without checking details such as this before setting off. Also, be wary of schools who do not ask for confirmation of numbers before the day. Ratio’s for instructors and customers (either on theirs or on own kit) have strict regulations which must be adhered to, to ensure the safety of everyone.
* In all, the River Arun is a great river and a huge amount of fun to explore. However, it should be treated with the respect that it deserves and any trips carefully planned and risk assessed. Happy Paddling and stay safe !
*Look out for Part two of our Paddle boarding on the River Arun blog, where we paddle the middle sections of this fantastic river.