River Arun paddle boarding
A blog article of a TjBoardhire adventure exploring the River Arun from Littlehampton to Pulborough. The River Arun is an amazing 41 km (25.5 mile) stretch of water from sea to source and is well known for being the second fastest flowing tidal river in England and is worthy of respect from those choosing to access the water for paddle sports. As this is a tidal river, flowing from Palligham Quay to the sea, it is free to use and no license is required. However, access to the river is very limited with only two public access points along the way at Littlehampton and Pulborough.
At TJBoardhire we run many of our lessons, tours and adventures on the River Arun in West Sussex. We have paddled the different sections of this river extensively and have in-depth knowledge of the river and its associated risks. This season we had planned to incorporate some adventure paddles on the river for our more experienced riders, including a 2 day “Sea to Source”, with an overnight camp out along the way. However, as for so many businesses, Covid -19 put paid to any group activities for most of this year.
Whilst we have paddled the different sections of the river numerous times, we have never paddled the entire length of the river in one trip on a standard inflatable board. We therefore planned for a day when the weather, wind and tides looked favourable for a one-way paddle on the 32 km stretch upstream from Littlehampton to Pulborough. With high tide at Littlehampton being at 12.37 pm, we needed to enter the water well enough in advance to ensure that the tidal flow would assist us for the duration of the trip. Therefore, we planned to enter the water from Littlehampton three hours before high tide at 09.37 am. As with any one-way trip, the morning logistics allowed for time to leave a vehicle at Pulborough and drive to Littlehampton for set off.
When planning the trip, we packed essentials for the day including our usual safety equipment of tow ropes, first aid kit, throw lines, spare paddle, pump and buoyancy aids, change of clothing, hats and sun cream, as well as plenty of food and water for the day.
On any flowing water we wear a quick release waist belt system and would strongly advise paddlers to wear a waist belt for attaching their leash. All along the River are pontoons, moorings, buoys, wooden stakes and general hazards that a standard ankle leash can become entwined on causing entrapment. With a strong tidal flow, a standard ankle leash presents a major hazard and on some stretches of flowing Rivers such as the Thames, no leash is preferred over an ankle leash. Please click this link for info on leashes.
We also wanted to complete the trip on generic 10’6” inflatable boards, as this is what the majority of paddlers who come on our trips use and we wanted to experience the trip from this perspective. We choose Hatha Oxygen boards for this River Arun paddle board adventure.
As we were entering the water at slack tide, we did not have the initial tidal push from Littlehampton that we would have had by entering the water later. However, as we wanted the tide to work with us for the duration of the trip, this meant an earlier start. With sunshine and light north westerly winds forecast, that were due to switch at lunchtime to south westerly we knew that we would have a little wind resistance for the first couple of hours and that this should switch to assist us for the latter part of the trip.
After setting off from Littlehampton, we soon found a gentle rhythm, enjoying the peace and calm of being on the water. At this point, we both questioned our choice of paddling 10’6” boards and wished we had opted for our touring boards. However, as this trip was to assess the river from the perspective of our customers who mostly paddle a board of this size, this was all part of the experience. As we continued, the incoming tide began to assist us and we started to make better time, reaching the Arundel tea rooms after 1 hour 23 minutes. Approaching Arundel under the iconic bridge and seeing the castle emerge alongside is always a fantastic achievement, with the friendly waterside homeowners waving and saying hello. At this point, we stopped paddling and sat on our boards, allowing the flow to carry us whilst we had a cup of coffee and the first snack stop of the day. There really is nothing like sitting on your board, being carried along by the tide in the warm summer sunshine to unwind and forget about the world’s problems and put everything into perspective.
After 1 hour 50 minutes, we passed by The Black Rabbit, Arundel, waving to the customers enjoying the recent post Covid reopening and continued on. Whilst it was tempting to stop off, we wanted to ensure that we would have the tide continuing to work with us for the remainder of the trip to Pulborough.
The next stretch of river between Arundel and Amberley becomes much prettier and the flow is more evident with the narrower banks. On this stretch, you can take a turn on the right to enter the Burpham Loop. This adds on around 30 – 40 minutes to the trip, however, it is a very worthwhile excursion on a quiet, narrow section of the river where we did not see another person. Again, another excuse for a slow, gentle paddle, soaking up the tranquillity of being on the water on a warm summer afternoon. Towards the end of The Burpham Loop you will be paddling against the tide, as the tide pushes up the main branch of the Arun it backwashes down into the end portion of the loop. We exited the loop around 2 and a half hours into the trip and rejoined the flow of the incoming tide.
Once back on the river, we saw more water users, with some of the motorised boats that can be rented from the pontoon at Amberley tea rooms.
As it was now coming up to lunchtime, it was the perfect opportunity to raft our boards together and stop for a paddle picnic, allowing the tidal flow to carry us on our way. Along this stretch of water, we stopped off to explore the area of land that we have secured for our overnight camping expeditions. Whilst the river is free to use, all of the land either side is privately owned and as such camping out is notoriously difficult and land owners permission should be sought before doing so.
Three hours forty-two minutes into the paddle, we approached the bridge at Amberley and the Tea Rooms to the right. There is a small pontoon here where motorised powers boats can be hired, this pontoon is now inaccessible to paddle boards/kayaks/canoes, so do not plan this as a stop point or put in/get out.
Moving on from Amberley, we continued our journey on towards Pulborough, reaching Greatham Bridge after five hours and twenty minutes. The tide was still working in our favour and whilst we could have done this in a much quicker time, we chose to take it easy and enjoy a more relaxed, chilled paddle, making the most of our day off.
As we approached the familiar landmarks of Pulborough, we took the opportunity to have a cool swim in the water, stretching out our tired muscles and cooling down as our mini adventure came to an end. The river flow was becoming less apparent as the tide slackened off and we reached Swan Bridge where we had parked, just under seven hours after embarking.
This was a fantastic day out and showed that it is possible to paddle between the access points of Littlehampton and Pulborough on one tide on generic 10’6” boards. The time of just under seven hours could easily be shortened by around an hour with using faster touring boards and less time taken to picnic, chill out and explore along the way, avoiding the Burpham loop would save a further 30 minutes. We had a headwind all day which slowed us down, but we were in no rush to finish.
Please look out for details of our River Arun lessons, tours and overnight adventures coming soon, and how to join us on a River Arun paddle boarding adventure.
Top tips for River Arun paddle boarding and other flowing water ways.
Be sure of your paddling skills. This river is fast flowing in some sections and once you are on the water, you are committed and there is no turning back once you start. Likewise, there are very few public access/egress points along the way. This is not a trip for inexperienced paddlers.
Do not go alone and let someone know where you are going and what time you will be expected back, prepare a float plan and leave a copy with a trusted friend.
Plan your trip. Weather, wind and tide will make a huge difference to your experience of River Arun paddle boarding. Also, be prepared for conditions to be different from the forecast. Whilst we had a light wind forecast that was due to change direction at lunchtime, it did not do this, and we had a persistent headwind for most of our journey.
Do not embark on this trip with poor quality kit. Whilst a budget board may be fine for paddling canals and safe water areas, you want to have absolute confidence in your equipment for a journey such as this.
Use a good quality waist belt to attach your leash.
Take plenty of supplies such as food, water, change of clothing, mobile phone, first aid kit and safety equipment.
Attend a SUP safety session such as those run by TJBoardhire so that you have some of the basic knowledge and skills to plan a SUP journey and enjoy River Arun paddle boarding.