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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 38: Boscastle to Hartland Point

by | Aug 13, 2022

Hartland Point

An uphill start

When you spend a whole night worrying about something, you often find that things don’t turn out quite as bad as you imagined. By the time I was packed and saddled up after breakfast, I was certain I would still be pushing my bike up the hill out of Boscastle at lunchtime. So when, after less than an hour, I reached the crossroads where I had left the main road the previous evening, I felt ecstatic. I’d love to think it was a sign that I was now the fittest I’d been since my twenties, but it was really down to the fact that it wasn’t as steep, or as far, as I’d allowed myself to believe.

I was heading to Hartland, where I had found a cheap bed at The Anchor, one of two pubs in the village. I chose it the previous evening because of its proximity to Hartland Point, one of the lighthouses I was most looking forward to seeing. Boscastle to Hartland village is a distance of about thirty miles, and having made such a decent start, I soon realised that this would be quite a short day. It didn’t help that the only viable route followed the main A39 for twenty-seven of the thirty miles.

At Kilkhampton I pulled into a lay-by, where a catering van made me a splendid bacon and sausage sandwich, along with a cup of steaming hot tea. In no hurry to move on, I drank two more cups. When I walked back to bin my paper plate and cups, the owner glanced towards my bike, and asked if I was riding for charity. When I explained my connection with Shift MS, he scooped up two handfuls of Mars, Snickers, Twix and KitKats, and thrust them into my hand. ‘You’ll be needing these, then’, he added. It wasn’t the first time I’d been met with such impulsive generosity, but it was one of the most touching. It was a gesture that propelled me at speed along the final ten miles to Hartland.

Arriving at The Anchor at around half past two, I found the place locked and empty. For a while I wondered whether I’d booked a place that was no longer in business – you read about places that close down, but remain on booking websites for months, or even years, afterwards. I decided not to panic quite yet, and given how much of the day was left, I committed to riding on to Hartland Point now, rather than in the morning, which had been my original plan. When I first visited Hartland Point Lighthouse, as a teenager, it had left a lasting impression. Built down low on rocks at the very tip of the point, it feels especially remote and exposed to the ravages of the sea. Back then, there was sufficient accommodation to provide homes for four keepers and their families.

Before I set off from home, I was lucky enough to meet Peter Smith, whose father had served here. Peter was brought up at Hartland Point Lighthouse, and had gone to school in the village, making the steep, three-mile walk there and back each day. In fact, Peter’s father was the fourth generation of lighthouse keepers in his family, and at one point his father had served at Lundy South, while his grandfather was at Lundy North. Having seen photographs of Hartland Point taken during Peter’s childhood, I felt a little sad when I reached the car park on the cliffs above the lighthouse. Landslides had cut off the access road completely, and the only view of the light was from the Coastguard Station about a hundred feet above. Cut off and abandoned, it was a sorry sight. The light itself was replaced with an external, solar-powered navigation beacon in 2012, making the magnificent buildings and tower entirely redundant. Several of the keepers’ dwellings that I remembered from my childhood had been demolished, making way for a helipad, and presumably reducing the cost of upkeep and maintenance. Yellow signs warned of dangerous rocks, liable to landslides, and a large mesh barrier prevented any possibility of walking down the access road itself. I sat on a rock overlooking what is left of the lighthouse and shed a silent tear – for both Peter’s childhood memories, as well as my own.

Hartland Point

The lighthouse was built in 1874 on a large rock at the very tip of Hartland Point, by Trinity House’s engineer-in-chief Sir James Douglass. Its white-painted tower is fifty-seven feet tall, and the complex originally had enough accommodation for four keepers and their families.

Coastal erosion was a problem even then, and rock had to be broken from the cliff head behind the lighthouse to fall on the beach and form a barrier against the waves. This proved to be a procedure that had to be repeated at frequent intervals, until a permanent barrier and sea wall was built in 1925.

Hartland Point

Hartland Point

The lighthouse was automated in 1984, after which most of the accommodation buildings were demolished to make way for a helipad. Originally, the tower showed a series of six flashes every fifteen seconds, with a range of seventeen miles. However, in 2012 the light was replaced by an external beacon with a much-reduced range.

The lighthouse (or, rather, the 2012 beacon) is monitored and controlled from Harwich, whilst the building and tower have since been sold, and are now in private ownership.

Back in Hartland Village, I found The Anchor now open for business, although it quickly became clear that I was its only customer. Situations like these always feel awkward, and I was unsure whether to try to strike up a conversation with the landlady or immerse myself in my book. In the end I did a little of each, a compromise that satisfied neither of us, and clearly left her unsure about whether to hover behind the bar or retreat to the kitchen and leave me to my book.


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