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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 43: Bridgewater to Portishead

by | Aug 17, 2022

Low Light Burnham

A warm Thorn welcome

I couldn’t stay overnight in Bridgewater without stopping by the Thorn cycle workshop to say hello. I was very glad that I did. Not only was Dave Whittle happy to see me, but while I drank coffee he serviced my brakes, adjusted my chain and fitted a bracket to hold my saddlebag in place more securely. I think everyone at Thorn was reassured that both bike and rider were holding up well.

The ten miles to Burnham-on-Sea were my last along the A38, and when I turned off at Highbridge to join a cycle path running alongside the River Brue, it felt as though a great weight had been lifted from me. Burnham was a small fishing village until the late eighteenth century, after which its popularity grew as a seaside resort. It is a dream location for lovers of lighthouses, because as well as the unusual wooden lighthouse on the beach, there are two other lighthouses in the town.


It is said that the very first light here was attributed to a fisherman’s wife, who kept a candle in the window of her cottage to guide the local fleet, including her husband, home. After that, a light was shown from the tower of St Andrew’s church (and a fixed red light is still shown from the tower today).

Round Tower Burnham on Sea

Round Tower Burnham on Sea

The first proper lighthouse was built in 1801, when a four-storey tower was attached to the verger’s house close to the church. Known locally as the Round Tower, it showed a light made from a fire through a window at the top. A good part of this building still stands, although it was halved in height when a new lighthouse was built in 1832.

This new lighthouse was built by Trinity House engineer, Joseph Nelson, to mark the channel into the river Parrett. Its tower is made of brick, and it stands nearly 100 feet tall, with a conical roof and a half-gallery on the front which incorporated the keeper’s quarters.

High Light Burnham

High Light Burnham

It had a paraffin-fired light, displayed through a window near the top of the tower, which was visible for seventeen miles. It became the first lighthouse in the UK to be automated, as early as 1922, and the adjoining keepers’ cottages were sold at the same time. It was decommissioned in 1993 and has been a private house ever since.

When Joseph Nelson’s lighthouse was built in 1832, it was established that its light was not visible by vessels at very low tides. So he built a second, Low Light, later in the same year. It’s an usual square, wooden boarded structure, thirty-six feet tall, that sits on nine wooden pillars, giving the impression that it is standing on stilts. It was built on the sandy beach, about 800 yards in front of Nelson’s first lighthouse. It is painted white with a single vertical red stripe on its front face.

Low Light Burnham

Low Light Burnham

It has become a much-loved local landmark, and in 2014 was named on a list of the world’s top 10 most beautiful lighthouses. Although it fell into disrepair and was decommissioned in 1969, it was renovated and brought back into service in 1993. It remains the only working light at Burnham-on-Sea, and shows a white flash every 7.5 seconds, visible for twelve miles, as well as a directional light (white, red or green depending on direction) through two windows facing the water.

Before I left home at the start of May, I had been warned about the increasing numbers of road rage incidents against cyclists. So far, I had clocked up 1,200 trouble-free miles, and I was wondering if the roads were as much of a danger for cyclists as I had been led to believe. Near Yatton, however, I experienced my first road rage attack. Except that I wasn’t on a road, and the aggressor was not a motorist.

After passing the village of Winscombe, my route joined The Strawberry Line, a beautifully scenic former railway line running through the Cheddar Valley, which has been transformed into a cycle path and bridleway.

I noticed from my map that I would be following this calm, traffic-free path for almost ten miles, and I reckoned that, for the first time, it would be safe to listen to the radio through earphones while I rode. I tuned in to Radio 4 Extra, and found myself listening to an old episode of Dad’s Army, the one where Captain Mainwaring finds himself in court accused of leaving the church hall light on during a blackout.

I had been listening for less than five minutes, and had progressed considerably less than a mile, when the path narrowed a little and I brushed against a small, angular man in his sixties who was trying to overtake me. I hadn’t heard him approaching from behind me, so I pulled over to one side to let him pass, removed one of my earphones, and started to apologise profusely.

‘You shouldn’t have earphones on!’ he shouted.

I started to explain that this was the first time I had done so in six weeks of cycling, but he seemed determined to teach me a lesson. He edged closer to me and started prodding me in the side, calling me a tosser, and then tried to pull ahead. I thought that was going to be the end of the matter, before realising that he had edged ahead only so that he could block my path at the gateway ahead.

At the gate he dismounted, ready to continue his assault on foot. He started to shout at me about the danger of listening to ‘your sort of music’ while cycling. Apparently, I could have killed him. Retribution came in the form of him trying to push me off my bike, but I was a foot taller (and considerably broader) than him, and I managed to barge past him and through the gate before he’d finished swinging. The absurdity of it all had me laughing. While this silly little man was shouting in one ear, the greengrocer Hodges was shouting at Captain Mainwaring in the same irritating tone in the other.

Beyond the gate, I crossed the road to continue along the line, while he took a left turn, continuing to shout at me for as long as I was in earshot. Once out of sight, I took off my earphones and put them back into my saddlebag, where they remained for the next six weeks.

Returning to Clevedon, I met up with Dick Hannaford, a skilled sailmaker who had seen the Telegraph article in May, and had got in touch to ask me to drop by his workshop when I passed through the town. I arrived to find him kneeling over one corner of a huge cream, canvas sail, which entirely filled his immaculately clean workshop floor.

At 67, Dick said he was deliberately slowing down, choosing to take on only the projects that particularly appealed to him. He has an enviable reputation in the local area, and is as happy working on a protective boat cover as a world championship sail for a high-performance land yacht.

Dick was excellent company, and over coffee he thrust a sizeable donation to Shift MS into my hand. He also insisted on drawing me a map showing the easiest route to my next two lighthouses at Blacknore Point and Battery Point. His directions proved to be perfect, and I found my way down to the shore near Blacknore Point with ease.

Blacknore Point

The cast-iron, white-painted hexagonal tower at Black Nore Point, near Portishead, is mounted on a lattice iron framework set on a stone plinth. It was built by Trinity House in 1894 to guide shipping in the Severn Estuary in and out of the docks at Avonmouth.

Blacknore Point

Blacknore Point

Originally it was lit by gas, stored in tanks alongside the tower. It worked from a drive mechanism that needed to be wound daily, and it wasn’t until 2000 that both the winding and drive mechanisms were replaced by electric motors. It was decommissioned by Trinity House in 2010, before which it flashed a white light, twice every ten seconds.

The lighthouse was saved from demolition in 2010, when it was sold to the newly formed Blacknore Lighthouse Trust at a cost of £1. In 2012, the trust was able to raise sufficient funds to restore the original lamp and lenses, which had been removed by Trinity House when the lighthouse was decommissioned.

Battery Point

Battery Point

Battery Point

Barely a mile from Blackmore Point is the lighthouse at Portishead Point, known locally as Battery Point. It was built in 1930 by Chance Brothers of Smethwick for the Bristol Port Company. It consists of a black metal lattice pyramid, thirty feet high, mounted on a concrete base.

It emits a white flashing light, three times every ten seconds, which is visible for sixteen miles. The light underwent considerable refurbishment in 2012, and continues to be maintained by the Bristol Port Company today.

These days, Portishead is a town of two halves, with the genteel and elevated streets on West Hill contrasting with the massive waterfront development on the marina. I found an elegant Victorian guest house in the old town, where my bedroom window overlooked the sea, directly above Battery Point lighthouse.


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