A town built for cyclists
As I made my way back to the seafront the next morning, I was struck by how well Brighton caters for its cyclists. Almost every road in the city centre has a dedicated cycle lane, many with its own set of lights and right of way. The promenade, too, separates pedestrians and cyclists effortlessly and although it was busy, I was cycling out of the city towards Shoreham in no time.
Shoreham Port is one of the largest cargo handling ports on the South Coast, and there are a number of navigation aids in operation, including column lights on the two breakwaters, a front light at the end of the middle pier, and traffic control lights on the roof of Shoreham Port Authority’s watchtower. Access all around the port is restricted and, in any case, these lights didn’t interest me very much. I was here to see the forty-two-foot limestone tower built in 1846, standing next to the lifeboat station on the seafront. There was no access to the tower itself, but I sat for a rest at its base on its sheltered side to escape the wind, which had started to pick up again.
Shoreham’s lighthouse was built in 1846 in unpainted grey limestone, with a black-painted cast-iron and copper lantern. It began life as a fixed oil-burning light, but was converted to gas in the 1880s, with a rotating light using a mechanism similar to a long-case clock. The lighthouse remained gas powered until 1952, when a new fixed, electric light was installed. It currently has a range of ten miles.
In 1985 major restoration work was undertaken to the lantern itself, following deterioration of the cast iron and copper. A new lantern roof was made locally from stainless steel and copper and the original four-foot bronze ball and wind vane were also restored and refitted.
The National Cycle Network Route 2 follows the seafront from Shoreham to beyond Worthing, but as the winds had now become gale force, it became impossible to follow. I found myself employing the principles of barely remembered weekend sailing lessons, tacking my way away from the seafront with a series of right turns, and then turning back again towards the sea a few hundred yards later with a series of left turns. Progress was painfully slow, with just the occasional sympathetic nod from a solitary dog walker to encourage me. At one point I was overtaken comfortably by a stray wheelie bin, which had broken free from its owner’s driveway.
In the five miles to Worthing I learned one valuable lesson. With headwinds like these, I could only cycle at three, or occasionally four miles per hour. If I got off and pushed, however, I could achieve two and a half miles per hour, and keep my strength up at the same time. Each time I tried riding my bike in these winds, I elicited pained looks of sympathy from the few people I passed, as if they felt they should offer to give me a push. But if I got off the bike, I gave the impression that I had all but completed my journey, and was just pushing my bike the final few hundred yards to my destination.
So I continued, cycling when I was able to keep away from the seafront, and pushing when it seemed the better option. Despite the slow pace I reached Littlehampton at around four o’clock and made straight for the harbour.
Until the outbreak of the second world war, Littlehampton had a pair of small wooden weatherboarded leading harbour lights that were affectionately referred to as the salt and pepper pots. They were built at either end of the east pier, with the high light completed in 1848, visible for ten miles and the shorter low light, completed in 1868, visible for seven miles.
In 1940 there was concern that the enemy might use the lights as navigation aids, and the two lights were demolished. After the war ended, a pair of lights was built in the same locations in 1948. The new (current) rear range (high light) is a futuristic-looking, white-painted, thirty-foot-high concrete tower, whose light is visible for ten miles. The current front range (low light) is a simple fixed green light mounted within a ten-foot-high black column. There is also a simple flashing red light mounted on a black metal pole at the end of the west pier.
Littlehampton’s harbour must have looked friendly with its salt and pepper pot lighthouses, but I was satisfied enough with the strange-looking tower that replaced them. I rather liked Littlehampton, and was delighted when the Facebook post announcing my arrival had attracted the attention of Philip, an old friend of mine. I first met him thirty years ago in London, when he was going out with another friend, and he remains undoubtedly the most laid-back person I have ever known. After a comfortable night in a guest house only yards from the harbour, we met for breakfast, and while I contemplated my greying beard and expanding waistline, I was irritated to see that he looked exactly the same as he did back then. He may have moved out of London, got married, had children, then divorced, yet he seemed as relaxed and untroubled by the world as he did all those years ago.
Leaving Philip and Littlehampton behind, a little of his laid-back approach to life rubbed off on me. The seas and wind were calmer, and I was happy just to let my GPS guide me to the next lighthouse at Southsea, some forty miles further along the coast. Initially, the route took me inland to Yapton, and then meandered back to the coast at Bognor Regis, before heading inland once more into Chichester.
Chichester is a wonderfully preserved Georgian cathedral city with wide, prosperous streets surrounded by ancient city walls. I was last here to visit my friend Kate, a nutrition expert, who had moved out of London a few years earlier to an extraordinarily old, beautiful, beamed and low-ceilinged town house, and my route took me straight past her front door. I knocked, but sadly she was not at home.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) May 7, 2015
Over lunch in the city centre I noticed that NCN Route 2 followed another long section of the dreadful A259 road that had caused me such grief with Bank Holiday traffic on the first day. I was confident I could do better, and set off along a series of small lanes, cycle paths and tracks through Bosham and Chidham, before finding myself on a wide, apparently abandoned stretch of traffic-free road. I cycled its length joyously, revelling in my ability to use my nose to find the best route. But it was in vain. After following the road for a couple of miles, it stopped abruptly at the entrance of the Bakers Barracks, guarded in number by armed soldiers of the 47th Regiment Royal Artillery.
My only option was to retrace my steps back to the A259, where at least there was a cycle lane separated from the traffic, and follow the route I should have taken from the start. After Havant, the route kept largely away from the main road, with large expanses of water to my left with unspoiled views across to Hayling Island.
I approached Southsea Castle along the splendid Eastney Esplanade, from which I got my first view of the Solent and the Isle of Wight. I stopped at the castle to photograph the lighthouse, built into one of its outer walls. It took several attempts because a group of teenagers was climbing up and leaping from the ramparts, while another kid was using the paths in front of the castle to show off his skateboarding skills. Eventually I managed to get a decent picture of the light, as well as a selfie, before heading off to an Airbnb a few streets back from Southsea Pier.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) May 7, 2015
Southsea Castle was built in 1544, and was part of a series of coastal fortifications constructed by Henry VIII. The castle was extended and largely rebuilt in the early 1800s
The lighthouse, commissioned by the Admiralty, was constructed on the western gun platform in 1828, rising thirty-four feet and built into the castle’s outer walls. The stone tower is painted white with black bands, and its flashing white light can be seen for eleven miles.