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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

East Usk

Back to Goldcliff and on to Cardiff

I didn’t risk breakfast in the hotel. In fact, looking at the contents of a vending machine by the lift, I wasn’t entirely certain that breakfast was even an option. Instead, I decided to find a cafe in the city, and make plans for the day there. Back in my university days I met and fell hopelessly in love with a red-headed girl called Sarah from Newport, but sadly it had not been a mutual thing. But it didn’t stop me wanting to find out more about her hometown, albeit twenty-five years after we last met.

If I’m honest I wasn’t as enamoured by Newport as I had been of Sarah. But the Pot Cafe served a splendid breakfast, and I felt in no hurry to leave. Consulting both map and guidebooks, I established that the lighthouse at East Usk involved retracing part of the previous evening’s route, so I decided to retrace all of it and try again to find the light at Goldcliff.

I made rapid progress and was back in Goldcliff village before ten. I followed a narrow lane leading out of the village, and about 200 yards beyond the point I had given up the previous evening I passed a tea shop and grassy bank next to the shoreline that looked more promising than anything I had seen so far. Minutes later, I found the light itself.



The light at Goldcliff is not an object of great beauty. Built in 1924, it’s a rusty, square steel box only a couple of feet taller than me. It has a simple light mounted on top. It once marked the southernmost part of the headland east of the River Usk, and displayed a white light which was visible for six miles. It is no longer operational, and judging by its state of decay, it was decommissioned some years ago.

I was glad to have found it, if only because the thought of missing it had nagged away at me throughout the night. But I couldn’t claim to feeling enriched by its presence, and it wouldn’t make my shortlist of lighthouses to return to one day.

Less than three miles further upstream lies an RSPB bird sanctuary and wetlands centre, on whose shore was the sweet little lighthouse at East Usk. It’s just a few hundred yards from the large natural gas power station complex at Uskmouth. As a child, I had wondered why power stations always seemed to be built alongside natural wetlands, nature reserves, bird sanctuaries or areas of special scientific interest. Only as an adult did I realise that such amenities were provided by the power generating companies as the price for planning permission to be granted.

East Usk

East Usk

The lighthouse at East Usk marks the point where the River Usk meets the Bristol Channel. Built in 1893, it’s a simple cylindrical steel tower, with gallery and hooded lantern on top. It’s only thirty-six feet high, but unlike the disused light at Goldcliff, it’s a proper lighthouse in miniature. The lantern houses a flashing white light, visible for fifteen miles, and there are also red and green sector lights on either side.

On the opposite bank of the River Usk I could see my next destination, the earlier light at West Usk. Although considerably less than a mile away as the crow flies, reaching it would require returning to Newport to cross the river and skirt around the docks to the south of the city. I didn’t mind a bit, though, because it gave me the opportunity to cross the river on the splendid Newport Transporter Bridge.

The bridge was designed by French engineer Ferdinand Arnodin and built in 1906. It’s an extraordinary structure that works by carrying vehicles and passengers on a sort of gondola suspended above the water. It’s the oldest and largest of the three ferry bridges left in Britain, and also the largest of the eight that remain worldwide. The crossing cost just £1.50, bicycle included, although for £4 visitors could climb and cross on the open steel walkway from which the deck was suspended, nearly fifty metres above me. As someone who fears heights, I was not the slightest bit tempted.

Approaching West Usk lighthouse, I was looking forward to meeting Frank, its current owner, who runs it as a bed and breakfast. He had featured a few years earlier in an episode of The Hotel Inspector, when he and hotelier Alex Polizzi had clashed over his choice of decor and love of Doctor Who props. I had got in touch and he had offered me a tour when I arrived.

The track leading to the lighthouse was hard going, a mixture of shingle and potholes, but as I neared it I couldn’t help but be spurred on by the rather unusual sight of a Tardis, clearly visible in the lighthouse’s lantern gallery. Alex Polizzi obviously hadn’t got everything her way.

I rang the bell, and knocked loudly, but Frank was not at home. It was a pity, because he came across on television as a charming eccentric, and I would have liked to have met him. I also learned that he bought the lighthouse in a very poor state of repair in 1995, and spent many years restoring it. I wanted to hear his story. I made do with photographing the outside of the lighthouse from a dozen or more angles, and made a point of sending the picture of the Tardis to Tom at home.

West Usk

West Usk

West Usk

The lighthouse at West Usk was built in 1821 to guide vessels through a dangerous tidal race at St Bride’s, where the River Usk meets the River Severn. It was the first lighthouse to be designed by engineer, James Walker, who designed a total of twenty-nine lighthouses for Trinity House, including Belle Tout, Start Point, St Catherine’s, the Needles, the Smalls, Trwyn Du and Bishop Rock.

When first built, it had a fifty-six-foot tall, circular brick tower with gallery and lantern. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a two-storey circular building was added around the base of the tower, which provided keepers’ accommodation. The lantern displayed two lights, one red and one white, which were visible for eleven miles. After being decommissioned in 1922, the lantern was removed. The lighthouse served briefly as a private home before falling into disrepair. When restored in the 1990s, a replica lantern was installed, and the building is now a luxury bed and breakfast.

The fifteen miles into Cardiff were flat and quick. I seemed to progress from the silent lanes and minor roads that hugged the Severn Estuary, to the purpose-built Millennium Walk alongside Cardiff Arms Park, in a matter of moments.

I cycled straight down to Cardiff Bay to check out my options for boat trips to a couple of offshore lights out in the Bristol Channel. There seemed to be regular rigid inflatable boat (RIB) boat trips out to Flatholm, an island that marks where the Bristol Channel meets the Severn Estuary. But the rather strange-looking light at Monkstone was clearly not high up on tourists’ list of boat trip destinations. I would need to come up with a plan for that one.

For tonight, though, I had just one more mile to cover. John and Judy, Emily’s aunt and uncle, live in Penarth, and they had very kindly offered me a bed for a couple of nights. I loathed the absurdly steep hill up into Penarth from the Cardiff Bay Barrage, but within an hour I was showered and in fresh clothes, with a glass of really decent red wine in my hand, and supper just a few minutes away.


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