Beacon Bike Logo

Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

+44 (0)1233 234455

100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 47: Barry Island and Cardiff Bay

by | Jan 10, 2023

Barry Island

What’s occurring?

I left John and Judy early to head to Barry Island, where there’s a lighthouse at the end of the dock’s breakwater. It has always been popular with tourists – the town, not the lighthouse – but these days it is also held in affection by fans of Gavin and Stacey, the TV series that was filmed there.

I headed straight for the seafront, and was delighted to see several familiar landmarks, including the fun fair, Marco’s Cafe and the promenade building with the columns rising from the sea wall, where the final scenes were shot. I took a picture of the columns and posted it, without caption or comment, on my Facebook feed. My friend Sarah, who I had met up with in Fowey, simply replied ’Tidy!’

Barry Dock

Barry Dock

After more than an hour of comedic nostalgia, I realised there appeared to be no lighthouse in sight. In fact, I couldn’t even see a breakwater where the lighthouse was meant to be. For a moment, I wondered if I had ventured to a completely different Barry, but quickly established that the docks, breakwater and industrial part of Barry were around the point beyond Jackson’s Bay, half a mile or so east. Leaving Gavin and Stacey behind, I followed a fabulous, tarmac cliff-edge track around the bay, from which I could see the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm clearly, and the Somerset coast indistinctly behind them. The docks at Barry were opened in the 1880s after Cardiff’s docks became too congested. A breakwater was constructed, at the end of which was built a thirty-foot-tall, white circular iron tower with gallery and lantern. It was completed and first lit in 1890. The tower is painted white, and its roof a deep red, with a weathervane mounted on top. It is electric, and shows a quick-flashing white light that is visible for ten miles.

I made it back to Cardiff early in the afternoon, and was delighted, though somewhat surprised, to discover that John was ready to accompany me on the RIB ride out to Flatholm Lighthouse. I was surprised because this was no leisure cruise, but an exhilarating, high-speed, back-breaking adventure designed for stag weekenders and thrill seekers. The website describes it as ‘Cardiff’s ultimate powerboat experience’, and the only reason I was keen to go myself was that it represented my only chance of seeing the lighthouse today.

The craft seats twelve, and John and I were ushered up to the front. I was delighted, although the organisers seemed highly amused for some reason, and mentioned something about hoping we had brought a set of dry clothes. A party of four behind us, regulars we discovered, also thought it hilarious that the two old-timers were at the front.

We left Mermaid Quay calmly enough, and we barely caused a ripple as we caressed the water across the bay towards the Barrage. After the inevitable safety briefing, I asked our skipper how close we might get to the lighthouse on Flat Holm, and also about the lighthouse at Monkstone. He seemed bemused by my interest, but very happy to oblige, and offered to divert the tour to take in Monkstone as well. He asked the full complement of passengers whether they minded, but didn’t bother to await their reply.

Everything changed the moment we were through the Barrage. This RIB, craft, boat – I’m not quite sure what to call – accelerated with the kind of force I had only experienced in a plane taking off from the runway. John and I were thrust to the back of our seats, the wind strong enough to contort John’s face into a series of grimaces that would have suited Mr Bean. I assumed that my own face had followed suit.

Nor was the strength of the wind my only complaint. With the front of the boat rising and falling in the water, each wave caused a bath-full of water to soak me every few seconds. I couldn’t have been any wetter if I’d dived into the water. I managed to remove my glasses and secure them in a zipped pocket. I strapped my daypack to the leg of my seat. Then all there was left to do was clench my arm rail tightly, shut my eyes, and wait for it all to be over.



After the longest twenty minutes of my life, we slowed right down, and I opened my eyes to discover that we were just metres away from Monkstone lighthouse. Originally, the forty-five-foot tall, granite tower was unlit when it was built in 1839, and served as a day beacon to mark Monkstone Road, a submerged reef only visible during low spring tides. A circular cast-iron tower, with gallery, was added in 1925. This served until 1993, when it was replaced by a taller structure in fibreglass, painted red, with a pair of halogen lamps powered by a series of solar panels mounted on the tower itself. It flashes a white light once every five seconds, which is visible for thirteen miles.

I would gladly have remained here, motionless, for the remainder of time, but the thrill seekers behind me were itching for more. Beside me, John sat absolutely still, bolt upright, with a stoic look on his face. He gave no indication of how he was holding up, and I had no words of comfort to offer. He mentioned something about it being important to have tried out attractions you recommend to friends and family, but that he probably wouldn’t take this particular trip again. It was a more generous interpretation of our situation than I could offer.

Fortunately, Flat Holm Island was less than ten buttock-clenching minutes from Monkstone. It lies right in the middle of the shipping lanes where the Bristol Channel meets the Severn Estuary. It’s a busy stretch, where shipping headed for Cardiff, Newport, Bristol and Gloucester all pass. Approaching from the Welsh coast, we had to circle half of the island before the tall, elegant lighthouse came into view.




Although a lighthouse on Flat Holm Island (oddly, the lighthouse name is one word and the island two words) was discussed as early as the seventeenth century, it wasn’t until the late 1730s that a seventy-foot, coal-fired stone tower was first built. It was inefficient, and the subject of numerous complaints. However, it took until 1819 before Trinity House took over the lease and committed to improving the light.

The tower was raised to ninety feet, and a lantern was fitted with an oil-fired Argand lamp providing a fixed white light. Further improvements were made in 1866, including a larger lantern, new iron gallery, and a further extension to the height of the tower. The light itself was also altered to an occulting pattern.

In 1929 the lighthouse was redesignated as a rock station. Up until then, keepers and their families lived in two cottages alongside the tower. For much of the twentieth century, the lighthouse was served by two sets of three keepers, each working one month on the island and one month ashore.

The lighthouse was automated in 1988, and converted to solar power in 1997. Its flashing white light is visible for fifteen miles, and there is also a red sector visible for twelve miles.

It was saying something that this single, one-hour RIB ride caused more discomfort to the small of my back, and bottom, than nearly fifty days in the saddle. I was overjoyed to be back inside the Barrage wall, where the speed limit was just 5mph. John was still determined to remain stoic and positive, but I sensed he was glad it was over too.

Despite still being soaking wet, we paused at the cascading steel waterfall, which I knew Tom would recognise from both Doctor Who and Torchwood. I sent him a picture captioned, ‘Guess where I am?’ His reply took only a few seconds. I was also bemused, but also very moved, by the candles, notes, letters and photographs pinned to a wall that has become known as ‘Ianto’s Shrine’ – a tribute to a popular, though fictional, character who had been killed off in an episode of Torchwood six years earlier.

Cardiff Barrage

Cardiff Barrage

John and I walked back up the hill into Penarth, via the Barrage walkway where there is a modern, green-painted metal beacon tower on the north pier. It looks a bit like an Olympic torch. On top of the tower there is an open gallery, with a single lamp on a green-painted pole at its centre. At the far end of the pier a series of green, red and white lamps are strapped onto a vertical pole which, when lit, must give the pier a festive air all year round.

Back in Penarth, Judy asked John what he had thought of the trip. He simply replied, ‘Bracing!’


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *