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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 69: Bidston Hill to Knowsley

by | Jan 21, 2023

New Brighton

A bit of a wrench

It was a wrench to leave in the morning. I think if Mandy or Stephen had suggested a day or two’s rest there I would have taken it like a shot. But I had five lighthouses I wanted to reach that day, as well as my coffee meeting with John and Diane. So with a heavy heart, I left the comforts of Bidston Hill after breakfast, and reached Wallasey before eleven.

John and Diane also seemed to know exactly when I would arrive, having been following the live link on my website map. They were as generous with their hospitality as Stephen and Mandy had been – I think it’s in the blood in these parts – and we spent an hour or more discussing our shared obsession with all things lighthouse related. Together, they have written a fascinating history of the Lighthouses of Liverpool Bay, and I struggled to conceal how superficial my own knowledge was compared with theirs.

John was concerned that I had given myself too much to do today, especially getting across to Hilbre Island, which can only be reached at low tide by walking across the sands from West Kirby. He didn’t rate my chances of wheeling my bike across the sand, nor of having a bike to come back to if I chained it somewhere locally. He made a few calls to see if he could arrange a 4×4 to get me onto the island with bike in tow, but with no notice this was never likely to have succeeded. Instead, he offered to meet me at West Kirby later in the day, where he and Diane would guard my bike while I sprinted across the sand to see the light.

Between them, they devised a route to make my way around the remaining Wirral lighthouses. I would cycle to New Brighton first, at the eastern Wirral shoreline, then follow the seafront promenade to Leasowe and Hoylake, before meeting them both after lunch at West Kirby. I have a watercolour of the lighthouse at New Brighton in my hallway at home, so I knew exactly what I was looking for. Leaving Wallasey, I found the broad seafront promenade, and the lighthouse, in a matter of minutes.

New Brighton

New Brighton

New Brighton

Close to the mouth of the River Mersey at Liverpool Bay, there is a dangerous rocky outcrop known locally as Perch Rock because of the perch timber tripod, onto which a simple navigation light was mounted, as early as 1683.

As Liverpool’s importance as a port grew throughout the nineteenth century, the beacon was deemed inadequate, and construction of a new tower began in 1827. It was designed by John Foster, Liverpool Corporation’s surveyor, broadly copying the design and construction techniques employed by Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse seventy years earlier. Built by Tomkinson & Company, stone masons from the north-west, it used interlocking granite blocks from Anglesey, joined by dovetail joints and marble dowels.

The result was an elegant, conical white-painted tower, ninety feet tall, with a red iron lantern. First lit in 1830, it became known as the Perch Rock lighthouse. It displayed a flashing light, with a repeated pattern of two white flashes followed by a red flash every minute. The light was visible for fourteen miles.

William Williams Mortimer’s 1847 History of the Hundred of Wirral describes the newly constructed lighthouse:

‘At New Brighton on a ledge of rocks which project into the sea, is an admirable Lighthouse which rises 90 feet. It is built with remarkably hard stone. Every stone is dovetailed to the next; each course of masonry united to the previous by iron braces; and the whole compacted together by liquid cement of puzzalano from Italy. The masonry is solid to 35 feet, when a spiral staircase leads to the chamber of the keepers, and the lanterns’.

Originally lit by thirty Argand lamps, it was eventually electrified. The lighthouse was automated in 1925, and was in continuous use until decommissioned in 1973, when modern navigational technology made it redundant. It is well preserved, and a much-loved local landmark. Since 2015, thanks to a grant from the Coastal Revival and New Brighton Coastal Community Team (NBCCT), a lantern employing LEDs and solar panels has displayed a light that replicates the original light pattern, although it can only be seen from the land so as not to confuse maritime traffic.

A broad paved promenade runs almost uninterrupted between New Brighton and Hoylake along the seven miles of the Wirral seafront. It narrows briefly as it circumvents a golf course, but apart from having to line up behind several groups of 5K runners, my progress was rapid. Leasowe lies at about the halfway point, and although the seafront path is lined with a fairly steep embankment, I was able to see the top half of the lighthouse tower from some distance.

John and Diane had been hopeful that the tower might be open to visitors today, but when I arrived it was firmly closed. It was a pity, but entirely understandable. The visitor centre is staffed by volunteers, and so can only open on certain days throughout the season.




Originally there were two lighthouses built at Leasowe, in 1763, by Liverpool Council’s Corporation Docks Committee. They formed a pair of range lights, which together marked the safe passage into the Rock Channel and into the Liverpool docks.

The original low light, about a quarter of a mile offshore, was destroyed by storms just six years later in 1769. Rather than attempt another offshore light, the light on Bidston Hill was built, acting as a new rear or high light to Leasowe’s remaining front or low light.

The surviving lighthouse at Leasowe is a white-painted brick tower, 110 feet tall, and is the oldest lighthouse built from bricks in the United Kingdom. Originally coal fired, it was converted to oil in 1772, and showed a fixed white light visible for fifteen miles.

When the Harbour Board introduced a system of flashing buoys to mark the safe passage into the Mersey, the lighthouse became redundant and was decommissioned in 1908. For a while it was derelict, but it was refurbished in the 1990s by the Friends of Leasowe Lighthouse. These days there is a visitor centre and guided tours are available. The tower is also used by the ranger service of the North Wirral Coastal Park.

From Leasowe, Hoylake is another three miles along the seafront path. I found my way to Valentia Road quite easily. It’s an affluent area, with substantial, early Victorian detached homes on one side of the road, and expensive-looking modern apartment developments on the other. I wasn’t sure at first where on the road I would find the former lighthouse, but spotting Lighthouse Road on my map provided a convincing clue.

The tower stands behind an elegant Victorian house, and I rang the doorbell a couple of times, hoping for a guided tour. No one was at home, sadly, so I withdrew to the driveway entrance, which proved the ideal location for photographs that took in both tower and house.




Like at Leasowe, there were originally a pair of lighthouses at Hoylake, which together aligned to mark the safe passage into the Hoyle Lake, where ships regularly moored before sailing up the Rivers Dee and Mersey to offload their cargo.

The original pair of lights were built in 1764, and were known locally as the ‘Lake Lights’. When the front light was destroyed by the sea in 1771, a replacement brick structure was constructed alongside the lifeboat station. This light was visible for eleven miles, and was active until being decommissioned in 1908. It was demolished in 1922.

The original rear or high light was built inland, on Valentia Road, about 500 yards from the shore. It was in service until the 1860s, when the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board decided to replace it, rather than alter the existing structure. The new lighthouse, which still stands, has an octagonal brick tower, seventy-two feet tall, with substantial accommodation attached on four floors. Its light was visible for nine miles, and remained in operation until May 1886, when the lighthouse was decommissioned. It is now a substantial and elegant private house.

I had one other piece of business to conduct in Hoylake. I had found a number of references online to another lighthouse in the town, as well as photographs of a substantial tower. Further research revealed that there is a ‘fake’ lighthouse in the town, reputedly built in the 1990s for Warrior from the TV show Gladiators.

Unlike more illustrious lights along this stretch of coast, this lighthouse wasn’t the work of an engineer or architect of the stature of James Walker, Daniel Alexander or Joseph Nelson. According to internet gossip, it was built by a local brickie known as ‘Dave the Crane’ Evans, who sometimes went by the moniker ‘Mad Dave the Brickie’.

At first sight, however, the tower itself looks quite convincing, and you could be forgiven for assuming that planning permission had somehow been granted for building a grand, slightly vulgar modern dwelling alongside an elegant, former lighthouse tower. Cycling past, I established that it was currently on the rental market. Complete with swimming pool, DJ booth, observation tower, sauna and party room, it could be yours for a cool £4,000 a month.

There is very little separation between Hoylake and West Kirby. I found John and Diane waiting for me on South Parade with sandwiches, bananas and cans of beer at the ready. Wirral people seem to have an unfailing knack of producing food and drink at exactly the right moment.

They found a bench where they could sit and look after my bike, while I set off for Hilbre Island, about an hour’s walk across the sand. It’s a strange experience, because every day, hundreds of walkers make this same journey, following exactly the same route, despite the lack of any discernible path, which is washed away with each tide. Evidently this is some sort of pilgrimage. Many come to see the birdlife, others just for the sake of it, but I was one in a long line of walkers of all ages and nationalities, winding my way towards the island in the semi-distance.

The lighthouse is at the far end of the island, so I kept marching, keen not to keep John and Diane waiting for too long. I knew this was only a small beacon, no taller than me, but I was slightly underwhelmed when I found it. If I had set some proper rules before I had set off, I probably would have put this in the pile of those not to concern myself with. Nevertheless, it was one that my lighthouse fanatic friend, John Best, had admitted to me he had never seen. The thought of bagging a lighthouse ahead of John, however modest a structure, amused me enormously.

Hilbre Island

Hilbre Island

Hilbre Island

Hilbre Island is one of three islands at the mouth of the estuary of the River Dee. These days the island is uninhabited, although there is evidence of occupation as long ago as the Stone Age. It is renowned as an important stopping-off point for the twice-yearly migration of birds along the west coast of Britain.

A pair of beacons were built on the north side of the island, in 1813, to guide shipping through a channel between Hoylake sands and the entrance to the River Dee. These were replaced by a single navigation light in 1927, which still stands today.

Originally, the 1927 light was mounted on a metal lattice tower, and was gas powered. It was converted to solar power in 1995, and these days the LED lantern sits on a small, white-painted steel box tower. It displays a flashing red light, visible for five miles.

Retracing my steps across the sand, I was conscious that John and Diane had been sitting on their bench, guarding my bike, for at least an hour and a half. Because I had been marching to the island and back, I hadn’t really noticed the drop in temperature, or that the wind had begun to pick up. When I climbed up the steps back at West Kirby, I found them hugging each other tightly, entirely wrapped in a couple of thick blankets. I wanted this trip to be memorable for any number of reasons, but certainly not for causing my hosts to suffer from hypothermia.

John and Diane left for home, having wished me well for the remainder of my adventure. I retraced my path back across the Wirral to the Woodside Ferry Terminal, reflecting on the kindness and goodwill I had experienced over the last few days, and wondering whether they would experience the same peerless hospitality if they visited London or the Home Counties. I suspect not.

I took the famous ferry across the Mersey questioning, as we departed, why the scheduled crossing time was 45 minutes, when I could see the terminal on the opposite bank quite clearly with the naked eye. The answer, I discovered, was that this was an experience, not a crossing, pausing regularly to point out local landmarks, and taking in great sweeping arcs of the river to create plenty of time for Gerry Marsden’s classic song to play several times through. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an unforgettable experience, and the view of the Royal Liver Building and city skyline from the river is as dramatic as any you’ll see. But it was now late afternoon, and I still had a twelve-mile ride south to the lighthouse at Hale Head, followed by a final thirteen-mile sprint north to a hotel I had found in Knowsley. I was itching to get moving.

There was no denying it, though, the lyrics which I was listening to now for the seventh time, accurately summed up the Merseyside kindness I had experienced:

People around every corner
Seem to smile and say
We don’t care what your name is, boy
We’ll never turn you away…

Within minutes of leaving Liverpool’s Pier Head, I cycled through the Albert Docks, where the former Lightship Planet is moored, now a popular cafe, bar and entertainment venue. It has had a varied history, having started life in 1959 anchored at the Mersey Bar, fifteen miles from Liverpool’s Pier Head. It was sold to Trinity House (and became LV23) in 1972, and served at the Kentish Knock, Varne and Channel stations, before being sold again to shipbreakers in 1991. Having been saved from the breakers, the lightship was relocated to Liverpool, partly restored, and has since served as an exhibition centre, a radio station and now a cafe and bar.

With the exception of a mile or so circling John Lennon Airport, there is a cycle path right along the riverfront the whole way to Hale. The village of Hale is pretty, with wide grass verges and trees lined along the high street, and trimmed box hedges fronting many of the houses. The headland seems wild and remote by comparison, and there is a stillness and quiet that is intoxicating. When the lane comes to an end, a gravel track follows the final half mile to the river and lighthouse itself. The modern bungalow attached to the lighthouse tower is the only sign of habitation for miles around, and I was left wondering who lives here, and why? However splendid the tower, the combination of the somewhat unimaginative 1970s building and the high brick wall that has been built in front of it to prevent tidal erosion, left me feeling that its significance lies in what it once was, and represented, rather than what it is today.

Hale Head

Hale Head

Hale Head

Hale Head, to the south-west of Liverpool, lies on a dangerous bend in the River Mersey between the city and Runcorn. A lighthouse was first built here in 1838, a squat tower that was in operation until 1906, when it was demolished.

A new lighthouse was built close by in the same year, with keepers’ accommodation connected to the tower by a short corridor. The 1906 lighthouse has a slightly tapered, circular brick tower, fifty-eight feet tall, which is painted white. It was oil-powered, and displayed a fixed white light that was visible for seven miles. In 1929, a red sector light was added.

With the gradual loss of trade after the war the lighthouse was deemed unnecessary, and was eventually decommissioned in 1958. The tower still stands, although the attached accommodation has since been replaced.

Much of the last dozen or so miles to Knowsley were on National Cycle Route 62, following sections of the disused Liverpool Loop railway line. Despite travelling through a largely urban and industrial landscape, these were some of the quietest and most peaceful miles since leaving Wales.

The Holiday Inn Express in Knowsley, at Junction 4 of the M57, might not have been a cyclist’s first choice of overnight stop, but hotels with vacancies on a Saturday night anywhere in the Liverpool area were scarce, and almost all were beyond my price range. It was clean and friendly, however, and having clocked up sixty-five miles in the day I was glad not to have to take a step further.


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