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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 75: Maryport to Carlisle via Silloth

by | Jan 24, 2023


My final stretch of the west coast. It felt strange knowing that, after tomorrow, every mile I cycled would, in theory, take me closer to home. Only the last two lighthouses at Silloth stood in my way. The fifteen miles from Maryport followed the seafront the whole way, and with a strong tailwind I averaged 17 mph for the first time.

Silloth developed as a port from the 1850s, after the Carlisle & Silloth Bay Railway & Dock Company brought a railway line from Carlisle, and started the construction of a pier and harbour. Its aim was to replace Port Carlisle as the deep-water port for Carlisle.

Initially, imports included timber from the Baltic and Canada, as well as flour and grain from Europe. The main export was coal. By 1880, North American wheat was being imported to supply Carr’s, the biscuit makers in Carlisle. Once a new, enlarged dock opened in 1885, the Carr’s flour mill was built alongside it.

Like Seascale, Silloth seemed to be another unspoilt seaside town on the Solway coast. For a relatively modest town, it is on quite a grand scale, with a vast green separating the Victorian centre from the long promenade along the Solway Firth, with spectacular views across the water to the Scottish coast.

I made first for the west beach, alongside the docks, where the Lees Scar lighthouse lies a few hundred metres offshore. Its pile structure once supported a keeper’s building and tower room, but it was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1911, and these days only an automatic beacon remains.

Lees Scar

Silloth Leas Scar

Silloth Leas Scar

To the south-west of Silloth Docks there is a submerged reef known as Lees Scar. A pile lighthouse was built here in 1841. It was forty-five feet tall, with a single-storey accommodation building, with a lantern room above. A fixed red or white light was displayed through a window.

In 1911, a fire destroyed the lighthouse, and an emergency light was rigged onto the metal pile structure, which had survived. It continued to be staffed until 1938, when the whole structure was declared unsafe. An automated light was established here in 1959, after the pier and pier light were demolished. These days only the pile legs remain, with a simple platform above. A solar-powered light was installed in 2000, which flashes a green light, every five seconds.

I left Silloth’s East Cote lighthouse until last, because it is officially the most northerly lighthouse on England’s west coast. It felt symbolic, another milestone reached, as I propped my bike against the base of the tower and took several dozen photographs.

Silloth East Cote

Silloth East Cote

Silloth East Cote

The East Cote lighthouse was built in 1841 to guide shipping heading to and from Port Carlisle. Maintained by the Silloth Port Authority, it originally displayed a red light out across the Solway Firth.

Originally it was the rear of a pair of leading lights, called East Cote Rear, which operated in conjunction with a front light on the south pier. Although designed as a fixed light, it was adapted in the 1850s to run along a short track so that the light could be realigned to accurately mark the channel into Silloth Harbour.

The lighthouse was rebuilt as a square, tapering metal tower in 1913, with a small keepers’ dwelling at its base. It has an octagonal lantern room, from which it displays a fixed green light, visible for ten miles. In 1997, it was completely overhauled, maintaining an almost identical design, though without the keeper’s building.

The original front East Cote light, at the end of the pier, was built of timber in 1857. When the pier gradually subsided in the early 1900s, the lighthouse had to be abandoned. Both the lighthouse and pier were demolished in 1956, and no trace remains today.

I may have reached a significant milestone, but if I expected a sudden sense of euphoria, it didn’t come. In fact, I didn’t really feel anything at all. For months, the images of Silloth in my lighthouse guidebooks and directories had seemed as though from a fabled, far-off city. Silloth represented my Atlantis, my Timbuktu, my Kashgar. Now that I was here, it was simply another small, pleasant English seaside town, its relative inaccessibility making it a little less spoiled or developed than most.

I had always thought of my journey in three stages, each forming one side of a sketchily drawn triangle. Home to Land’s End, forming the triangle’s base, Land’s End to Silloth, and Berwick to home forming the other two sides. I think I had felt a sense of exhilaration at Land’s End, when the first third of my adventure was complete. There was no glory today for completing two-thirds, though, and it looked as though that would have to wait until the final day.

I chose not to follow route 72 into Carlisle, opting for a more direct route involving one steep incline, but saving five miles. Although I didn’t recognise anywhere in the town, I realised that I had been to Carlisle once before. I was probably only five or six at the time, and we stayed at the Carlise Crest Hotel, which I recalled being extremely posh and the height of luxury. It’s long gone now, of course, but when I found some pictures of it online it clearly hadn’t been the majestic or opulent establishment of my memories.

The Crown and Mitre, in the city centre, offered up a cheap, spotlessly clean room, and promised secure storage for my bike. When I asked where they would put it, they said that the safest place was the ladies lavatory next to the restaurant. I tried to protest, suggesting that perhaps this would be somewhere where people came in and out quite frequently, only to be reassured that it wouldn’t, because they would keep it locked up until the morning. If you ate at the Crown and Mitre on a Friday evening in early July, and were caught short, I can only apologise.


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