When Allan first volunteered to be on hand to support me throughout the ride, he argued that because he lived in Oxford, pretty much everywhere on the coast was equidistant. Coming to meet me here, in Carlisle, he could only have been thinking that everywhere on the coast was a bloody long way.
He tracked me down to a launderette on the outskirts of the city, where the drier was robbing me of pound coins and failing to honour its side of the deal. I’m sure he had imagined a heroic catch up over a pub lunch somewhere in the Cumbrian countryside. Instead, we shared a bench and two plastic cups of instant coffee in the launderette.
When my kit was finally dry we found a cafe for a very late breakfast, before setting off for Berwick following the route of Hadrian’s Wall. For a while, I debated whether I should have simply continued along Route 72, and made my way to the east coast by bike. But when I glanced at the height profile of the route on my phone, I reckoned I was lucky that Allan had been on hand to help.
We reached Berwick by early afternoon, and made straight for the harbour. It’s an attractive town, with three handsome bridges crossing the River Tweed, the oldest of which dates to the early seventeenth century. The oldest centre of the town is surrounded by remarkably well-preserved medieval stone walls.
We parked up on the narrow lane close to the harbour, and walked the length of the pier to the lighthouse, Allan’s first since Lundy South more than a month earlier. It’s a sweet little light, whose conical roof gives it the air of a simple saltshaker from a cruet set.
The pier, or breakwater, at Berwick is 960 yards long, and was built by John Rennie between 1810 and 1821. A small lighthouse, designed by Joseph Nelson, was added at its eastern end in 1826. It is England’s most northerly lighthouse.
It has a circular, slightly tapering stone tower, forty-four feet tall, with a conical roof. There is a large, recessed window opening on the seaward side, above which is a glazed lantern with external gallery. The tower is painted white, with its roof and base painted with a red band.
Originally the light was oil powered, and showed a fixed white light, visible for twelve miles, as well as a fixed red light, visible for eight miles. At some time, it was converted to gas, and more recently to electricity. These days, it displays a flashing white light, every five seconds, which is visible for ten miles. It also shows a fixed green light through a window facing landward, visible for one mile.
Great to meet see Allan again, for the crossing over to Berwick upon Tweed. Here's the lighthouse on a v windy day! pic.twitter.com/4XiKK7YNFG
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 18, 2015
Ticking the first lighthouse on the east coast off my list actually felt like more of a milestone than ticking off the last on the west coast. I felt as though I was now on some sort of ‘home straight’. I was getting irritated by the number of friends and family telling me that from now on ‘it was all downhill’, but psychologically at least, they had a point. At the end of each day from now on, I would be a little bit closer to home.
Our immediate challenge was to find somewhere for us both to stay for the night. There wasn’t a room to be had in Berwick, Tweedmouth or anywhere within twenty miles it seemed. The best we could find was a pair of rooms in a guest house in Seahouses, about twenty-five miles south. So, while Allan drove ahead, I set off for my first experience of National Cycle Route 1, the 1264 mile route that runs from Dover right up to the Highlands of Scotland.
It seemed a clever route, hugging the coast as often as it could, weaving inland and crossing the A1, but never following it, whenever the terrain demanded. Close to Waren Mill I turned off towards Bamburgh, where Allan was parked up close to the castle. We walked to the lighthouse at Black Rock Point, a modern light that I knew Allan would instinctively dispute. When we found the modest building with a modern lamp on its roof, his only comment was: ‘Is that it?’
Close to Bamburgh Castle is Black Rock Point, an area known for hazardous, turbulent waters for shipping along the Northumbrian coast and in the waters around the Farne Islands.
For centuries, the castle itself operated a warning system of bells and guns from its ramparts, and kept watch for ships in distress. In 1910, Trinity House built a circular metal-framed lighthouse, forty-two feet tall, powered by acetylene gas lamps. It remained in service until 1975, when it was replaced by an electric light, installed on the roof of the adjoining building, which had once stored the acetylene fuel to power the original light.
It is a sector light, showing a group occulting white, red and green light, twice every fifteen seconds. The white light is visible for seventeen miles, while the red and green sector lights have a range of thirteen miles.
The guest house was just three miles further along the seafront. Allan arrived before me, and checked us both in. But having assessed both rooms, he was too much of a gentleman to unpack, because one of the rooms was considerably better than the other. Considering he’d just driven the best part of 400 miles to come to my aid, he had earned the bigger room.
The second room was so small it had clearly once been a cupboard of some sort. It had internal walls on all sides, and both air and light came from a tiny roof window which was opened with the aid of a long pole. Why the room even needed a radiator I couldn’t say, but why it was switched on in mid-July was even more of a mystery. I felt like I was like standing inside an industrial oven.
The pole had a sort of brass loop at one end, and the skylight had a corresponding brass eyelet. The challenge was that hooking the eyelet with the pole took patience, dexterity and not inconsiderable skill. I have never been very good at ‘hook a duck’ at the fun fair, and this was proving just as difficult.
Having won my battle with the skylight, I needed to shower and change. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this bedroom, no bigger than a small en-suite shower room, was that it had … a small en-suite shower room. The shower itself demanded that I crouch down on all fours, with a pair of glass doors that I couldn’t shut with me inside. I imagined the guesthouse owner watching the first couple of Harry Potter films and then deciding he could get another bedroom or two out of the cupboard under the stairs.
Allan and I wandered into town and sunk a couple of pints of Farne Island Pale Ale at the Olde Ship Inn. I fancied the look of the menu, but their table reservation policy was bizarre, to say the least. Two large dining rooms had tables that could be reserved, but all were already booked. Then there were a further two rooms with tables that were on a first come, first served basis, but only after 6.45pm. Until then, they were roped off and out of bounds. With little room to stand in the bar, the result was chaos. Regulars and visitors alike stood sentry-like in the narrow corridors, waiting for the rope barriers to be taken away. At 6.45pm a skirmish broke out, which Allan and I lost. We settled for the fish and chip shop in Main Street before wandering down to the harbour to check out the unusual octagonal light at the end of the pier.
Seahouses harbour began as a small fishing village in the seventeenth century, but developed a flourishing lime trade in the eighteenth century, supported by the export of locally mined coal. By the early 1900s, both industries were in decline, and Seahouses fell back on the area’s traditional industry of fishing. For a time, the village supported a fleet of fifty herring boats, as well as a substantial curing industry and fish market.
In 1900, an unusual, white-painted octagonal brick lighthouse was built at the end of the north-west pier. It is twenty-five feet tall, and displays a flashing green light, visible for twelve miles, from a window on its seaward facing side. On the end of the breakwater opposite, there is a fixed red light attached to a metal pole.