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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 82: Aldbrough to Hull via Withernsea and Spurn Point

by | Jan 28, 2023

Spurn Point

I left Aldbrough early in the morning, uncertain about what I would find when I got to Spurn Point. Recent storms had swept aside the metalled track leading on to the spit, and I could not establish whether it had been re-laid, or whether it was even possible to reach the lighthouse at the end of the headland on foot. I would just have to take my chances when I got there.

Before then, I made for the town of Withernsea, where there is an attractive inland lighthouse, set back a considerable distance from the seafront. Withernsea is mentioned in the Domesday book as having a population of just fourteen villagers. In fact, the town’s significant expansion came as late as the mid-nineteenth century, with the arrival of the Hull and Holderness Railway, which connected the town with the city of Hull, and brought Victorian workers and their families here for holidays by the sea.

There was once a pleasure pier here, but it was short-lived, sustaining considerable damage after being struck by a vessel in 1890. But I was intrigued to find the former pier entrance still standing, with a pair of castellated pier entrance towers standing proudly on the promenade. In fact, a local organisation called the Withernsea Pier & Promenade Association had ambitious plans to bring a pier back to Withernsea before too long.

I found the lighthouse three streets back from the seafront, with housing, shops and roads now built over the sand dunes thought too susceptible to coastal erosion to risk building a lighthouse on.




The lighthouse in Withernsea was first lit in 1894 and, together with the Humber lightship, its purpose was to steer ships clear of Bridlington Bay and provide safe passage into and out of the Humber estuary.

When it was built, fear of coastal erosion led to it being positioned well back from the sea, although at the time nothing stood between it and the seafront other than sand dunes and shallow wetland. Expansion of the seafront promenade led to housing being built along roads surrounding the lighthouse, and now the lighthouse stands in the middle of the town.

It has a tapering octagonal brick tower, 127 feet tall, with lantern and gallery. Originally oil fuelled, it was electrified in 1936. It displayed a white flashing light, every three seconds, which was visible for seventeen miles.

It was decommissioned in July 1976, and is now run as a popular museum. The former Keepers’ accommodation building is now a cafe.

Near Kilnsea, I expected to find a nature reserve hut where I could enquire about whether, or how, I might be able to reach the lighthouse at Spurn Point. But I found the car park empty, along with the wooden hut nearby. There were signs warning visitors that the access road had been swept aside, but none suggested that access was therefore prohibited.

It was easy to see the break in the road. The track was clearly split just ahead of me, with a sort of jagged edge that you only usually see in cartoons, when a road stops at a cliff edge. Across an expanse of sandy beach, a few hundred metres ahead of me, I could see where the track began again.

The sand was powdery, and I had travelled only about a hundred metres when I regretted bringing the bike with me. However stressful the thought of losing it was, dragging it across this beach seemed like a fool’s errand. As so often happens though, I was only a little less than halfway, so reckoned it would be mad to retreat now, lock up the bike and then return on foot. Besides, once I crossed the beach, it would be useful to be able to cycle the last mile or so to the lighthouse. So I persevered.

The track further along the spit was still intact, but split and scarred in several places. In one place there was a hole so deep that if I hadn’t been paying attention I could have dropped straight into it, bike and all.

I reached the lighthouse to find it covered in sheeting and scaffolding. Was this another sign of a piece of our maritime history falling into decay? I was overjoyed to discover that it was quite the opposite. A detailed sign outlined plans to restore the lighthouse completely, a project that included opening it up to visitors on completion. The sheeting wrapped around the scaffolding was to minimise the spread of masonry dust while the peeling paintwork was being shot blasted back to brick, ready for a series of fresh coats.

Down near the water, below the lighthouse, I found the tower of the former low light. It looked strange, with a water tank mounted where a lantern should be, but the tower itself was an elegant structure.

Spurn Point

The Humber estuary has always proved dangerous to shipping because of sandbanks that constantly change their shape and position with the tides, as well as through coastal erosion. Spurn Head is a narrow peninsula of sand and shingle at the mouth of the estuary, which is exposed to the gales of the North Sea.

The earliest reference to a lighthouse at Spurn is from 1428, when a tower was reputedly built by a hermit named Richard Reedbarrow. By the seventeenth century, there are records of a pair of coal-fired leading lights, built by a London merchant called Justinian Angell. The low light was rudimentary and crude, and was washed away on several occasions. The high light had an octagonal brick tower, with a coal fire on top of it.

Spurn Point

Spurn Point

By the mid-eighteenth century, the shape of the spit had altered significantly, and the high and low lights no longer pointed out the safe passage through the channel. In 1776, a new pair of lighthouses were designed by John Smeaton. These were brick towers, one ninety feet tall, the other fifty feet tall, with enclosed lanterns for their coal fires. Their light was visible for twelve miles.

When the brickwork of Smeaton’s high light was found to be cracked in 1892, work started on its replacement, the current tower. Completed in 1895, it was designed by Thomas Matthews, and has a circular brick tower, 128 feet tall, with lantern and gallery. It is painted in broad black and white bands, and displayed a white flashing light, once every twenty seconds, which was visible for seventeen miles. It also had separate sector lights, which marked particular sandbanks, as well as the main channel along the Humber.

Spurn Point Old

Spurn Point Old

Originally oil powered, it was converted to electricity in 1941, and then to acetylene gas in 1957, at which time the operation of the lighthouse was automated. It remained in operation until 1985, when it was decommissioned. After suffering substantial deterioration in the years since, a major restoration project began in 2015, and is now complete.

Smeaton’s low light had to be rebuilt in 1816, and again in 1852 after storm and sea damage. After Thomas Matthews’ 1895 lighthouse was built, the low light was no longer needed. Its lantern was removed and replaced with a water tower. The tower still stands on the beach, close to the 1895 lighthouse.

Spurn Point Beacon

Spurn Point Beacon

Before heading back, I walked on to the observation platform right at the tip of Spurn Point, where there is a strange little four-legged tower with an open lantern, and a green conical roof shaped like a dunce’s hat. It’s an active aid to navigation, and displays a green flashing light once every three seconds.

Retracing my tracks to Kilnsea, it was hard to ignore the protest signs in house windows and on gates, objecting to the proposed new nature reserve’s Discovery Centre at Spurn. It seemed as though it wasn’t wanted by any of the locals, other than at the village pub, where the landlord clearly took the view that it would be good for trade.

I was happy to have seen the Spurn lighthouse, in spite of the scaffolding, and happier still to learn that its future seems secure, for a while at least. I thought that the same might not be true for the pair of wrought-iron leading lights at Thorngumbald, where I had read that the sea defences were breached deliberately a few years ago, creating a controlled flood, and making the lighthouses inaccessible.

In fact, I discovered that the track leading to the lights from the village of Paull was perfectly accessible. The two lights were not in great condition, I’ll admit, but they stand on dry ground, at least, and from what I understood they were still working lights, operated and maintained by Associated British Ports.

Thorngumbald Clough

Thorngumbold High Light

Thorngumbold High Light

There is a pair of leading lights at Thorngumbald Clough, built in 1870 to replace the lighthouse at Paull, after shifting sands meant that it no longer marked the safe channel along the narrow estuary.

The high light is constructed of a red-painted wrought-iron frame, about fifty feet tall. From a broad window in its white domed lantern, it displays a white occulting light, which is visible for eight miles.

Thorngumbold Low Light

Thorngumbold Low Light

The low light, about a hundred metres downstream, is a white-painted circular metal tower, with a white domed lantern. It was originally mounted on a trolley so it could be moved to adjust to changes in the shipping channel. It displays a white occulting light through a lantern-room window, which is visible for nine miles. When the two lights are aligned, they indicate the safe passage for vessels leaving the port of Hull.

The two lights are still active, and are now owned and operated by Associated British Ports in Hull.

Returning to Paull, I stopped at the Humber Tavern to try a pint of Wold Top, a refreshing amber-coloured bitter that was new to me. In the interests of proper research, I tried a couple more pints of it before going off in search of the former lighthouse in the village.

I hadn’t even got my helmet on before I saw it, virtually opposite the pub, and only about fifty yards away. In fact, I must have cycled straight past it on the way to the pub. Just shows how attractive and alluring a pub sign can be.

It’s a lovely old building, whose tower has long since been amalgamated into the terraced house alongside it. It hasn’t functioned as a lighthouse for a 150 years, but its lantern is still in place, and the views from it across the Humber estuary must be to die for.


There are several records referring to aids to navigation in Paull in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but the lighthouse that still stands was built by Trinity House in 1836. It has a conical, white-painted brick tower, forty-six feet tall, and a lantern room with domed roof. Originally oil powered, it displayed a fixed white light, and later a red sector as well, which helped to guide vessels around the nearby Skitter sandbank.



When it was built, vessels leaving Hull had to navigate a narrow channel through the Humber, which involved heading first towards Paull, and then changing course towards Killingholme on the opposite bank. After nearly forty years of service, shifting sandbanks meant that heading towards the lighthouse at Paull was no longer safe, so the light was deactivated.

In 1870 the lighthouse was replaced by two sets of leading lights, the pair at Thorngumbald Clough and another pair at Salt End. The lights at Salt End were of a similar design to the pair at Thorngumbald. They were dismantled in the 1960s when the BP oil terminal at Salt End was enlarged.

The diversion for beer had cost me some time. It was now evening, and I hadn’t given any thought to where I should stay. It hadn’t been a long day in terms of distance, only about forty-two miles, but both Spurn Point and Thorngumbald had required a fair bit of walking, and I was pretty exhausted. Hull was less than ten miles away, and I reckoned on a city of that size having plenty of budget accommodation and cheap pub food. I decided just to chance my luck, and was rewarded with a £29 Travelodge room.


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