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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 84: Hull to Nettleton via Killingholme and Stanfords Memories

by | Jan 29, 2023

Killingholme Former North Low Light

I had been looking forward to this day for a month or so, not because of the lighthouses on the route, but because it had been earmarked for meeting up with three friends who I had worked with at Stanfords, the map and travel book shop, twenty-five years earlier.

David had swapped the international desk at Stanfords for social work and, more recently, lecturing in social work. He tried his hand at local politics for a while, but it was soon apparent that he was far too decent a man, and cared far too much to make an effective politician. Meanwhile, John swapped the European desk, and city life, for a career in the police force in Huntingdon. He became the perfect family man, and you’d struggle to find a more loyal and dependable friend. Ever the outdoor enthusiast, Paul left the airless basement at Stanfords, where the British maps and books were sold, to a life of climbing, diving, biking, kayaking and just about every other outdoor pursuit you could imagine. He’s a support services manager, but his LinkedIn profile says that he is currently seeking the next big adventure. That could just as easily apply to both his personal and professional life.

Although we had picked this particular weekend to meet, I wasn’t quite sure where I would be. I think David and Paul imagined meeting up at a clifftop lighthouse somewhere on the North Yorkshire coast. Perhaps Whitby, or Flamborough Head. Typically, John was just happy to travel wherever needed to meet up with us all. However, none of us thought it would be at the lighthouses at Killingholme, nestled between a power station, an oil refinery and the heavy industrial complex alongside Immingham, Britain’s largest port.

In fact, only John managed to find his way to the riverfront lighthouses unaided, and had to send the rest of us his exact location from his phone. As I cycled down the straight, stony track leading to the river, he took the photo of me that I will forever associate with my adventure. Funny how the candid, unplanned photographs often turn out to be the best.

By the time we all met up, John had befriended Gill Harper, who had purchased the former north low light, and called it home, twenty-one years earlier. She produced coffee and biscuits, and although embarrassed that her daughter’s bedroom in the tower needed a good tidy up, and her bed needed making, she gave us the full tour.

These were sad times for Gill. The port at Immingham was undergoing expansion, and the land all around her was slowly being purchased, tarmacked and built over. The port authority had secured a compulsory purchase order for Gill’s lighthouse home, and had been trying to evict her for the last six years. There would be no reprieve for Gill, and for the last couple of years the only dispute left was over value. The lighthouse represented a comfortable, detached home, but the sum she was being offered would barely cover the cost of a flat.

Wishing her luck, we left Gill to her bed making, and walked along the river to the other two Killingholme lights. Both were looking in quite a sorry state, and I don’t think I convinced any of my bookselling friends that lighthouse bagging was the next big thing.

Killingholme

There are three lighthouses a short distance north of the village of Killingholme, all close together. Two are active (the high light and the south low light), while the third (the north low light) is disused. At one time all three operated together, guiding shipping along the Humber, and clear of the dangerous sandbanks between Killingholme and Spurn.

Killingholme High

Killingholme High

The current high light has a red-painted tapering tower, seventy-nine feet tall, with gallery and dome-roofed lantern room. Unusually for a lighthouse, there is a set of four chimneys on the landward side of the lantern. It displays an occulting red light, flashing every four seconds, which is visible for fourteen miles. It was built in 1876, replacing a similar light dating to 1836 that was severely damaged in storms. A sector light was added in 2006.

Killingholme South Low

Killingholme South Low

About 150 metres south stands the south low light, built in 1836 at the same time as the original high light. Like the high light, it has a conical tapering tower, but it is shorter, at forty-six feet tall, and is painted white. It displays a flashing isophase red light, at one second intervals, which is visible for eleven miles. It, too, has a set of chimneys on its landward side.

Killingholme North Low

Killingholme North Low

The former north low light is a few hundred metres further north. Its tower is broadly similar to the south low light, although it was built fifteen years later, in 1851. Attached to the tower is a two-storey keepers’ cottage. This lighthouse was decommissioned in 1920, and after serving as a signal station for a period, it was sold as a private dwelling. Plans to develop and enlarge the port of Immingham, close to the lighthouse, resulted in its compulsory purchase by Associated British Ports in 2016.

At Gill’s recommendation, we reconvened an hour later at The Black Bull in East Halton. We spent ten minutes catching up the twenty-five intervening years, and nearly three hours reminiscing about the Stanfords days. The people we’d worked with, the customers we’d served, the managers we had run rings around.

I made a number of significant discoveries. I learned that David loathed me when we first met, but relented once he came to appreciate that I despised my privileged upbringing and private education as much as he did. I learned that Paul had only recently forgiven me for recommending him to Jason for a job in his company in Kent. He got the job, and rated the next two years as the unhappiest of his career by a distance. By contrast, I established that John disapproved of me far less than I thought he had at the time.

By the time we parted company, it was early evening. We promised not only to do it again, but that the next time we met, it would be a reunion that included a shortlist of former Stanfords employees we had drawn up in the pub. David and Paul each headed north, while John headed south. It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t quite know where I was headed. South, certainly. But how far, or quite where, I wasn’t certain.

I had energy enough for a twenty-mile ride, and with no lighthouses to see for the next eighty miles or so, instinctively I headed inland. I found a cheap pub near Nettleton, with rooms that hadn’t been touched since the 1970s. There was even an Austin Maxi in the car park, and I half expected to find a jar of Maxwell House and some Coffeemate in my room. I’m being harsh. The rooms were clean, the staff welcoming and friendly and, at £29, I had nothing whatever to complain about.

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