I left Wells-next-the-Sea feeling anxious and apprehensive, and I knew perfectly well why. I had planned on cycling just twenty miles today, and seeing only the lighthouse at Cromer, so it was hardly likely to be a demanding undertaking. But I was anxious because I was due to meet up in Cromer with Jason, the friend from Kent who had tried to persuade me to visit a handful of lighthouses in an Aston Martin, rather than 200 or more on my bike. The last time I had seen Jason was in his company’s boardroom, where he had ridiculed my plans in front of his three most senior staff. All three apologised afterwards for the dressing down I was given, but it left me feeling awkward and uncomfortable.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised that anxious was the word to describe how I had felt about Jason for much of the fifteen or more years that I had known him. Whether in the office or the pub, I never knew which Jason I was going to encounter each time we met. Sometimes it was the laid back, naturally funny, well-meaning and generous friend whose company left me feeling the richer. But just as often it was the dark, monosyllabic, moody Jason, who held conversations with his eyes firmly planted on the texts he was composing on his phone, and who would be quick to start an argument without the slightest provocation. I spent half of the day’s ride worrying about which Jason I would meet in Cromer that evening.
Distraction came in the form of RAF Langham, which was an active airfield for eighteen years, playing a key role in both the Second World War and the Cold War. It is now a museum, and visitors are encouraged to wander the grounds, even when it is closed. It felt haunting to be here, alone, listening to the archive audio sound files that are dotted around the field. This is an excellent example of how a rural museum should be.
In Sheringham I spotted a launderette, sniffed my cycling jersey and reckoned I should probably stop. The washing part was all fairly efficient, but I quickly established that they had their washer-to-dryer ratio all wrong, and I was in for a long wait if I wanted to wear dry clothes any time soon. It was barely lunchtime, however, and Cromer was only another four miles along the coast. So today, of all days, the wait didn’t bother me at all.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 29, 2015
Access to the lighthouse is via the Royal Cromer Golf Club, and the place was heaving. This was Day 3 of the England Girls Amateur Under 14 and Under 16 Championships, and I felt somewhat underdressed for the occasion. It’s a glorious location for a lighthouse, though, with commanding views over both sea and greens. I don’t play golf, but if I did, this is certainly where I would want to play.
Before the first lighthouse was built at Cromer, vessels were guided by lights that were shown from the tower of the parish church. A lighthouse tower was built in around 1670, but the projected cost of maintenance exceeded the dues from passing vessels, and so it was never lit.
The owner of the land on which the tower stood, Nathaniel Life, eventually installed a coal-fired light in the tower, enclosed within a glass lantern. It was first lit in 1719, and remained in operation until 1792, when the lease expired, and the lighthouse was taken over by Trinity House. They, in turn, replaced the coal-fired light with an Argand oil-powered flashing light.
A series of landslips in the first half of the nineteenth century eventually resulted in the lighthouse being declared unsafe, and it was eventually destroyed by a fourth landslip in 1866. The current lighthouse, with a white-painted octagonal tower, was built earlier, in 1833, about half a mile from the cliff edge. It is fifty-eight feet tall, and displays a white flashing light, every five seconds, which is visible for twenty-one miles.
The lighthouse was converted to mains electricity in 1958, and then automated in 1990. The former keepers’ cottages are now available for holiday lets.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 29, 2015
I reached the hotel Jason had booked an hour or so before he arrived. When we met up at the bar at the end of the day, I was pleased to find that he had brought another friend from Kent, Dave, along for the ride. In case you were wondering, it was the benevolent Jason who turned up, and we had a really enjoyable evening, involving a curry and several pints of Woodforde’s Wherry.
Lovely to meet up with Jason and David for a night in Cromer. Fab to catch up and hear news from Kent! pic.twitter.com/28wARTovYE
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 30, 2015
He even handed me one of those giant, charity cheques, with an absurdly generous donation made out to Shift MS. It made me question my friendship with Jason all over again, and made the anxiety I had felt throughout the day seem unwarranted.