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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 88: Cromer to Lowestoft via Happisburgh and Gorleston

by | Jan 30, 2023


I had been looking forward to reaching the lighthouse at Happisburgh for weeks, because these days it is the only independently operated lighthouse in the country, managed and run by a trust comprising fellow members of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK).

One of them, Joy, is a longstanding friend who I had first met at a business meeting more than fifteen years ago. I believe we were meant to be discussing marketing to schools and colleges, but once I realised that I had met another lighthouse enthusiast ‘in the wild’, so to speak, the agenda of the meeting went out of the window. We have stayed in touch ever since.

Both Joy and her husband Patrick were waiting at the lighthouse for my arrival. Patrick was multitasking, taking on the role of tour guide and photographer, as well as features writer for the local newspaper. He performed all three admirably, and was enormously good company. I hadn’t met up with Joy for a decade or more, and was delighted to discover that she hadn’t changed at all.

Two more ALK members joined us, Melanie and Peter, who are part of the team that runs the lighthouse. As we swapped stories over coffee and cake, it occurred to me that this was the largest gathering of well-wishers I had mustered since Dungeness.




Happisburgh Lighthouse is the oldest working lighthouse in East Anglia, designed by Norwich architect William Wilkins. It was built in 1790, following severe storms the previous winter that claimed seventy vessels and 600 lives. It is about 400 yards from the shore, and was originally one of a pair of leading lights that marked safe passage around the offshore hazardous Happisburgh Sands. It has a circular tapering tower, eighty-five feet tall, with lantern and gallery above, and originally displayed a fixed light which, when lined up with the low light, indicated the safe passage.

The second, low light, was built at the same time, close to the cliff edge. It survived until 1883, when it was decommissioned and demolished following coastal erosion. The surviving light was then painted with three red bands, and its light changed from fixed to an occulting pattern, in order to distinguish it from the lighthouse at Winterton about twelve miles further along the coast.

Originally gas powered, the lighthouse was converted to paraffin in 1904, and to electricity in 1947. It has been automated since 1929, and these days it displays a white flashing light, three times every thirty seconds, which is visible for fourteen miles.

In 1988 Trinity House announced that the lighthouse would be decommissioned, but following lobbying and fundraising, it was officially handed over to the Happisburgh Lighthouse Trust in August 1990. It is now the only independently operated lighthouse in Great Britain.

I was reluctant to leave, but delighted when Joy presented me with a goody bag of stickers, pin badges and a new hat. She had been chronicling the gradual demise of my Association of Lighthouse Keepers baseball cap from my daily posts on social media, and had evidently concluded that it needed to be replaced.

The fourteen miles south to Winterton were relatively tame, and punctuated only by a couple of pints of Woodeforde’s Wherry at The Lion in West Somerton. It was proving to be the surprise discovery of my journey, and rapidly becoming my bitter of choice.

In the handful of years since my guidebook had been published, the owners of the lighthouse at Winterton had reinstated a replica of the original lantern room and gallery at the top of the tower. It only served to confuse me, and for a while I was certain that my guidebook had listed a lighthouse that no longer existed, while simultaneously leaving out altogether the prominent lighthouse which I was standing in front of. People say I’m often a little slow on the uptake, and I admit that the mystery took me longer to solve than it should have.


The former lighthouse in Winterton dates to 1840, although there is evidence of a candle-lit tower as far back as the early seventeenth century, as well as a substantial octagonal tower built by Sir Edward Turnour, which served between 1687 and 1840.

Winterton Before 2010

Winterton Before 2010

The 1840 light was built by Trinity House to replace Turnour’s tower, and is a circular brick and masonry tower, sixty-two feet tall, with lantern and gallery, and keepers’ accommodation attached. This lighthouse must have been substantially altered or rebuilt not long afterwards, because records show that Trinity House Engineer in Chief, James Douglass, oversaw construction of a new lighthouse here in 1867.

Winterton Current

Winterton Current

Originally it displayed a fixed white light, but in 1910 this was altered to an occulting light pattern, which eclipsed four times every ninety seconds. By 1921, its light was redundant following the installation of a number of floating lights, as well as improvements made to the Cockle lightvessel.

The tower served as a military lookout post in both world wars, and during the Second World War, the lantern was replaced with a circular observation room. The lighthouse has been in private hands since 1921, and is currently a luxury holiday let. In 2012, a replica lantern was reinstated to replace the observation deck.

Although officially part of Great Yarmouth, Gorleston seems altogether calmer and quieter. Marine Parade and the seafront promenade are separated by landscaped gardens, grass tennis courts and the occasional palm tree, while the unfussy Edwardian terraced streets boast enviable sea views.

Down by the quay, the picture was not so rosy. I found the lighthouse nestled between a 1970s office block and a former pound shop, which was in the process of being boarded up. When a pound shop is forced to close, you really do start to worry about the future of the High Street. The lighthouse itself is not unattractive, and deserves more sensitively considered neighbours.




The lighthouse in Gorleston is a circular, red-brick tower, seventy feet tall, with a lantern and gallery, and red domed roof with a weathervane. It was built in 1878, on the road immediately behind the harbour entrance.

Originally the lantern displayed a fixed white light, visible for six miles, but nowadays it is a fixed red light, also visible for six miles. From a much lower, first floor window, a white occulting leading light is also displayed, visible for ten miles. This secondary light works in conjunction with a white metal pole light on the opposite side of the road, set into the harbour wall.

In 1887, a wood and cast-iron lighthouse was built at the end of the south pier. When the pier itself was demolished in 1955, a number of lamps were installed on the roof of the harbour master’s office at the end of the new pier. At least one remains in operation to this day, and displays a red flashing light, which is visible for eleven miles.

Having found a budget guest house close to Lowestoft harbour, I reckoned on being able to see the main Lowestoft Lighthouse, as well as the pair of lights in the harbour, before the end of the day. The main road between Goreston and Lowestoft was busy, but it was wide enough for cars to overtake me without entering the opposite carriageway, and I felt relatively safe.

The main lighthouse in Lowestoft is set back just a few yards from the main road leading into the town, and I managed to pass it completely without being aware that I had done so. In a way that suited me quite well, because the view of the lighthouse heading out of town is much the more attractive one.

Even so, it isn’t easy to get a decent photograph from either the road, or the green parkland alongside the lighthouse. I took a handful, but my best shots turned out to be from the seafront promenade a hundred metres below.


A pair of leading lights was first established at Lowestoft as long ago as 1609, which together lined up to mark the deepest water in the Stamford Channel. Known as the Lowestoft Low and Lowestoft High lights, they were candle powered wooden structures. They had to be rebuilt in 1628, and again in 1676, at which time the High Light was moved to the cliff top where the current lighthouse is sited.



The shifting sands required the Low Light to be rebuilt or repositioned several times during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By 1923, the Stamford Channel had disappeared, and so it was decommissioned and demolished.

When Trinity House decided to electrify the High Light in the 1870s, the existing tower was not considered strong enough to bear the weight of the new arc lamp and other equipment required. In 1872 work began on a new lighthouse, the current one, which was completed in 1874. It has a three-storey, white-painted cylindrical brick tower, about fifty-three feet tall, with lantern and gallery. It flashes a white light, every fifteen seconds, visible for twenty-three miles.

Although designed for electricity, paraffin oil was efficient and in plentiful supply, so the light was paraffin burning until electrification in 1936. It was automated in 1975 and modernised in 1997.

The harbour at Lowestoft is complex, with a series of piers and jetties that separate commercial shipping from various marinas offering berths for yachts and other pleasure craft. I thought I’d be able to find the two piers with lighthouses easily enough, and so stored away phone, maps and guidebook from the rain that had just started to fall. But it proved more challenging than I had expected, and I kept reaching piers and jetties from which I could see the two lighthouses, without having any idea how to reach them. It felt a bit like an elaborate maze, where you can see the bench and statue that you’re heading for through a gap in the hedge, but the paths you keep choosing always reach a dead end.

Lowestoft Harbour

Lowestoft Harbour

Lowestoft Harbour

By the mid-nineteenth century, the railway had reached Lowestoft, and the town’s importance as a port grew as a result. Two stone piers, with matching lighthouses, were built in 1847. They have white-painted hexagonal towers, about forty feet tall, with skirts, or canopies, at their base, which give them the look of a marquee at a village fête. Each has a hexagonal lantern with a domed roof. The lighthouse on the North Pier displays a green flashing light, while the one on the South Pier flashes red. The lights are visible for eight miles.

My day was done, and although it hadn’t been a long one in terms of distance, my extended stay at Happisburgh meant that it was already early evening. For once, I wasn’t tempted by the Thursday night meal deal at the Wetherspoons pub near the station, opting instead for a selection of end-of-day bargains from the Co-op, a couple of streets behind Claremont Pier.


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