A couple of miles out of Lowestoft is the large Pontin’s holiday camp at Pakefield. It seemed an unlikely location for a lighthouse, although I learned that when it was built, it stood in the grounds of Pakefield Hall.
I feared that I would need a pass of some sort to enter the camp, to show that I was a genuine Pontin’s paying guest. I decided that my best option was to approach the entrance confidently and at speed, and to try to look as though I knew exactly where I was going. The plan worked, and no one stopped me. But the truth was that I didn’t know where I was going, and I cycled up and down lines of chalets, continually craning my neck to the left and right in the hope of spotting a tower.
Although the lighthouse eluded me, something else caught my eye. As a keen hill walker when younger, I was taught never to pass by fresh water without taking the opportunity to refill my water bottle. On this expedition, I had learned to treat launderettes with the same degree of reverence. An empty washing machine that seemed to be preloaded with credit clinched it for me. I decanted everything that I wasn’t actually wearing into the tub, borrowed a couple of healthy scoops of powder from a catering size box hidden behind a pile of freshly laundered towels, and set off once again in search of the lighthouse.
Having seen just about every chalet in the camp, I checked my map and established that the lighthouse in fact stands alongside the holiday complex, rather than inside it. I made my way back to the entrance and found the lighthouse straight away, before returning to the launderette, where a woman was screaming at a Pontin’s employee that someone had stolen her machine, her money and her washing powder.
The honourable thing to do would have been to own up, apologise, and reimburse the out-of-pocket camper. I contemplated doing this for a while, before hiding behind a tree until they both left to log her complaint, then stuffed my wet washing into a couple of carrier bags and made a run for it.
The lighthouse at Pakefield, just two miles south of Lowestoft, was built by Trinity House in 1832 on low cliffs overlooking the sea. It was designed to guide vessels through the Pakefield Gateway, a safe channel into Lowestoft harbour. It has a white-painted, circular brick tower, around thirty feet tall, with lantern and gallery above.
Originally, the lighthouse displayed a fixed white light which was visible for nine miles. But in 1835, the light was changed to a fixed red light, because some ships had mistaken the white light for lights shining from the windows of clifftop houses nearby.
Shifting sands required a light at nearby Kessingland to be built in 1850, and in 1864 the lighthouse at Pakefield was decommissioned. It served a number of functions throughout the twentieth century, including a photographic darkroom for the Pontin’s Holiday Camp in whose grounds the lighthouse now stands. But in 2000, the lighthouse tower was renovated by volunteers from the local Pakefield Coastwatch group, and it is now used by the group as a coastal reconnaissance station.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 31, 2015
About half of the ten-mile onward route to Southwold followed the main A12, but the narrower B-road after Wrenham felt more dangerous as a cyclist because there were fewer opportunities for cars to overtake, but they drove just as fast. I panicked when I saw the Five Bells pub, with its sign saying that this was ‘the last pub before Southwold’, so I stopped for a couple of pints. This was Adnams country, and with the brewery just four miles away in Southwold itself, it wasn’t going to get any fresher than this. It certainly gave the Woodforde’s Wherry from the previous few days a run for its money.
My AA Book of the Seaside calls Southwold a ‘gracious old seaside town’, but I think it’s better than that. It’s a delightful town, with neat terraces of red-brick and flint cottages, fine colour-washed houses, plenty of green space, charming clifftop paths and a thriving centre of interesting, independent shops. And a lighthouse, of course, which clinches the deal for me.
Southwold Lighthouse is situated close to the centre of the popular and attractive seaside resort. It was built by Trinity House in 1887 to guide vessels safely into Southwold Harbour.
Construction was supervised by Sir James Douglass, Engineer in Chief to Trinity House, and the lighthouse was first lit in September 1890. The lighthouse replaced several local lighthouses that were threatened by severe coastal erosion to the south.
It has a white-painted circular brick tower, just over 100 feet tall, with a small adjoining service building. Originally powered by an Argand burner, it was converted to an incandescent oil burner in 1906, to a petroleum vapour burner in 1923 and finally electrified in 1938, at which time the lighthouse was automated.
Threatened with closure in 2005, it not only earned a reprieve but was actually upgraded and uprated in 2012, in advance of the decommissioning of Orfordness Lighthouse further south. It currently displays a white flashing light, once every ten seconds, which is visible for twenty four miles.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 31, 2015
It was still only lunchtime, and there was a chance that I could cycle on to Orford, catch the boat across the water to Orford Ness, and walk out to the lighthouse there, all before the end of the day. So I decided to drop by the Sole Bay Inn for a pint of Adnams, while I called the National Trust Information Centre in Orford to find out more information about boat timings. Unfortunately, I got distracted by a plate of home-baked ham, egg and chips, as well as a pint or two of Adnams, and before I was ready to make tracks, it was close to four o’clock.
Abandoning plans to reach Orfordness Lighthouse today, I made instead towards Aldeburgh, and found a room at The Butcher’s Arms in Knodishall, about three miles inland. I got a text from my friend Simon, who had helped me to plan this journey, and who had introduced me to several key sponsors. He was on his way from Oxford to join me for a couple of days of lighthouse bagging.