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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 94: Gravesend to Whitstable via Isle of Grain and Faversham

by | Feb 1, 2023

Although I had seen them briefly the previous evening, I decided to take a closer look at the two Gravesend piers with lights. These days, the Royal Terrace Pier is owned by the Port of London Authority (PLA), and access is prohibited. But it’s possible to get a decent enough view of the lighthouse tower from the riverfront. The Town Pier is open and accessible, and as well as a ferry service across to Tilbury, it also houses a bar and restaurant.

Gravesend Town Pier

Gravesend Town Pier

The Town Pier is said to be the oldest remaining cast-iron pier in the world. It opened in July 1834, and occupies the same site as the original Town Quay mentioned in the Domesday Book. Before the railways, it was an important passenger terminus, and today it is still the terminal for a passenger ferry crossing the Thames to Tilbury. Between the two pavilions is a cast-iron cylindrical lighthouse, thirty-five feet tall, with a light at the top surmounted by a finial. When it operated it displayed a fixed red light.

Gravesend Royal Terrace

Gravesend Royal Terrace

The Royal Terrace Pier was built in 1844, and earned its royal title when Princess Alexandra of Denmark arrived there in 1863 to marry the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. The pier has a tower rising above the single-storey building, forty-nine feet tall, with an open, white-painted lantern from which a fixed red light is displayed.

Gravesend marks the start of the Saxon Shore Way, an underrated long-distance footpath that follows the ancient course of the Kent and Sussex coastline to Hastings. Once past the riverfront promenade, the path weaves through a series of industrial backstreets, before heading back to the river and the ruins of Shornemead Fort.

Shornemead Old

Shornemead Old

At Denton Wharf, in the industrial outskirts of the town, I found the former light that once stood close to the riverbank at Shorne Marshes. It was replaced with a modern cylindrical tower in 2003, and since then this 1913 metal tower and lantern have lain abandoned, unloved and rusting in one corner of an industrial yard, behind tall security fencing. It deserves a better fate than this.

A security guard caught me poking my camera lens through the fence, and I was ready for a lecture about trespassing. But I misjudged him entirely, and not only did he invite me in to take better pictures, but he also gave me comprehensive directions to the modern light that replaced this one. I really must learn not to be so quick to judge people.

Shornemead New

Shornemead New

The current Shornemead light is a modern, cylindrical red and white painted tower, about fifty feet tall, with a series of galleries accessed via an external ladder. It was built in 2003, and flashes white, red and green sector lights, powered by solar panels. It is not an object of great beauty, but there is something striking about it nonetheless. I stopped for a rest among the ruins of Shornemead Fort, and discovered that the tower could be framed perfectly within one of the fort’s windows.

Leaving the Saxon Shore Way for the Isle of Grain, I was chased by a pair of barking dogs who were determined to dismount me. Their owner looked on helpless, although entirely unapologetic, as one continually tried to bite my leg as I pedalled. I was worried that I would actually end up running over one of them, and wasn’t sure whether to try and cycle away, or kick out at them to prevent them getting any closer. I settled for a blend of the two.

The Isle of Grain is a desolate and fairly featureless landscape, and the road leading to the power station at the far end was a fifteen-mile slog. It didn’t help that I had already seen a photograph of the lighthouse on the river front at Grain, and it wasn’t up to much. But I persevered, and when I finally reached the river at the far end of the peninsula, I was at least rewarded with a great view of Canvey Island, Southend and Shoeburyness on the opposite bank of the Thames.



I found the light easily enough, another red-painted metal lattice framework, with a lamp mounted on an open gallery at the top. It is more substantial than I imagined, at sixty-six feet tall, and is mounted on a four-legged platform, giving the structure the appearance of an attentive giraffe. Like the Shornemead light, it flashes white, red and green sectors.

Resigned to retracing the fifteen miles I had just covered, a man walking his dog stopped me for a chat. He asked what I was doing, and when I told him about the lighthouses, he told me excitedly that there was one, here, in Grain. I didn’t like to tell him that I knew already, and that it was probably the only thing that would have tempted me to cycle Grain’s fifteen desolate miles.

At Upnor, I was back on the Saxon Shore Way and was pleased to find the marina which my friend David had told me about where, among many other craft, at least three former light vessels were moored. It looked as though one was being converted into a private dwelling, while the largest of the three was for sale, with a price tag of £280,000.

As I cycled through Rochester, Chatham and Sittingbourne, all towns that were familiar to me, I argued with Google maps at frequent intervals, taking short cuts I had known about for years. It got me wondering just how many of the 3,350 miles I had cycled could have been avoided if I had known every coastal town as well as I knew these.

Close to the Kingsferry Bridge at Swale, I camouflaged my bike among some trees, and walked about half a mile back along a muddy footpath. At a bend in the River Swale, I remembered seeing three lights the previous year when I had walked some of the Saxon Shore Way. I found them easily enough, just simple lamps, two of them mounted on wooden frameworks, and one mounted on top of a white metal pole. They weren’t lighthouses, and I needn’t have visited them, but I have enough lighthouse fanatic friends who would want to tease me for having missed out a light or two. With these three, missing from all the guidebooks, there was even a chance that I could get one up on them!

Beyond Faversham I re-joined the seafront at Seasalter, and then headed straight for Whitstable, a fashionable seaside town known for its quirky, independent shops and world famous oyster trade. My parents were waiting for me there, having booked a couple of rooms in the smartest hotel in town. We sat on their seafront balcony, a glass of Champagne in hand, and caught up with the news from home. When they told me how proud they were, I felt a glow that I hadn’t felt since childhood, the one that comes with a favourable end-of-term school report.


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