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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 95: Whitstable to Deal via Herne Bay, Margate and North Foreland

by | Feb 1, 2023

North Foreland

I managed my first family farewell of the journey without tears. I would love to say that it was down to handling my emotions more effectively, but it was really due to the fact that I was now only three days from home, and I would be seeing my parents again by the lighthouse at Dungeness on the following Saturday.

It seemed odd that a town whose trade relied so heavily on the sea was without a lighthouse. There was once a pair of leading lights in the harbour at Whitstable, with lanterns made from polished copper, but these were demolished when the harbour fell into disuse in the 1960s. Although the East Quay was subsequently redeveloped, the only aids to navigation are fixed lamps on metal poles at the end of each quay. I photographed the two poles as evidence of my thoroughness, but no one could possibly regard these as lighthouses.

An ugly crunching sound from my bottom bracket prompted me to find a cycle shop in town. I was surprised when they said they were very busy and couldn’t help, but I shouldn’t have been. They weren’t being unreasonable. It’s just that I had been so lucky up to now, and the six cycle shops I had called upon to help me over the last three months had all been willing, keen even, to drop whatever they were doing and come to my rescue. I’m not sure that’s how shops work in the Home Counties.

I crunched on for a mile or so, before stopping to investigate the problem over a mug of coffee at the Central Bandstand in Herne Bay. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I remembered being shown how to tighten the chain, so I gave that a try, and I also blew through a hole where the crunching noise seemed to be coming from. One or other of these operations reduced the sound from ‘alarming’ to merely ‘irritating’, and I concluded that this was the best I would achieve without professional help.

Herne Bay

Herne Bay Pier

Herne Bay Pier

There are two lighthouses in Herne Bay, one in considerably better condition than the other. Herne Bay once had the longest pier in the UK, at the far end of which is an octagonal tower, mounted on top of a wooden octagonal building, forty-nine feet tall, supported by concrete piles. It dates from the mid-nineteenth century, to a time when Herne Bay was a fashionable stopping-off point for excursion steamers.

Herne Bay Breakwater

Herne Bay Breakwater

The pier was deliberately breached by the army during the Second World War to prevent an enemy landing, and after the war was almost totally destroyed by storms in 1978. The pier head and lantern still stand, isolated half a mile offshore, but its light is inactive. The quick-flashing light it once gave now comes from a solar-powered lamp mounted on a triangular skeletal mast.

In the 1990s a concrete breakwater, known as Neptune’s Arm, was built to prevent the most vulnerable parts of Herne Bay from flooding. At the far end is an octagonal viewing platform, on which a pair of fixed red lamps are mounted on a single metal pole.

Before leaving the breakwater, I took the opportunity to tune in briefly to Test Match Special, and was overjoyed to discover that England had pinned Australia down to 35 for 6 at Trent Bridge. A man walking his dog seemed interested in what I was doing, so I gladly shared the news with him. But it turned out he only wanted to berate me for listening to my radio in a public place, so I decided that Herne Bay was not for me, and left.

All fifteen miles of the north Kent coast between Herne Bay and Margate are a cyclist’s dream. The first landmark is Reculver, where the twelfth-century towers of the former monastic church dominate the skyline for miles around, and have acted as a navigation marker for shipping throughout the centuries since.

After Reculver, the Viking Coastal Trail continues off road, following the sea wall almost all the way to Margate, hugging the spectacular chalk cliffs, and periodically passing through crowded family beaches one minute, and quiet unspoilt bays the next.

I used to visit Margate frequently as a teenager, queuing up with friends for the Looping Star and the Mary Rose rides at Bembom Brothers amusement park. The last time I saw the park it was dilapidated and closed down, but it has recently been completely renovated and reopened. It looked just as I remember it, although I must be getting old because these days it is called a ‘vintage theme park’.




The current Margate lighthouse is at the end of the Harbour Arm, a long stone pier which has been redeveloped in recent years to accommodate a number of cafes, bars, micro pubs and restaurants. The lighthouse has a hexagonal stone tower, sixty-six feet tall, and was built in 1954 to replace an earlier, and taller lighthouse from 1829, which collapsed into the sea during the famous winter storm at the end of January 1953. It stands on a square base, and has a gallery and hexagonal lantern, from which a fixed red light is displayed, which is visible for three miles.

Despite the bars and restaurants, this is more of a working pier than a pleasure pier, and even the lighthouse, while not unattractive, seems built for function rather than form. The Lighthouse Bar had fenced off a little outdoor seating area, which provided the ideal space to plan out the final stages of my journey.

I had just a handful of lighthouses left to see, at North and South Foreland, Ramsgate, Dover and Folkestone. It was Thursday afternoon, and Emily had planned a reunion of friends and family for my arrival back at Dungeness at lunchtime on Saturday. At my current pace, I’d be home by early afternoon tomorrow, so for perhaps the first time I needed to slow right down.

Leaving the Harbour Arm behind me, I was grateful that the cycle route out of Margate was off road, and managed to avoid entirely a couple of busy main roads, following paths and lanes that I never knew were there. I looked down on several sandy beaches, all with names that reminded me of childhood days out – Joss Bay, Botany Bay, Kingsland Bay. As I climbed towards the lighthouse at North Foreland, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be long before I’d actually be able to look down over Romney Marsh, and perhaps even see New Romney, my home town. The thought propelled me up the final climb to the lighthouse gates.

North Foreland

There is said to have been a light here as early as 1499, but the first lighthouse for which records exist dates to around 1637, when Sir John Meldrum was granted a patent from Charles I to collected dues from foreign vessels passing the North and South Forelands. His was a wooden tower, which survived until 1683, when it was burned to the ground.

North Foreland

North Foreland

Following a number of years with a temporary light, a brick and stone octagonal tower, with an open fire basket, was built in 1691. For a few years in the early eighteenth century the light was enclosed within a lantern, but it often sooted-up and so the open light was restored.

The tower was increased in height in 1793, a lantern was installed, and the coal fire was replaced with a series of eighteen oil lamps. Trinity House took on responsibility for the lighthouse in 1832, and in 1866 Engineer in Chief James Walker was commissioned to undertake alterations and modernisation. At the same time, it was painted white and a pair of keepers’ cottages was added.

The lighthouse was electrified in 1920, and in 1998 it was the last Trinity House lighthouse to be automated. It displays a white flashing light, with red sectors, which is visible for nineteen miles.

Today the former keepers’ cottages are available for holiday lets.

Broadstairs is a charming resort, frequented and much loved by Charles Dickens. He worked on several of his best-known novels here during regular stays at Bleak House (then known as Fort House) on the cliffs above the harbour. And he described the town as ‘one of the freshest, freest watering places in the world’.

It was also where my first girlfriend went to art college, and I cycled past the spot where a telephone box once stood, which I would phone at the same time each afternoon, timed to coincide with her walk between classes. Judging by the length of the grass covering the square concrete plinth where the telephone box once stood, it would seem it fell into disrepair at about the same time as the relationship.

Ramsgate ought to be a thriving seaside town, but I thought it looked neglected and unloved as I made the final descent into the harbour. As a child, I remember taking the ferry from here to Ostend, in Belgium, and have always preferred the bustling, cosmopolitan feel of the town over Dover or Folkestone. The AA Book of the Seaside, published in the 1970s, went as far as describing Ramsgate as like a miniature Monte Carlo. But in 2013 the ferry service was suspended, leaving Dover as the only remaining channel port in the region. It seemed to me that Ramsgate lost its pride, along with its purpose, once the ferry departed for the last time.

The trouble is the council hasn’t quite decided whether it is trying to lure a new ferry operator, or flatten the infrastructure altogether and give the town a new identity. The rusting remains of ticket barriers, check-in lanes and even a private road that led straight to the boats, all lie abandoned. The shops around the harbour no longer seem certain whether they should be selling Buckingham Palace postcards and Big Ben key rings to the Europeans, or buckets and spades for the day trippers from London.

There is talk of a new freight ferry service which, if successful, might lead to a resumption of passenger traffic. Dredging of the silted harbour has begun. But for now, at least, Ramsgate was a rather sad place to be. There is a lighthouse on the West Pier, however, and this was why I was here.


A pair of stone piers were built in 1779 to create an outer harbour, and it was John Smeaton (designer of the third Eddystone Lighthouse) who drew up plans for the first lighthouse here in 1783. Smeaton died in 1792, and so construction of the lighthouse fell to Samuel Wyatt, who completed it in 1795. It had a circular granite tower, thirty-four feet tall, with lantern room and gallery.



During the first part of the nineteenth century it became apparent that the lighthouse had been sited too close to the end of the pier, and ships’ yardarms frequently struck it when negotiating the harbour entrance. As a result, it was replaced in 1842 with a new circular stone tower, thirty-eight feet tall, set back from the end of the pier. It has an ornate, red-painted lantern, with a weathervane on top.

Originally lit by an oil lamp, it was converted to electricity early in the twentieth century. When the ferries operated, it displayed a fixed red or green light, depending on the height of the tide at the harbour entrance. These days, however, it displays just a fixed red light, which is visible for four miles.

In addition to the lighthouse on the West Pier, there is a simple pole light on the East Pier, as well as solar-powered lamps on the two breakwaters.

Before leaving Ramsgate I needed to organise a place to stay, and found a pub with cheap rooms on the outskirts of Deal. It required a final push of twelve miles late in the afternoon.

As I passed Pegwell Bay I couldn’t resist taking a brief detour to search for the remains of what was once a busy hovercraft port. I found them easily enough, an abandoned giant concrete car park, covered with grass and weeds, as well as the skulking remains of a giant metal footbridge. I remembered seeing photos online of abandoned cafes, check-in kiosk and passport control sheds, but these were now long gone. Nevertheless, what was there reminded me of what Ramsgate itself might become without a proper plan for regeneration, with or without its ferry.

Approaching Sandwich, the landscape becomes industrial, and I had to leave the seafront to navigate a route around a giant complex of science and technology parks. But this was a small blot on an otherwise faultless landscape, and Sandwich itself is achingly pretty. As if a reward for putting up with the industry, National Cycle Route 1 proceeds along an empty toll road through the famous Sandwich golf course.

As I descended into Deal, I reached into my saddle bag for my radio and discovered that Australia were all out for 60, with England 263 for 3 in reply, with Root and Bairstow both digging in. At this rate, I’d be home before the match ended.


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