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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Days 54 & 55: St David’s to Fishguard via Stumble Head

by | Jan 14, 2023

Strumble Head

I was up early, nursing a sore head. I assumed that Elin’s sympathetic look as I came downstairs for breakfast was down to the night before, but I quickly established that she had just heard from the boatman that the trip out to Smalls was off. The weather had turned overnight, and there were now strong winds, and unpredictable currents offshore. There would be another attempt at lunchtime the next day.

The news came as a deep blow, and my low mood was now affecting my ability to make any sort of decision. I could cycle on, but missing out on Smalls lighthouse would be like going to Agra and giving the Taj Mahal a miss. I could stay another night in St David’s, but at the cost of eating through what were already looking like insufficient funds. Besides, I didn’t like the thought of spending a whole day in my own company.

I shouldn’t have been feeling like this. Making this journey was something I’d wanted to do all my life, so why was it affecting me in this way? The only memory that caused me to smile was of my son, Tom, telling me his favourite Tim Vine joke:

‘I’ve just been on one of those once-in-a-lifetime holidays. I’ll tell you what … never again.’

That was me.

I spent the afternoon sleeping, having filled the morning with phone calls to my MS Nurse, my GP, my brother Will and to home. Typically, Emily’s advice was to keep going and stay positive. Meanwhile, Will offered to set off for St David’s straight away. He could be with me by late afternoon, and we’d be home in Kent by midnight. My MS Nurse suggested taking a few days to rest. My GP advised giving it a couple more days, but if the dark clouds didn’t clear then she would be happy to prescribe some familiar medication the following week. So there it was. I could keep going, or come home. Rest up, or pedal on. I just wanted someone to make the decision for me.

When Saturday’s boat trip was also cancelled, it was Elin who took on the role of route planner. With no improvement in the weather forecast for several days, it looked as though Tuesday would represent my next best shot at getting out to Smalls. Elin suggested pushing on to Fishguard, Aberaeron, or even as far as Aberystwyth. We could stay in touch, and whenever it looked as though a boat trip was likely to run, I could find somewhere to leave the bike and jump on a TrawsCymru T5 bus back south along the coast again.

It wasn’t ideal, but it made sense. I set off in the direction of Whitesands Bay, where I hoped to get a long-lens shot of the lighthouse at South Bishop, which would have to serve in the event that my boat trip continued to prove elusive.

The moment I reached the car park in front of the picture postcard beach at Whitesands Bay, I felt an almost uncontrollable sense of sadness and regret. It wasn’t that South Bishop lighthouse seemed so far offshore, although even with a long lens it was far from distinct. What troubled me was joy. Everywhere I looked I saw dogwalkers, families, children and dogs, evidently finding joy and happiness in what they were doing. Something I had increasingly struggled to do for some time.

I watched a family game of cricket underway, with a sandy tennis ball and using stumps and a bat that looked like they came from a set purchased from a beachfront toy shop. I started to well up, wishing it was me, with my children, playing the game. It was nonsense, really. My two daughters have never shown the slightest interest in any game involving a ball. Tom might have humoured me by agreeing to play, but his heart wouldn’t have been in it. And the moment the first ball was bowled Poppy, our spaniel, would have chased after it and refused to surrender it.

Knowing that my feelings were irrational did nothing to ease them. I sat on the sea wall between the car park and the sand, lowered my head into my hands, and began to cry. Quite noisily. I don’t know for how long, but when I raised my head, a young girl and her mother were standing right beside me looking concerned. The mother asked if I was alright. Perhaps I should have said:

‘No. I’m not alright. I’m exhausted. I’ve cycled about 1,500 miles and I don’t want to cycle another metre. I’m making a journey that I’ve wanted to make for most of my life, and I’m starting to hate it. I set out to see every lighthouse around the coast, and I wouldn’t be sorry if I never saw another lighthouse for the rest of my life. I’m missing home. I’m missing my children. I’m missing my wife. I’m missing my friends. I have multiple sclerosis, and I am sick to death having to inject myself with drugs each day. My legs hurt. I’m running out of money. My career is a bit of a mess. I’m lonely. I’m probably depressed. I want to go home.’

But that’s not how I was brought up. So instead, I said:

‘Fine, thanks. Just having a little wobble. Thank you for your concern, though.’

Who ever said that exercise was the perfect antidote for anxiety and depression? Quoting Basil Fawlty, I’d like to meet them. I could do with a laugh.

I pressed on, knowing that getting as far as Fishguard tonight involved reaching the lighthouse at Strumble Head first. I remember very little about those twenty miles or so, other than a steep hill out of what was evidently a pretty little bay at Abercastle. But even I conceded that the final few hundred yards downhill to the lighthouse at Strumble Head were spectacular. Judging by the number of cars parked alongside the rough, gravel track, I wasn’t alone.

The lighthouse is built on top of a small rocky outcrop, called St Michael’s Island, connected to the mainland via a metal latticed footbridge. It is unmistakably a Trinity House lighthouse, with its distinctive white and green livery, and I was keen to get up close. This evening, the footbridge was gated and padlocked, and some quick research confirmed that access was for authorised personnel only. So I sat on a rock opposite, took dozens of photos, and took a little comfort from knowing that the view gave me a negligible but recordable sense of pleasure. I wasn’t ready to quit quite yet.

Strumble Head

Strumble Head

Strumble Head

After the harbour at Fishguard opened in 1906, the volume of shipping between Ireland and Wales increased and, as a result, Trinity House chose to build a lighthouse at Strumble Head in 1908. It’s a dangerous stretch of coast and even before the development of the port at Fishguard, at least sixty vessels are known to have been wrecked during the nineteenth century alone.

The light was designed to work in conjunction with the lighthouse at South Bishop, a few miles off St David’s Head in St George’s Channel. The white-painted stone tower is fifty-six feet tall, with gallery and lantern. There are two buildings attached to the tower that provided keepers’ accommodation.

Originally, this was a paraffin light, with a revolving lens system supported on a bed of mercury, and an elaborate clockwork mechanism to drive its rotation. When the lighthouse was electrified in 1965, the system was replaced and simplified. The lighthouse was converted to unmanned automatic operation in 1980.

I had delayed the final few miles on to Fishguard because I reckoned the climb back up the hill from Strumble Head would be ghastly. But this was my internal voice talking, and once I made a start I soon reached the brow of the hill. The six miles into Fishguard included plenty of descents, and I was at the harbour before too long.

Fishguard Goodwick Breakwater

Fishguard Goodwick Breakwater

There are two lights at Fishguard, one on the northern breakwater, the other at the end of the Goodwick Sea Wall. The latter is also a breakwater, and is open to all. A rowing tournament was in full swing as I walked its length, involving dozens of local teams, ranging from the semi-professional to somewhat shambolic bands of friends, who looked as though they’d been coaxed out of the local pub to take part.

On the end of the breakwater is a white-painted steel lattice tower, mounted on a stone platform. It’s about forty feet tall, with a red-flashing, solar-powered light on top. My guidebook suggests it was built around 1913, and its light is visible for ten miles.

Fishguard North Breakwater

Fishguard North Breakwater

The lighthouse on the northern breakwater is more substantial. It dates to when the breakwater itself was constructed in 1906. It’s an octagonal stone tower, with a pair of galleries and a single lantern. Today it emits a flashing green light, visible for thirteen miles, although it was red-flashing when originally built. Like the light on Goodwick Sea Wall, it is solar powered.

I couldn’t get close up, because the northern breakwater is owned and managed by Stena, which operates the terminal’s ferry service between Fishguard and Rosslare, in Ireland. I had to settle for a series of long-range photos from the eastern breakwater opposite.

Fishguard Rear Lights

Fishguard Rear Lights

On the hillside behind Fishguard railway station, between the two breakwaters, there are also a pair of white metal posts, each with a triangular daymark, and showing a green range light. I tracked them down eventually, following a path through a small field of allotments.

I found an inexpensive, though unexciting, guest house in a residential street behind the ferry terminal. I put together an evening meal from a variety of short-date pastries and wraps from the Spar at a petrol station on the main road. I laid them out on my bed, found a repeat of Dad’s Army on BBC2, and called it a day.


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