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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Days 85 & 86: Nettleton to Wells-next-the-Sea via Hunstanton

by | Jan 30, 2023


With the only remaining Lincolnshire lighthouse eighty miles south, I elected to continue along NCN Route 1, which headed inland, rather than follow the coast roads. This was, after all, a lighthouse cycle tour rather than a coastal one, and so I didn’t feel obliged to have the sea in sight at all times.

For almost a day and a half, I followed quiet lanes, railway lines (some working, others disused) and riverside paths. I stopped at a tired-looking pub close to the river near Tattershall Bridge, where a dried-out, pre-plated portion of fish pie proved to be the wrong choice from the menu. The pint of Batemans that accompanied it tasted like it had been poured at the time the fish pie had originally been made.

The pub was empty, apart from the barman and a couple on a nearby table arguing about cushions. She wanted a lift into Boston to buy some new cushions she had seen in a local newspaper ad. He was unwilling to provide the lift, arguing that they had enough cushions already. Too many cushions, in fact.

His intransigence provoked her, and she complained that he obviously hadn’t noticed that she’d got rid of most of the cushions in the living room.

‘Of course I’ve noticed’, he replied, ‘You couldn’t fail to notice’.

‘We’ve only got four cushions in the living room now. That’s why I want to buy some new ones’, she continued.

‘That’s still four cushions more than we need,’ came the reply.

The delightful market square in Boston almost tempted me to call it a day and find a room for the night, but I decided to press on another fifteen miles to Holbeach. As I entered the town, I worried that I had booked The Chequers, which seemed on its last legs and partly boarded up. But a quick glance at my phone confirmed that I had booked The Horse & Groom, which looked much more promising.

After the ten miles to Sutton Bridge the following morning, the bleak, exposed landscape alongside the River Nene reminded me of home on Romney Marsh, although perhaps there were even fewer trees here, and even flatter fields. The crosswinds felt very familiar though, and they made the last mile or so to the lighthouse on the west bank of the river slow going.

When I reached the lighthouse, I was only a stone’s throw from the one on the opposite bank. But in order to say that I had visited both, I had to navigate another four miles of riverside lanes, returning first to Sutton Bridge to cross the river.

River Nene lights

It’s not an obvious location for a pair of lighthouses, standing on each bank of a straight, tranquil river mouth, with no obvious rocks or hazards in the sea beyond. They were built in 1831, after the river was realigned and straightened to create the Nene Outfall, where the river emerges into the Wash.

River Nene East West

River Nene East West

The lighthouses each have tapered, circular towers, about sixty feet tall, and octagonal lanterns with circular windows facing the entry to the channel. Some sources suggest that neither lighthouse was ever lit, while others assert that if a high tide occurred after dark, they were lit for approximately one and a half hours before and after high tide to guide ships through the sand banks and into the river.

Both lighthouses have more surrounding buildings than they were originally equipped with, and are now comfortable private homes. The lighthouse on the east bank is also known as the Sir Peter Scott Lighthouse, named after the naturalist and artist who lived here in the 1930s. He purchased much of the surrounding marshland and established a nature reserve, which is now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

Leaving Lincolnshire for Norfolk, I took a dislike to the ‘sunny and elegant classic seaside resort’ of Hunstanton for two reasons. First, because its reputation as the only west-facing seaside resort on the east coast of Britain has resulted in some of the highest accommodation prices I had encountered. I couldn’t find a room in the town for less than £125 a night. Second, because it was pouring with rain, and the seafront promenade was laden with miserable, anorak-clad families huddled together around the little brick viewpoint shelters that lined the parade.

As I cycled past one family, a boy aged about nine or ten was stamping his feet aggressively, shouting:

‘I just want to go home! Now!’

You and me both, I thought.

I found shelter myself, to give me a chance to seek out a bed for the night online. I tracked down slightly cheaper accommodation in Wells-next-the-Sea, another twenty miles along NCN Route 1, but before heading off I cycled up to the former lighthouse, on the grassy headland on the edge of town.


The first lighthouses at Hunstanton were a pair of leading lights, built of stone in 1665. Together, they guided ships safely through the sandbanks in the Wash. The front light was candle-lit, while the rear was coal-fired. They were referred to as the ‘Chapel Lights’, perhaps because before they were built, sailors relied on the lights burning in St Edmund’s Chapel to guide them.

The pair of lights were said to be in poor repair by 1710, and by 1750 the smaller of the two had been decommissioned. By the time John Cary’s county map of 1794 was published, only one lighthouse was shown standing.



In about 1776, the rear lighthouse was destroyed by fire, and replaced with a wooden tower with a simple square lantern room. In 1837, Trinity House acquired the lease for the lighthouse at Hunstanton, and commissioned a new lighthouse designed by James Walker, which was first lit in 1840. It has a white-painted cylindrical brick tower, sixty-three feet tall, with lantern and gallery. Initially, it displayed a fixed white light, visible for sixteen miles, but from 1844 a red sector was added to the light, which indicated the position of the Roaring Middle shoal.

By 1921, the light vessel at Inner Dowsing, together with other lights around the wash, made the Hunstanton Lighthouse redundant. A year later the lighthouse was decommissioned, and its lantern was removed. The tower was used as an artillery observation post during the Second World War, and was sold as a private dwelling some time afterwards.

Wells-next-the-Sea is charming, and although only slightly less expensive than guest houses in Hunstanton, the Boxwood Guest House was luxurious, spotlessly clean and came with several slices of homemade lemon drizzle cake.

I explored the main shopping street, and passed the Country Garden, a greengrocer, where I felt a sudden and urgent need to eat some fresh fruit. They must have been doing something right because every other holidaymaker seemed to share the urge, and I found myself in a queue that extended out of the store and along the street. What was their secret? I have no explanation, but suffice to say I bought six loose, juicy-looking peaches and ate them all, one by one, on the pavement outside. If I hadn’t recently enjoyed the lemon drizzle cake, I might well have eaten six more.

I discovered that if you want anything in Wells-next-the-Sea in July, you have to be patient and prepared to queue. The line outside the fish and chip shop seemed to extend halfway back to Hunstanton, and when I asked in a pub if I could book a table for dinner, the chap behind the bar just laughed. My B&B host steered me towards a decent pub on the outskirts of the town, however, where I spent more money than I could spare on beer-battered cod, with minted crushed peas and hand-cut chips. I had a couple of pints of Woodforde’s Wherry to wash it down with as well.


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