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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 31: Falmouth to Penzance

by | Jul 23, 2022

Newlyn Harbour

A new frame of mind

I left Falmouth in an altogether more positive mental state than the one in which I had arrived. After a day of recuperation, and with clean clothes and a working phone, I felt renewed and full of energy for the thirty miles to Penzance. It helped that the bad weather has passed, and the forecast for several days ahead was warm sunshine.

In my original plans I would have been heading for The Lizard, but having spent last week there with Emily and the children, I could cycle inland for a while, and rejoin the cost near Marazion. The route involved eight uphill miles from the outset, but then delivered the reward of nearly twenty more that were either flat or downhill.

I reached Marazion by late morning, where I stopped for more than an hour with a pot of tea at Jordan’s Cafe. There was a spectacular view out to St Michael’s Mount, a tidal island linked to the mainland by a man-made causeway that is passable at low water. It is the Cornish counterpart of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France, with which it shares more than a passing resemblance. It has been in the ownership of the St Aubyn family for 230 years, although managed by the National Trust for the last sixty-five years or so.

I felt slightly anxious because from the comfort of the cafe I worried that the island seemed ideally suited to a lighthouse. But no amount of research suggested that there was one. I was quite pleased, because the tide was up and it would have been several hours before a crossing would be possible.

When I eventually got moving again I was able to leave the road and join the South West Coast Path, nestled between the seafront and the railway line. It took me in glorious solitude all the way into Penzance and, before I was really aware of it, I was standing outside Penzance railway station. I’ve been here several times, most recently when we had a summer holiday on the Isles of Scilly in 2009, when Willow, my Labrador, had laid down diagonally across the train corridor for the entire journey, and had steadfastly refused to move for passenger, conductor or drinks trolley.

Penzance

Penzance

Penzance

The harbour is just a few minutes on from the station, and I knew exactly where to find the lighthouse. It’s a white-painted, cast-iron tower, thirty-one feet high, built in 1855 when the pier was extended. Originally its light was fuelled by colza oil, although whale sperm oil was used in stormy, winter weather, which lasted longer and ensured that the keeper did not need to remain on site overnight.

It was electrified during modernisation in 1914, when a 1,000 candle-power light was installed. It flashes red to each side, every five seconds, to mark the Gear Rock, with a white inner sector light to mark the safe passage into harbour. The light is visible for nine miles.

It was still only early afternoon, so although I needed to find somewhere to stay in Penzance, I decided to cycle on to Newlyn to see the harbour light there. It was only a mile further on and I was there in less than fifteen minutes. Newlyn is a busy fishing port, once famous for pilchards and herrings, but these days lands more than forty species of fish and shellfish.

Newlyn

Newlyn

Newlyn

The harbour at Newlyn is much more workmanlike than at Penzance, and the south pier, on which the lighthouse stands, is off limits. But there’s a perfect view from the Victoria Pier opposite.

It is another white-painted, cast-iron tower, thirty-three feet high, flashing a white light every five seconds, which is visible for nine miles. There is a weathervane on top of the lantern whose mount, together with the base of the tower, is painted red. It was built in 1915, when the pier was extended by 100 feet, and electrified in 1935.

The Victoria Pier has a simple light of its own, a fixed white light, visible for four miles, mounted on a cast-iron column. In addition, the two quays that formed the original harbour at Newlyn have simple fixed red lights.

Back in Penzance I had a lot of admin to sort out. I returned to the harbour and bought a return ferry crossing to the Isles of Scilly, departing the next morning. I booked in to the Duporth Guest House where the owner, a friendly chap called Steve, offered to look after my bike for the two days I would be away. His wife seemed less keen, and it was only when I realised that he planned to prop it up against the sofa in his private living room that I understood why.

I tracked down the newsagents that serves as a collection point for parcels from a range of couriers. I was delighted to find a parcel from home waiting for me, containing cards, messages, chocolate and photographs. The most important news from home was that the head teacher at Tom’s school had tracked down his bully, called in his parents and read them all the riot act.

The parcel also contained a month’s supply of my medication, in pre-filled syringes, for my MS. It was a complicated arrangement, because the formula needs to be kept below five degrees centigrade at all times. Right from day one, I had converted my front nearside cycle pannier into a makeshift cool box, and each night I had been freezing a series of ice bags in hotel and guest house freezers to ensure that the medication remained cool during each day’s ride. This new batch from home was encased in a leakproof cold polystyrene box, filled with ice packs, and the thirty syringes were still as cold as when they came out of the kitchen fridge the day before. I wouldn’t have to worry about medicine supplies until I reached North Wales.

The last of my tasks proved to be the hardest. It hadn’t occurred to me that in the middle of the week, during school term time, I would have any difficulty finding accommodation on Scilly. However, two engineering projects in Hugh Town had swallowed up all the island’s guest house capacity, and I was really struggling. It didn’t help that I had just sunk nearly £100 on a ferry crossing. After more than a dozen phone calls I struck lucky and Lisa, owner of The Byelet, offered me the use of a two-bedroom, self-catering flat for the same price as her standard rooms.

With lodgings on Scilly sorted, I returned to the Duporth Guest House in good spirits. As I opened the front door, Steve greeted me heartily, although his wife seemed a bit less effusive. I think she wanted her living room back.

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