Darkness in Eden
My YHA pod was surprisingly comfortable, and with the shipping container affording almost no natural light, it was nearly nine before I woke up. However, the pouring rain and gale force winds provided little incentive to leave the relative shelter of the forestry surrounding The Eden Project.
I sat in the marquee reading until 11am, when I abandoned any hope that the weather was about to clear. The ten miles to Mevagissey seemed to take no time at all, such was the strength of the wind behind me for a change. But the harbour front was so blowy that I had to get off the bike and push the last half mile.
I’d been cycling for less than an hour, but the aptly named Lighthouse Cafe was too much of a temptation, and I found a Cornish pasty, a slice of coffee and walnut cake and a large pot of tea waiting.
I love Mevagissey. It was once the centre of Cornwall’s pilchard fishing industry, and the village’s distinctive inner and outer harbours are still used by several dozen small fishing boats today. It’s a really attractive village, nestled in a small valley between the steep slopes of the surrounding hillsides. Although its narrow streets are full of gift shops, craft workshops, galleries, cafés and pubs, it feels more of a working village than others along this stretch of coast, and is all the nicer for it.
I felt bloated after my lunch, and the steamed-up windows of the cafe suggested that the weather had not cleared. Judging by how each new customer entered, theatrically sighing while shaking out each layer of clothing as it was removed, it had got worse. I inched my way around the harbour, onto the pier, and just about made out the white, cast-iron tower on the end.
The Victorian Pier Head Lighthouse at Mevagissey was built in 1896 on the south pier protecting the outer harbour. It has a hexagonal cast-iron tower, twenty-six feet tall, painted white with a black band around the base. The lantern houses a white light that flashes twice every ten seconds. The light is visible for twelve miles, and there is also a fog-signal mounted on the gallery that sounds every thirty seconds in reduced visibility.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) June 1, 2015
Leaving Mevagissey, I had a decision to make. There should have been time enough to cycle the twenty or so miles on to St Anthony’s, famous for the distinctive lighthouse that my generation remember for being featured in Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock. It wasn’t the mileage that concerned me, but the nine hills that my route planner indicated I needed to conquer to get there. Even after a month on the road, I had acquired no satisfactory strategy for cycling uphill.
There was a further challenge. A few hundred metres before St Anthony’s lighthouse is a quay, from where I could make a ten-minute ferry crossing to Falmouth on the other side of the bay, where I was booked to stay. The last ferry of the day was at six o’clock. If I missed it, I would have no option but to cycle an additional thirty miles around the bay, via Truro.
I took a punt. Foolish, really, as barely an hour into the ride I realised that I could have cycled straight to Falmouth, and then caught the ferry to St Anthony’s first thing in the morning. It was too late, though, and I was committed. The rain was relentless, as were the winds. It was hateful cycling, and I had to stop every half mile or so to clean and de-mist my glasses. Several times I considered writing off the cost of the hostel I’d booked in Falmouth and finding somewhere local to stay. But it became increasingly obvious that there was nowhere local, and that I was on a beautiful, but entirely empty peninsular, with just the occasional farmhouse and parked-up camper van for company.
Against the odds, I reached St Anthony’s at around five o’clock. It’s a remarkable building, and I was envious of people who book the former keepers’ accommodation for a holiday. It was exactly as I’d imagined, and I couldn’t help but hum the tune to the cartoon that was such a part of my childhood.
Dance your cares away,
Worry’s for another day.
Let the music play,
Down at Fraggle Rock.
Through tears of nostalgia, mixed with rain that refused to give way, I took a selfie and photographs from every conceivable angle. I was glad to have made it, and I cycled on to the quay pleased with my accomplishment.
My contentment was very short lived, however. Due to the winds and sea conditions, the ferries had not been operating all day.
St Anthony’s is the unusual-looking lighthouse at Saint Anthony’s Point, built in 1835 to mark the entrance to Falmouth Harbour, one of the deepest natural harbours in the world. The lighthouse was needed to guide vessels into harbour, safely avoiding The Manacles, a series of treacherous rocks off The Lizard peninsula.
The lighthouse was designed by Trinity House’s consultant engineer James Walker, and comprises a white-painted, octagonal granite tower, sixty-two feet tall, with balcony and lantern. Two-storey keepers’ accommodation is attached.
Originally, the light was powered by eight Argand oil lamps, and its flashing pattern delivered using revolving parabolic reflectors, powered by clockwork. Mains electricity was installed in 1954, at the same time as the large bell, used as a fog signal, was replaced by a modern fog horn.
St Anthony’s Lighthouse was automated in 1987, and these days it shows an occulting white light, visible for sixteen miles, as well as a red sector to mark The Manacles, visible for twenty miles.
Beautiful lighthouse, bleak weather. Gales and driving rain. Fog horn sounding. This is St Anthony's near Falmouth pic.twitter.com/Mljoy7G2Sh
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) June 1, 2015
Sobbing was becoming my default method for dealing with stress and anxiety. I was exhausted. I was hungry. It was already early evening. And with no ferry, I was nearly thirty miles from Falmouth. Far from clearing up, the skies were closing in and the rain and gales were as strong as they had been all day.
I sat under a tree alongside the quay for shelter. I tried to come up with a plan, but I had absolutely nothing to offer. Not for the first time I wanted to give up, but I didn’t even know what giving up meant. Constructing some sort of makeshift shelter and sleeping here, under this tree?
At six thirty, I concluded that my only option was to cycle through the weather as far as Truro, at least. I set off, reciting the 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 routine that has always helped me to face adversity in the past. This evening, it achieved nothing other than to increase my tears. The more I cried, the less I could see of the road in front of me.
I don’t want to revisit the four hours that followed, even in my mind. But at ten o’clock, I was greeted at the Falmouth Lodge Backpackers Hostel in Falmouth by Judy, an eccentric and Bohemian host, who has created her refuge in the image and style of the backpacking hostels she frequented in her own travelling days.
Everything I own was soaked through, with the most serious casualty my phone. It was my connection with family, and my means of plotting the journey and posting about it for the small but enthusiastic audience I had acquired. The screen was dead, and so wet that I could see water moving about underneath the glass.
The fate of the phone seemed symbolic, and represented how I felt at that moment. This was it. I was done. Spent. I would be heading home in the morning.
Late night into Falmouth. Driving winds & rain. Phone wet & dead. May need a day to dry out body, soul and contents of panniers! #beaconbike
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) June 2, 2015