Beacon Bike Logo

Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

+44 (0)1233 234455

100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Day 37: Newquay to Boscastle

by | Aug 13, 2022

Trevose Head

Colourful Cornwall

I have nothing against Newquay, but I was not sorry to leave the town either. I never did establish quite why it has such a draw, and I was happy to leave it to the surfers and the stag and hen weekenders.

I had a reasonably straight, fifteen-mile stretch of coast road ahead of me, which an initial glance at my map suggested would be fairly easy going. My GPS indicated otherwise, however, warning me of at least eight ascents, and marking the route as only really suitable for fit, experienced cyclists.

I felt energised by the Cornish landscape, which at this time of year seemed richly and intensely colourful. So blue was the water below me, so bright the flora in the hedgerows, that if I had photographed what I could see, you would have asked me what filters I had used to achieve the effect. Talking of the hedgerows, I spent much of the morning staring at them, so sluggish was my progress uphill. I may have been closing in on my first 1,000 miles, but even now I was off the bike and pushing at the first sign of anything that might reasonably be defined as a hill.

I could see the lighthouse at Trevose Head a couple of miles ahead, but I was drawn towards the smell of fresh coffee coming from the clubhouse of what was clearly a golf club for the well-heeled. I was banking on it being open to non-members, and was pleased to discover that it was. My next concern was the dress code, and whether it might exclude a sweating, slightly grubby cyclist. Again, my fears were ungrounded, and I stayed for almost an hour.

The final approach to the lighthouse was largely flat, with the rough, granite cliffs on my left contrasting with the oranges and the yellows of the wildflowers on the headland all around. I discovered that these cliffs are renowned for the presence of several uncommon plants, including the shore dock, wild asparagus and golden samphire. It’s a popular area for birdwatchers as well, with populations of fulmars, razorbills, peregrines and guillemots.

For such an apparently wild and inaccessible place, the signs warning motorists about parking penalties, and the likelihood of being clamped or towed away, seemed a little incongruous. On one stretch of road no longer than 300 metres, I passed at least eight bright yellow enforcement signs. Who on earth is so keen to park here, and why?

Beyond the reach of National Trust petty officialdom, the lighthouse itself was splendid. Its tower was built right at the extremity of the headland, with two single-storey cottages for keepers at either side, one facing west, the other north towards Lundy and the Bristol Channel. They are available as holiday lets these days and, while I love the thought of a wild and romantic stay here, regretfully it is not a place where someone with a fear of heights could possibly relax.

Trevose Head

Although a lighthouse on this stretch of the Cornish coast was proposed as early as 1809, it wasn’t until 1847 that Trinity House built the light at Trevose Head. Until then, ships and maritime traffic using the Bristol Channel had to rely on the Longships Lighthouse to the south, or the old Lundy Lighthouse to the north.

The lighthouse is situated on the north-western point of the headland, on the top of grey granite cliffs 150 feet above the sea. Designed by engineer James Walker, it comprises an eighty-nine-foot tall, white-painted tower, whose lantern currently displays a white flashing light, visible for twenty-one miles. There is a single-storey keeper’s cottage on either side of the tower.

Trevose Head

Trevose Head

Originally this was the higher of a pair of leading lights, but the original low light was decommissioned in 1882, when the light in the main tower was converted to an occulting oil lamp. The light was again improved in 1911, and the keepers’ accommodation was modernised at the same time.

The lighthouse was electrified in 1974, and then fully automated in 1995, when the keepers were withdrawn from service. The existing optic was retained, but its character altered to a single flash every 7.5 seconds. The original red screens were removed to give its current characteristic white light.

 

My ultimate destination for the day was Boscastle, where I was booked in at the famous Wellington Inn. Between Trevose and Boscastle, however, lay a series of Cornwall’s most fêted resorts, which I would need to pass straight through if I was to reach Boscastle before nightfall. So Padstow, Rock, Port Isaac and Tintagel would all need to be explored properly on another occasion.

Padstow is a particularly beautiful town, with its eclectic mix of fishermen’s cottages and merchants’ houses arranged around a very pretty harbour. Its popularity is partly down to its food, with celebrity chef Rick Stein owning several restaurants here.

Padstow

Padstow

The Strand was absolutely heaving, and I found myself on the quayside with dozens of others awaiting the little foot-passenger ferry that crosses the Camel Estuary to Rock, on the opposite bank. Although Padstow doesn’t boast a lighthouse as such, several red and green lights are mounted on poles at the entrance into the harbour, as well as at one end of the north quay.

At the mouth of Padstow Bay lies The Doom Bar, a bank of sand immortalised by a beer of the same name. Legend has it that the Mermaid of Padstow fell in love with a local man and tried to entice him below the waves. Although he managed to escape by shooting the mermaid, she cursed the harbour with a ‘bar of doom’, which ultimately brought about the wrecking of ships and the drowning of men.

The crossing took just a few minutes, and cost £3 for me, and another £3 for the bike. We were untroubled by mermaids, and managed to cross safely.

The coastal fishing village of Rock seemed considerably quieter than Padstow, although I must have avoided the town centre, because I never saw what my guidebook described as a ‘string of boutique shops, beachfront cafes and exclusive restaurants’. My route passed a small bakery and cafe, where the teenager serving was clearly hoping to close early. Despite being open for another hour, at least, I was encouraged to take my pasty and mug of tea outside so as not to dirty the tables she had just finished wiping clean.

Boscastle was still a two-hour slog ahead of me, following a series of popular, inland tourist roads. I managed to take up just enough of the road to cause maximum disruption and annoyance to the traffic, with caravans in particular needing long, straight stretches to overtake me. I stopped whenever I could, but there were no pavements and few lay-bys. I knew that I had just as much right to the road as the motor car, but my instinct was to get as close to the kerb as I could, in the hope that this would mollify the drivers behind me. In road safety terms, it’s probably the worst thing I could have done, but eventually I reached the sign to Boscastle unscathed.

The final descent into Boscastle was exhilarating, and I put to the back of my mind the thought of having to climb back up this hill in the morning. The village is breathtaking, boasting some very attractive thatched and white-washed cottages. It has a natural harbour, set in a narrow ravine, and was once a prominent port, boasting its own fishing fleet, and importing limestone and coal, and exporting slate and other local produce.

The Wellington Inn is one of the oldest coaching inns in Cornwall, and guests have included Thomas Hardy, who fell in love in Boscastle, as well as members of the Royal Family. I had been here before, when walking the South West Coast Path, but since my last visit the village had made headline news when it suffered devastating floods in 2004. A month’s rainfall fell in two hours, turning the Main Street into a river, and trapping residents on the roofs of houses and cars. Although there were no fatalities, fifty cars were washed into the harbour, and the village’s bridge collapsed. In total, homes, businesses and cars belonging to more than 1,000 people were swept away.

Betty Stogs

Betty Stogs

My first impression was that the inn’s elegant, turreted frontage seemed very familiar, and so must have escaped the floods largely unscathed. However, photographs on the stairs and landings told a different story, and evidently much rebuilding and refurbishment work had been necessary. It is a peaceful and welcoming place to stay, and over a couple of pints of Betty Stogs, the only thing gnawing away at my sense of calm and contentment was the thought of having to push the bike back up the hill in the morning.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *