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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

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100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses

Pendeen Lighthouse

Lamorna Cove

The road from Penzance to Mouseholes follows the cliff road, and is part of National Cycle Route 3, ultimately connecting Land’s End with Bristol. I was bound for Lamorna Cove, the nearest point to Tater Du lighthouse, which my map indicated I could reach easily on the bike. I thought that there had to be an access road of some sort, but if there was then it wasn’t marked on the map.

A quick search for more information about Lamorna Cove unearthed 160 one-star reviews on Tripadvisor. Apparently, an exploitative private parking company in Exeter counted using the car park to turn around as parking, and issued £160 fines to every car spotted doing so, using a series of drones and hidden cameras. It is a shame for the proprietors of the cafe at the cove, whose business must have suffered, such is the feeling of resentment from holidaymakers and locals alike.

I took the view that as my bike has no registration number, I was unlikely to be fined for chaining it to the car park railings. But my research left me feeling uneasy, and my only comfort was that if the hidden cameras are as efficient as the reviews suggested, they would also prove pretty handy if the bike was stolen.

The walk to Tater Du, along the South West Coast Path, was a lot longer than I expected, and became a scramble in one or two places. It took nearly forty minutes before I spotted the squat, modern lighthouse, whose shape is so familiar. As a child, my parents had given me a copy of Derrick Jackson’s excellent guide, Lighthouses of England and Wales, and Tater Du was the most modern lighthouse in the Trinity House fleet at the time. I recall marvelling at its seemingly space-age architecture, and its equally unusual name.

Tater Du

Tater Du

Tater Du

After a French trawler bound for Dieppe was wrecked between Longships and the Lizard in 1962, and a Spanish ship was wrecked off Boscawen Point in 1963, Trinity House planned an additional lighthouse at Tater Du, on the cliffs between the coves at Lamorna and Porthcurno.

It’s a strikingly modern, fifty-foot-high, circular concrete tower, painted white, with an adjoining, single-story service building behind. It was completed in 1965, and was the first new Trinity House lighthouse to be built for sixty years. It is still the newest in the fleet, if you don’t count Bull Point, which was rebuilt in 1972 after landslides caused the existing lighthouse to collapse.

A fog signal was originally built into the tower as a series of seventy-two Tannoy units, laid out in rows, giving the seaward side of the lighthouse a honeycomb pattern. This was decommissioned in 2012.

The lighthouse was designed from the outset to be automated and unstaffed. Power is provided by batteries that are being recharged continually from the mains. It emits a white light, flashing three times every fifteen seconds, which is visible for twenty miles. In addition, a red sector light warns shipping of the nearby Runnelstone Rocks. Originally monitored from Penzance, it was modernised in 1996/7, and is now monitored and controlled from Harwich.

Back at Lamorna, I had a long, steep climb to get back on to National Cycle Route 3, and then a leisurely eight miles on to Land’s End.

Land’s End peninsular is renowned worldwide for its hundreds of significant archaeological sites, but in other ways it is quite bleak, and serves mainly to help tourists part with their cash. I have visited only once before, when it played host to a substantial Dr Who exhibition, which the children were very keen to see. Tom was very young at the time, and lasted less than five minutes inside, after a static Dalek suddenly came to life, shouted Exterminate!, and sent him running back to the entrance. That was £25 I wouldn’t see again.

I was here now because of the famous Longships lighthouse, about a mile offshore. I avoided the official photographer, who for £10 will set up and take your photo standing next to a ‘personal’ Land’s End signpost, indicating the number of miles to your home town or city. And without children in tow this time, I made my way straight to the viewpoint from where I could take a series of dramatic pictures looking down to the lighthouse on the rocks below.


Of the many rocks off the coast at Land’s End, the group at Carn Bras, about a mile offshore, is the most dangerous. After a handful of attempts to erect beacons on the rocks, architect Samuel Wyatt was commissioned to design a lighthouse, and his twenty-eight-foot circular granite tower was completed in 1795.



Although the sea often broke over the tower, obscuring the light with spray, it served for nearly eighty years, when then chief engineer at Trinity House, Sir James Douglass, was commissioned to design and build a more effective lighthouse. The Douglass-designed lighthouse was completed in 1873, and was built on similar principles to Smeaton’s light at Eddystone, with a tall, tapering 115-foot-tall granite tower.

Originally employing oil lamps, the light was converted to diesel-powered electric in 1967, and then to solar power in 2005. It was automated in 1998. It emits a white light, flashing twice every ten seconds, which is visible for fifteen miles.

I was not at Land’s End for very long, and it was still only late morning. I hadn’t yet thought where I might stay that evening, and the small town of St Just seemed a bit near, while St Ives, still twenty-five miles distant, a bit far. My map suggested that there were few other options along the way.

TrelawnyFor now, my target was Pendeen lighthouse, on a headland below the village of Pendeen, between St Just and St Ives. I stopped in St Just, a pretty town with a small square, and washed down a fresh, local crab sandwich with a couple of pints of Trelawny at the Kings Arms.

There is not a great deal in Pendeen village, but it is a pretty enough place. There’s a shady bench in well-tended gardens next to the main crossroads, and I took another short break before following the mile-long narrow lane that leads to the lighthouse. This final stretch is spectacular, with the low stone walls on either side of the lane affording panoramic views. Cornwall’s colours differ from Devon’s, with distinctive flowers in vivid reds and bright oranges growing naturally on the sides of all of the lanes and minor roads.

I didn’t know the lighthouse at Pendeen, and as I approached, my first impression was of another squat tower like the one at Berry Head. On arrival, though, I realised that I had been approaching the lighthouse from higher ground, and the tower is a lot taller than I thought initially.


The high cliffs along this section of the Cornish coast mean that passing vessels were often lost, unable to see either the light at Trevose Head (to the east) or Longships (to the west). There was a beacon by a chapel dedicated to St Nicholas nearby, from the early sixteenth century, but this was lost as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.



After a number of wrecks on the groups of exposed rocks near Pendeen Watch, Trinity House commissioned a Cornishman, Sir Thomas Matthews, to build a new lighthouse and fog signal on the headland at Pendeen. It was completed in 1900, a fifty-six-foot high, white-painted rubble stone and cement tower, in a commanding position close to the cliff edge.

An electric lamp replaced the oil lamp in 1926, with revolving optics that sit on a bed of mercury. It emits a white light, flashing four times every fifteen seconds, which is visible for sixteen miles.

The lighthouse was fully automated in 1995.

I decided to press on to St Ives, although it took me an hour of phoning around before I found a bed for the night. It’s a popular destination, and there’s no such thing as a quiet night of the week.

I loved the last ten miles, with wild landscapes of the lushest green bracken, mixed with heathers in a variety of crimson reds and purples. Every few miles, in the most inaccessible terrain, lie the tall, ruined, stone chimneys and roofless shells of former tin mines. The Gurnard’s Head, about halfway between Pendeen and St Ives, seemed too good to miss out on, so I stopped for a late afternoon pint. They serve a number of beers from another local brewery, Skinners, that I hadn’t come across before. I still had a few miles to go, so I opted for a pint of Sennen, the weakest on offer, described as a Cornish Session IPA. Very good it was too.  

St Ives itself was heaving. I made my way to the seafront and tried to cycle along Wharf Road towards the harbour, but there were so many people on foot that the roads only seemed to clear for cars. It’s a thriving place, and despite the crowds I loved it. I made a mental note to return one drizzly weekend in late November, when there’s a chance of finding a hotel and having the pick of the restaurants. It’s a more modern resort than I imagined, with residential and commercial streets mixing several architectural styles, most of them post war.

St Ives Old

St Ives Old

The oldest part of town seems to be around the pier, where the streets suddenly narrow and the houses were evidently built for nobler stock. John Smeaton was commissioned to build the East pier, which was completed in 1770. But a lighthouse wasn’t built on the pier until 1830, when James and Edward Harvey erected an unusual, octagonal gallery on top of a square stone base. It was a gas light, visible for seven miles, which served for sixty years until it became redundant when the pier was extended in 1890. I learned that it was almost destroyed by fire in 1996, although it has since been fully restored. It’s an interesting lighthouse, unlike any I have seen so far, but its appeal is not enhanced by the four large commercial wheelie bins that are stored permanently around its base.

St Ives Current

St Ives Current

When the pier extension was complete, an octagonal, white-painted, cast-iron tower was built on the end. It was prefabricated in Bath and is almost identical to the one at Mevagissey. It shows two green lights, one from the lantern and one from about halfway down the front of the tower. Inexplicably, for the first week of June, a range of brightly coloured Christmas lights hang from the gallery railings.    


I found a room for the night a couple of miles out of town at the Green Apple Guest House. It was opened that year by Adrian, a charming man with great ambition, but someone clearly new to the hospitality sector. It’s great value, and spotlessly clean, but everything is a bit haphazard. Adrian was out shopping when I arrived, and I was sitting on the doorstep for an hour before I managed to get hold of him on the phone, when he gave me a code for the front door. It was only later that I learned that any hotelier offering a clean room in St Ives for less than £80 a night deserved a knighthood.


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