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Ed Peppitt (aka The Beacon Bike)

+44 (0)1233 234455

100 days 3,500 miles 327 lighthouses


Hayle Heritage

Seven miles out of St Ives, the harbour town of Hayle has a rich industrial heritage, having exported Cornwall’s coal, copper, tin and iron over several centuries. At one stage, rival iron foundries were built at either end of the town. In 2006 the town was awarded World Heritage status in recognition of its historic industrial importance. Since the war, the town has relied more on tourism, boasting miles of fine sandy beaches and an estuary teaming with birdlife.

I reached the estuary by mid-morning, later than planned thanks to an excellent but somewhat amateurly served breakfast at the Green Apple. Five of us had entered the dining room at roughly the same time, two couples and me, and this was clearly too much for Adrian. He kept his cool, but it had taken him more than an hour to serve us all with tea, coffee and a plate of hot food.

As it happens, I was grateful, because I reached Hayle as the tide was coming in, an event well worth experiencing. The incoming tide fills the estuary from both entrances, leaving a shrinking strip of sand in the middle. At high tide, the two beaches merge together, enabling the harbour to continue to serve a small fishing fleet as well as numerous leisure users and charter boats.

I was here thanks to a pair of lights sited on the western side of the river entrance. When lined up, they mark a safe channel into the harbour. They replaced the original light built in 1840, but my various guidebooks and online resources disagree about whether these lights are still operational. As I was here in bright sunshine I had no means of determining which source was right.



Nevertheless, I discovered the first of the two lights, the rear light, in a very poor state. Lying at the edge of a golf course, at one of the highest points in the dunes above the estuary, is a sad-looking square concrete box, covered in graffiti, standing on stilts. On its seaward side, it is in slightly better repair – painted white, with a broad, red horizontal band to serve also as a daymark.

The front light proved much harder to find, and I was running out of time fast. The tide was coming in, and I made a poor attempt to hide the bike in the dunes to make a dash along the beach to search for it. It proved elusive, and when eventually I found a decaying structure close to the beach, I wasn’t even certain that it was the old front light I was looking for. I concluded that it must have been, took a handful of photographs, and returned to the bike only minutes before the two waters met.

My work in Hayle was done, but the town continued to deliver. The route to Godrevey and Portreath that Google planned for me took me through the King George V Memorial Walk, a long promenade alongside the water at Cooperhouse Pool. On one side lies the calmest water, on the other almost a mile of the most meticulous, perfectly maintained gardens imaginable, with lush, green grass cut shorter than a bowling green, and a blaze of colour in every flowerbed.

Once the park and the town were behind me, the terrain changed and returned quickly to the wild Cornish coast depicted in the guidebooks. My target was the heathland at Godrevy, at the north-east entrance to St Ives Bay. It is managed by the National Trust, with Godrevy Island, home to the beautiful lighthouse – said to be the inspiration for Virginia Wolfe’s novel, To the Lighthouse – barely three hundred metres offshore.

The island can only be reached by boat, but the lighthouse is so close to the coast path that it really didn’t matter. I was happy to sit close to the shore and reel off a hundred or more photographs.


The first half of the nineteenth century saw the development of fishing and industrial trade in St Ives, and with it an increase in ships along the north coast of Cornwall. The Stones, a dangerous reef opposite St Ives, caused many ships to wreck, but it was not until the steamer Nile was wrecked in 1854, with the loss of all passengers and crew, that a lighthouse was commissioned.

It was designed by Trinity House engineer James Walker, and built in the middle of the largest of the rocks that make up Godrevy Island. The main structure is a white octagonal tower, eighty-five feet high, made from rubble stone bedded in mortar. A pair of cottages providing accommodation for the keepers was also built, and the lighthouse was originally maintained by a pair of keepers at all times.



It shows a white flashing light, at ten-second intervals, originally visible for seventeen miles. It also shows a fixed red light marking The Stones reef.

The lighthouse was automated as early as 1933, and the keepers’ cottages were demolished at the same time. It was modernised again in 1995 and converted to solar power. In 2012, the light was moved from the tower to a new steel structure on an adjacent rock. Although it retains the same light pattern, the replacement light is now visible for just eight miles.

I stopped for lunch at the National Trust cafe on the heath, where every other patron was a surfer. There was no one else in the cafe older than twenty-five at most, and the wetsuits they were wearing only served to draw attention to their impossibly slim, fit frames. I was aware that the body-fitting cycling top I was wearing was having the same effect – although with my fifty-year-old, seventeen-stone frame, it was somewhat less flattering.

Portreath is eight miles further up the coast, and my route followed a glorious B-road that stayed on top of the headland the whole way. I wanted to stop and explore enticing-sounding places like Hell’s Mouth and Basset’s Cove, but I was keen to press on as far as Newquay, so I needed to keep moving.

Portreath Harbour

Portreath Harbour

In the early nineteenth century, Portreath was an important port, sending copper ore to Swansea for smelting, and bringing Welsh coal to power the steam engines used at the mines. The harbour was extended at around this time, and a circular stone tower, with a light on its flat roof, was built at the end of the Landmark Pier in 1812.

Portreath Daymark

Portreath Daymark

On the hill above the harbour, a twenty-five-foot tall, white-painted conical tower was built to serve as a daymark. Together these two aids to navigation guided shipping safely away from the hazardous Gull Rock and Horse Rock. The light has long since been removed, but both structures remain and have benefitted from recent coats of white paint.

I liked Portreath and would have been pleased to linger. It’s a popular but unassuming place, with affluent Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses lining one side of the seafront road, and modern flats and houses on the other. The beaches here are said to be popular with surfers and naturists, but there was a strong, chilly breeze and everyone I encountered was fully clothed and wrapped up.

I left Portreath after a break for a decent pasty from the Portreath Bakery, knowing that I had a twenty-mile inland slog to get to Newquay. I was intrigued, though, because I had managed to book an en-suite room in a Newquay hotel, with breakfast, for just £10.

Close to seven o’clock I reached Newquay, and was pleasantly surprised that the hotel seemed OK. I was a bit concerned that the reception desk was surrounded by strong steel shutters, but what concerned me most was that there must have been sixty or more rooms in the hotel, and I was the only guest. I found a friendly evening porter, who doubled as the barman when required, who checked me in. He was about to draw my attention to the £30 damage deposit, but took pity on me, clearly deciding that I was not the sort of person to cause trouble. He showed me to my room, which contained a pair of bunk beds and a bathroom without a door. Absolutely everything in the room was screwed down on to the walls and floors, including beds, table, chair and mirror.

Nevertheless, the room was clean and perfectly serviceable, and my cheapest night so far. I discovered that, out of season, it’s only ever booked for hen and stag parties, and only on Friday and Saturday nights. A booking on a Monday in June was rare, and the porter seemed genuinely pleased when two walkers arrived looking for a bed for the night, and a third came in to ask for directions. This was clearly the most he’d had to contend with for some time.

The town itself was heaving. But despite the number and variety of pubs and eating places, I felt a little uninspired. It could have been tiredness. It had been a long day. As I took in what Newquay had to offer, I didn’t get why it’s the most popular resort in Cornwall. I was clearly not the right demographic for this place.

I cycled past a Co-op, where I discovered that all the unsold fresh food had been marked down in price, and I managed to pick up a chicken pasta salad for 39p, and a ham sandwich for 29p. That was my supper sorted for less than £1 which, alongside my £10 hotel room, made Newquay just about the cheapest place on earth. I celebrated my good fortune by adding a bottle of Rioja to my basket, which I am ashamed to admit cost more than my dinner, bed and breakfast combined.


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