When the Armada was sighted, fire beacons carried the warning from Land’s End (western tip of Cornwall) to the rest of the country (this link has some details on how the system worked).
"Armada Beacon on Culver Down with Spithead in the background." Photo © John Garfoot (cc-by-sa/2.0)
In trying to find out how long the news took to reach London, I came across a mass of either vague or seemingly contradictory information. Several sources simply state “fires springing up along the headlands” or “from headland to headland, the smoke towered skyward” or ““leaping from hill to hill”.” All very dramatic, but not very helpful.
This is a little more helpful:
News of a landing on the south coast could, with luck, reach London within the hour, with fuller details following on, carried by a string of post horses.
But where from? There is over 300 miles (482 Km) of 'south coast', from Cornwall in the west to Kent in the east, the latter being much closer to London than the former.
A very specific time is given by a user on a Lord of the Rings fan site (discussing how long it took to get a message from Gondor to Rohan):
When the Spanish armarda was spotted off the coast of lands end in South West England, the first beacon was lit. They raced Eastwards to London, and the last beacon was lit in London only 1/2 an hour after the first. So the people in London 300 miles away knew the Spanish were coming in half an hour.
Despite claiming to cite “historical facts", no source is given for this, and it seems improbable given that at least twenty beacons had to be lit between Land’s End and London (assuming 15 miles (24 km) between each beacon).
More believable is this from the National Trust:
It is said that in 1588 it took 12 hours for the news that the Spanish Armada had been sighted to travel from the south coast of England all the way to York.
Is there anything in the historical record to tell us how long it took news of the sighting of the Spanish Armada to get from Land’s End to London?
If not, has anyone with an in-depth knowledge of the Elizabethan beacon system, the terrain, the weather and any other relevant factors come up with an estimate?