12th November 2021
Lynton & Lynmouth a Charming Harbour and Town
Lynton on the cliffs and Lynmouth on the sea front below are linked by a unique cliff railway and surrounded by stunning countryside.
Nestling in a landscape of wooded valleys and bracken clothed slopes the twin villages of Lynton & Lynmouth offer a variety of attractions and some beautiful walks. Separated by a steep cliff face they form one destination boasting two names and two distinct characteristics. Lynmouth was the first settlement in this area and Lynton was the overspill when Lynmouth was so built-up the only way to expand was up, on the cliff tops above. Nestled on the rugged coastline of North Devon and within the famous Exmoor National Park. this combination offers an interesting destination. Lynmouth is the oldest of the two settlements.
Thomas Gainsborough, who honeymooned in Lynmouth there with his bride Margaret Burr, describe the village as “the most delightful place for a landscape painter this country can boast”. Lynmouth comprises two long narrow streets where visitors can browse the little independent shops or pause for refreshment at the oldest pub in town, The Rising Sun. The town developed around the confluence of the West Lyn and East Lyn. The latter flows through the Glen Lyn Gorge and Power of Water Exhibition uses the waters of this river to demonstrate how water can provide green energy.
The Power of Water Exhibition
Situated at the entrance to the Glen Lyn Gorge, the Power of Water Exhibition celebrates the use of hydroelectric power. In 1890, a hydroelectric power station was built in Lynmouth which became one of the first places in Britain to have electric street lighting. These lights were extinguished during the great flood in 1952 and the power station was later demolished to widen the river. This exhibition also relates another great event in Lynmouth’s history, an epic overland launch of the lifeboat Louisa to Porlock in 1899. Nearby, the Great Flood Memorial Hall also tells the story of the great flood.
The Flood Memorial Hall in Lynmouth
In August 1952 the East Lyn and West Lyn rivers, swollen by days of heavy rainfall, burst their banks and a torrential flood surged through Lynmouth. This massive torrent of water pushed rocks and other debris through the town destroying and damaging more than one hundred buildings, sweeping away 28 bridges and killing 34 people. The scale and suddenness of this disaster led to speculation that Operation Cumulus, cloud seeding experiments being carried out by the Royal Air Force was responsible. But the Ministry of Defence claimed no cloud-seeding experiments were taking place in the UK during early August 1952. In 1958, six years after the flood, when the reconstruction work had been completed, the Lynmouth Flood Memorial Hall was opened. The memorial hall occupies the site of the lifeboat station, destroyed in the flood. It tells the story of the flood and displays a scale model of the village prior to the flood. Close to this hall is a metal installation, The Walker.
The Walker and Exmoor National Park Centre in Lynmouth
Richard Graham created The Walker, a sculpture that symbolises Lynmouth as the meeting point of four exceptional national trails – Coleridge Way, Two Moors Way, South West Coast Path and the Tarka Trail. From a tiny fishing village Lynmouth has evolved to a popular centre for walkers and tourists alike. There is an Exmoor National Park Centre opposite The Walker where visitors can learn about the park and watch some beautiful videos of the park’s natural landscapes. Not far from this centre is the iconic Rhenish Tower.
The Rhenish Tower in Lynmouth
Rhenish Tower was probably built sometime between1832 and 1860, during an era when saltwater bathing became popular. Generally regarded as an eyesore it was built by General Rawdon and gifted to the local community to store salt water for indoor baths. Later it was fitted with an electric light and used as a beacon. The original tower was destroyed in the great flood of 1952 but an exact replica was rebuilt. This replica includes the balconies that were added to the original building in an attempt to improve its appearance. It is generally accepted that the name derives from its similarity to towers on the River Rhine. Close to this tower is a small building that houses the Lyn Model Railway.
Lyn Model Railway in Lynmouth
Model railway enthusiasts will delight in the Lyn Model Railway housed in premises next door to the Lynmouth Parish Church, the church of Saint John. It features a large LNER (London & North Eastern Railway) layout, as it was laid out between 1935 and 1940. Entrance is free but donations are welcomed.
Watersmeet near Lynmouth
A scenic path, through a gorge beside the East Lyn river begins in Lynmouth. This two-mile undulating path goes to Watersmeet which was originally a fishing lodge but has been a tea room since 1901. The lodge occupies a lovely position at the meeting of the East Lyn river and Hoaroak Water. In 1911 the Attree brothers, who lived at Myrtleberry on the banks of the river, established the Lynrock mineral water factory in 1911. This water was reputed to be the most palatable water in the world with radio-active qualities that could cure gout. The Edwardians would come here to sample the water and maybe purchase a few bottles. Ginger beer was also produced here but in 1939 the factory closed due to lack of demand.
The Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway
Lynton and Lynmouth are connected by the Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway which operates two cable-connected single carriages by gravity, using tanks of water. This railway was developed during the nineteenth century when the transportation of goods by sea became a real problem. All freight had to be carried on packhorses or in horse drawn carts up the steep hill to Lynton. Visitors to the area were deterred by the steep gradient of the path up to Lynton. 1885 saw the beginning of a project to attract the holiday-makers on paddle steamers that were passing by and not stopping here. It recognised the need for some form of lift to Lynton and culminated in the construction of this unique cliff railway. The railway has been in continual operation since 1890. In 1947, the cars were converted from freight platforms into passenger carriages. Each car accommodates 40 people. It stopped transporting cars on the roof of the carriages in the 1950s.
In the small Victorian town of Lynton https://www.devonguide.com/lynton perches the main shopping street, Lee Road, is lined with independent shops, cafés and art galleries. An unusual Town Hall building and the Arts and Crafts Gallery are also on this street.
Town Hall and Art and Crafts Centre in Lynton
Today, Lynton Town Hall is licensed as a venue for civil weddings. It was built by a resident of the town, Sir George Newnes in 1900 and given to the town. The exterior of this Grade II listed building is a wonderful mix of Gothic and Tudor manorial architecture. It was built by a local builder using indigenous oak and stone and still looks the same, inside and outside, as it did when it was first opened as “a source of instruction and recreative pleasure, not only to the present inhabitants but to future generations”.
A beautifully converted old Methodist church next to the town hall houses the Lyn Valley Art and Crafts Centre. Visitors to this centre can browse a wide range of unusual and exclusive hand-crafted articles including ceramics, jewellery, local preserves, paintings, sculptures and bird boxes. All beautifully displayed and offering unique souvenirs reflecting the local area. Visitors wishing to find out more about the history of the town will find some fascinating artefacts and information in the Lyn and Exmoor Museum in the town centre.
Museums in Lynton
The charming Lyn and Exmoor Museum occupies the seven small rooms of the town’s oldest surviving domestic dwelling, a whitewashed, stone cottage. Run by volunteers exhibits in the house and garden include collections of agricultural and domestic tools from Lynton and Exmoor and a Victorian dolls’ house. Items relating to its maritime history, defunct mainline railway and ecology are also on display plus information about the resident ghost.
Lynton also boasts a Toy Museum and Shop – an impressive display of toys, games and action figures ranging from the 1960s to 1980s. This private collection put together by its owners, Tony and Lorraine Bennett, is an opportunity to wallow in childhood recollections. And, maybe be tempted to buy a souvenir from its toy shop which second hand and vintage toys and games. Those who enjoy walking can take the road off Lee Road that winds up Hollerday Hill.
Hollerday Hill in Lynton
Rising majestically from the cliffs that rim the town of Lynton, Hollerday Hill offers some lovely walks and spectacular views across Lynmouth and across the Bristol Channel to the coast of Wales. A network of paths lead through woods to the site of an ancient Iron Age hill fort and views of the amazing Valley of Rocks below. The climb to the summit ends on the site of Hollerday House, the mansion which Sir George Newnes built in the 1890s. He lived here until his death in 1910. In 1913 a fire, cause unknown, destroyed the building. During the Second World War the army demolished the ruins of the house. A path from this hill leads into the Valley of Rocks.
The Valley of Rocks in Lynton
There are several paths from Lynton into the fascinating Valley of Rocks – down the path from Hollerday Hill or a pleasant stroll along a tarmacked section of the Coast Path that skirts the cliff edge https://www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk/walksdb/247/. The latter is a spectacular walk with jagged rock formations above and a bracken covered slope that falls sharply away to the sea way below. If you feel as though you are being watched, you could be right – by the curious wild goats grazing in the bracken.
It is thought the peculiar rock structures were formed during the Ice Age when an ice sheet blocked the normal route of the East Lyn River to the sea and diverted it to the west. As the ice sheet melted the river returned to its original course leaving this valley which eventually dried up completely. On the back towards Lynton along the coast path there is a narrow path through the woods that offers a gentle descent to the harbour end of Lynmouth – where I started my visit.
Where to Eat in Lynton
Annie and the Flint on Lee Road offers a good selection of home-made food for a light lunch in a naturally lit room that resembles an old fashioned orangery. Visitors may be tempted back to Annie’s for a fresh fish dinner but experience suggests it is a good idea not only to book your table in advance but also to reserve your meal.
Charlie Friday’s Coffee Shop is slightly off the main street and although popular with locals does not get over-crowded. The café offers a menu suitable for all dietary requirements and some unusual combinations on their specials board. During our stay we enjoyed a good lunch – including a mackerel and beetroot combination – as well as afternoon tea. We were drawn back by the cluster of home-made cakes on the counter.
The Crown Hotel and pub offers good, old fashioned comfort food including fish and chips and sausage and mash in a homely atmosphere – ideal for those who do not want a prolonged dinner after a long day of walking and sightseeing. Finer dining is available at several establishments in town including the Old Bank, the Vanilla Pod Bistro and the Oak Room.
Where to Stay in Lynton
The Highcliffe House is a gorgeous 5-star Bed & Breakfast on a hill overlooking Lynton and a short walk from the town centre. We stayed here and can highly recommend it as a great place for couples looking for a romantic break or luxurious getaway. The six bedrooms are beautifully furnished and have great views over the town and bay below. Three comfortable, tastefully furnished lounges offer a relaxing ambience after a day out – and friendly hosts Robert and Richard are always happy to chat about their fascinating travels – reflected in their lovely collection of paintings and artefacts that decorate the rooms. Breakfast is definitely a memorable occasion here and for all the right reasons – the signature berry bowl that can be combined with homemade muesli chosen from the small buffet. The full English (individually selected items) is perfectly cooked as are all the other choices on the menu. This meal is enjoyed in the conservatory dining room watching the sun rise over the Bristol Channel beyond Lynton and Lynmouth.
Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 25 years ago. After publishing four books she turned to online travel writing.