Lynton and Lynmouth are like twins, one village complimenting the other. Lynmouth is wedged between a steep cliff and the ocean on North Devon’s coast, while Lynton looks down from the 500ft (152m) high clifftop on her twin. The views from either are glorious. You can see, on a clear day, across to the coast of Wales.
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But proximity is about all these twins have in common. Lynmouth is a traditional fishing village with stone houses, and Lynton is a Victorian-Edwardian village, many of its homes turned into seaside villas and hotels.
An unusual Cliff Railway connects the two villages. Two passenger carrying “cars”, connected by a cable, chug up and down the hill, each with a water tank capable of holding 700 gallons. At the top of the cliff one car’s tank is filled, causing it to descend the cliff, while the car with a lighter, empty tank rises to the top. The full tank is emptied once the car reaches the bottom of the cliff, and then the process starts all over again. This “railway” has a gradient of 1 to 1¾--pretty steep. But not to fear. Since its opening in 1890 no accidents have occurred. And it’s definitely the easiest way to travel between the two villages.
In Lynton a restored 16th century house, St Vincent’s Cottage, is now a small museum displaying the tools and products of past craftsmen. Take a look at the town hall with its attractive architecture, built by Sir George Newnes, who also built the cliff “railway”.
Lynmouth’s 14th century thatched smuggler’s inn is now a hotel as is Tregonwell, a Victorian stone house built for a sea captain. Nearby an 1832 fishing lodge, Watersmeet House, nestles in a beautiful tree-lined gorge at the confluence of the East Lyn and Hoar Oak Water. Have a cup of tea at the National Trust teashop here and amble on paths under green canopied skies.
The villages owe their popularity as tourist destinations to Napoleon. Denied their usual continental holiday haunts because of the Napoleonic Wars, Britains sought out homegrown spots and found dramatic cliffs and coastlines here. The poet, Shelley, stayed here for several months with his bride and named the area, “Little Switzerland”. Wordsworth and Coleridge are other literary figures who found the area amenable for writing. It is said Coleridge was inspired to write “The Ancient Mariner” after viewing Lynmouth’s harbour.
Lynmouth’s men performed a heroic task in 1899 when they hauled a lifeboat 13 miles over land to Porlock to rescue the crew of The Forrest Hall, a ship foundering in the bad weather and stormy seas that prohibited the lifeboat launch at Lynmouth.
Tragedy struck Lynmouth in 1952. The rivers East and West Lyn flow to the sea in a deep cleft between the cliffs, and that was the starting point for disaster when flood swollen waters swept through the village of Lynmouth, hurtling mud and 40,000 tons of boulders and tree trunks on the unsuspecting inhabitants. Homes, roads and bridges were destroyed. Thirty-four people met a sad end.
Lynmouth and Lynton, on a heritage coast, are part of Exmoor National Park. Hikers can walk the Southwest Coast Path—which passes through the villages—from Minehead in the east to Combe Martin in the west.
One mile (2km) to the west (you can walk it along the North Cliff Walk) is the Valley of the Rocks, a natural gorge between two ridges of hills. Here sandstone and shale fought unsuccessfully with the wind, and the result is such aptly named rocks as “Devil’s Cheeswring” and “Ragged Jack”. The rocks are playthings for wild mountain goats.
This wild and beautiful land of surging seas, towering cliffs, rocky headlands and wooded ravines plays reluctant host to man in the scenic settings of Lynmouth and Lynton.
Lynton and Lynmouth are on the A39, 18 miles west of Minehead.
Exmoor National Park Authority’s official website is located at Exmoor National Park
Watersmeet House, NT, is located on Watersmeet Road 1 ½ miles east of Lynmouth on the east side of the A39
Open: Watersmeet House, tea-room, tea-garden and shop are open daily mid Feb-end Oct, except first week March weekend only, 11am-3pm Feb-mid March; mid March-end April and Oct, 10.30am-4pm; May-end Sep, 10.30am-5pm
Pay and display car park; guided walks on the Watersmeet Estate; in high season a shuttle van runs from the carpark at Lynmouth to Watersmeet
Photos by Barbara Ballard