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  • Bryan Cath

A Tale of Two Towns


Lynton and Lynmouth

Distance from Combe Martin: 13 miles

There is so much to do on visiting the twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth. Lynton is at the top of a 500-foot cliff and Lynmouth is at sea level with a small harbour. Let’s start in Lynton and then take the cliff railway down to Lynmouth.

Lynton

Cliff Railway

The funicular cliff railway runs between the twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth. Lynton is at the top of the 500-foot hill overlooking Lynmouth. The railway was opened in 1890 and is the highest and steepest totally water-powered railway in the world. It is the safest and easiest way to visit both towns and a unique experience, not to be missed. The views from the carriages are wonderful.

Both carriages are linked by twin cables (for safety). The carriage that is at the top of the incline in Lynton diverts a local river into its tank until the driver can feel that it is just holding the weight of the lower carriage down in Lynmouth. Then with a signal system of bells, the lower carriage carefully empties some of its water out until the top carriage is just heavier, thus pulling the lower carriage up the incline while it descends. The carriages pass at a widened section of the tracks, halfway along.

For current running times and fares please visit their website at https://www.cliffrailwaylynton.co.uk/.

Lyn Valley Arts Centre

If you love local arts and crafts, this is the place for you. Based in the old Methodist church on the main road through Lynton, the artisans are all local to this area. Exmoor, like other National Parks, inspire its residents to be creative, offering a wide range of superbly crafted items for sale. The artisans run the shop, so you may be talking to the person that made the items you are enjoying. An excellent place to get unique gifts for yourself and friends. To get an idea of what you might see, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lynvalleyartandcraft.

Lynton Cinema

This wonderful, intimate cinema seats just 68 people in comfy seats with plenty of legroom. It is located in the lower part of the old Methodist church, under the Lyn Valley Arts Centre, next to the impressive Town Hall. For such a small town to have its own cinema is most unusual. It shows all the current films doing the circuit. It has Dolby SR sound, is air-conditioned in summer and fully centrally heated in winter, running all year. To find out what is showing now and coming soon, visit their website at http://lyntoncinema.co.uk/lynton/now/.

Lynton Old Town

The old part of Lynton is worth discovering. It is tucked away with winding streets, just off the main road, opposite the church. Part of it is traffic-free with cafes with outside seating, in peace and quiet, also with artisan shops to explore. Just around the corner you will find the Lyn and Exmoor Museum with local, railway and maritime displays.

Lynton Town Hall

Lynton Town Hall is a Grade II listed building, very grand for such a small town. This is down to the town having Sir George Newnes, 1st Baronet, a well-known publisher and editor living there. He had it built by local builders and gifted it to the village with a grand opening on 15th August 1900. His wishes were that it would be “a source of instruction and recreative pleasure, not only to the present inhabitants but to future generations”. His wished have been honoured ever since, with the building still being very original.

Valley of Rocks

While visiting Lynton, a must-see is the unusual Valley of Rocks, about ¾ mile to the west of Lynton. It is now a dry U-shaped valley with impressive rock-outlets and high cliffs. These rocks have wonderful names, such as Castle Rock, the Devil’s Cheesewring and Mother Meldrum’s Cave. Rather strangely it runs parallel to the coast. There are various theories about this. The one I like goes back to the Ice Age when the ice bumped up against the high cliffs of Exmoor and blocked the exit to the sea for the East and West Lyn rivers. Their route was diverted to cut this valley, reaching the sea a bit further west. When the ice receded, the river could return to its original course exiting to the sea at Lynmouth. This valley then dried up and over time erosion has silted up and become U-shaped.

The valley is also well-known for its feral goats that freely roam the valley. You will see them in the most precarious positions on the rocks, making you wonder how on earth they cling on with their simple hooves.

The valley is also home to the most picturesque setting for a cricket field. It also is home to Mother Meldrum’s Tearooms, in a shelter position, ideal for a break. Further along the valley you will see Lee Abbey, founded in 1946, is an ecumenical Christian community and retreat.

Just below Lee Abbey is Lee Bay, a rocky bay with sand at low tide. This may well be where the rivers found their way back to the sea during the Ice Age.

There are two good-sized pay-and-display car parks and public toilets.

Hollerday Hill and the coast path

Hollerday Hill overlooks the Valley of Rocks, and provides a marvellous viewpoint across the valley and along the rugged coastline towards Woody Bay.

There is a fairly easy walk from Lynton to this viewpoint. Take the small road to the right of the Town Hall and follow it uphill. Follow it round the hairpin bend and on reaching where several paths divide off, either way will get you there. If you turn hard right, this path opens up to wide views over the sea and along the coast. Going straight ahead here brings you to the summit slightly quicker. Once at the top you will see why it was worth the walk! You have several options now. If you take the fairly steep path to the left, it brings you down into the Valley of Rocks. From here you can decide to walk through the valley to the tea rooms and then onwards to the roundabout in the road. From here you can pick up the coast path back to Lynton along the tarmacked footpath. If you suffer from vertigo, it might be wise not to take this path unless you have someone to walk next to you to give you confidence. It is worth it if you can cope. Otherwise return to Lynton along the road.


Lynmouth

Distance from Combe Martin: 13 miles

Exmoor National Park Centre

The National Park Centre is well-worth a visit to find out ideas about what you can do in Exmoor. It is in The Esplanade overlooking the sea. The friendly staff can give you knowledgeable advice specifically fitting your needs. The centre itself is crammed with information in leaflets, books, film shows, interactive displays and much more. You can ask to see various films in their small theatre. Upstairs (also via a lift) is the restaurant with a good choice of food to enjoy and excellent views across to Wales and the cliff railway. You will also find the public toilets there.

Cliff Railway

The funicular cliff railway runs between the twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth. Lynton is at the top of the 500-foot hill overlooking Lynmouth. The railway was opened in 1890 and is the highest and steepest totally water-powered railway in the world. It is the safest and easiest way to visit both towns and a unique experience, not to be missed. The views from the carriages are wonderful.

Both carriages are linked by twin cables (for safety). The carriage that is at the top of the incline in Lynton diverts a local river into its tank until the driver can feel that it is just holding the weight of the lower carriage down in Lynmouth. Then with a signal system of bells, the lower carriage carefully empties some of its water out until the top carriage is just heavier, thus pulling the lower carriage up the incline while it descends. The carriages pass at a widened section of the tracks, halfway along.

For current running times and fares please visit their website at https://www.cliffrailwaylynton.co.uk/.

Rhenish Tower

While in Lynmouth you cannot miss the Rhenish Tower overlooking the harbour. Rebuilt after the flood disaster, it was originally built in the 1830’s.

East and West Lyn Rivers

These two rivers flow off Exmoor and meet at Lynmouth. Their catchment encompasses a large area of moorland. On the evening and night of the 15th August 1952 over 9-inches of rain fell in that catchment, which was already saturated from earlier rainfall. These rivers and their many tributaries are short and steep, losing some 500 metres in their narrow combes (valleys). The power of the water ripped out old bridges, trees and rocks before reaching the town. It then devastated the town, demolishing a small hamlet and several buildings in the town, sweeping away the roads and cars. The Exmoor Visitor Centre has a film and books on this disaster. Also, the Flood Memorial Hall is near the harbour with many displays and photos of the disaster.

Watersmeet

Watersmeet is on the confluence of the East Lyn River and Hoar Oak Water. A former fishing lodge is here which is now an information centre, with tea rooms and a National Trust shop. You will find several picnic tables in the garden overlooking the river and a few undercover in the lodge’s veranda. This is open from Easter to the end of the season. You can check opening times here (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/devon/watersmeet#place-opening-times).

You can drive to Watersmeet along the A39, about 2 miles above Lynmouth. A fairly steep zig-zag path goes down to Watersmeet from the pay-and-display car park layby. You can also take a delightful and fairly easy 2 mile walk from Lynmouth along the East Lyn River. There are many well-kept footpaths for you to discover to create longer circular walks.

South West Coast Path

The South West Coast Path starts in Minehead, Somerset and follows the coastline through North Devon and Cornwall, rounding Land’s End to reach South Devon and Dorset, finishing at Poole, some 630 miles further on.

If you start walking the South West Coast Path at Minehead, you pass through Porlock for your first nights stop-over. Then on to Lynmouth some 23 miles from the start. On reaching Lynmouth, opposite the Visitor Centre you will find ‘The Walker’ statue erected in 2017 and unveiled by John Craven. Here is an opportunity to ‘shake hands with the walker’ and then share it on social media! This statue represents the meeting point of four National Trails.

· South West Coast Path, https://www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk/

· Two Moors Way, https://twomoorsway.org/

The next overnight stop is at Combe Martin, another 12 miles further on. That is the beginning of an amazing adventure to walk the whole path, with one of the hilliest sections of the path behind you.


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