Lynton and Lymouth sit amidst dramatic coastal scenery close to the western edge of Exmoor National Park in North Devon. Victorian Lynton is situated at the top of steep cliffs, with the fishing town of Lynmouth c.500 feet below, at the confluence of the East Lyn and West Lyn rivers. The twin-towns have a combined population of around 2000.
Tourism to the area began in the 1800s during the Napoleonic Wars when wealthy travellers decided to travel within Britain rather than doing the Grand Tour. Early visitors included writers such as Percy and Mary Shelley, William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge. Tourism increased during the nineteenth century and new houses and accommodation were developed to accommodate travellers. Famous residents have included Sir George Newness, publisher of the Sherlock Holmes novels, and R. D. Blackmore, author of 'Lorna Doone,' which is set in the area.
Lynmouth is widely known as the site of one of the most dramatic flood events in twentieth century Britain in 1952.
Here are my 10 suggestions of things to do here. Many of these can be incorporated in a day trip from surrounding vacation spots such as Woolacombe, Ilfracombe and Croyde.
1. Admire the dramatic cliff scenery
Dramatic Coastal Cliffs, copyright H. Winlow April 2013
Impressive views of the coastal cliffs of Lynmouth Bay are best seen from above. Soak up the views from Lynton, close to the entrance to the cliff railway.
2. Explore the Architectural Heritage Lynton was developed in the Victorian and Edwardian eras and has some interesting architecture. Perhaps the most impressive is the black and white facaded Town Hall (which also houses the Tourist Information Centre) which was funded by Newness and opened in 1900. Other examples from the period include The Valley of the Rocks Hotel, the United Reformed Church, and the Railway. There is some architecture pre-dating this period. For example, the Church of St Mary the Virgin, which is Grade II listed, retains a thirteenth century tower and elements from1741 rebuilding, although it was mostly reconstructed in 1891-1905.
3. Visit the Lyn Valley Arts and Crafts Centre The Centre is housed in a converted Methodist church on Lee Road, next to the Town Hall, in Lynton. The Lyn Valley Art and Craft Group was set up by local artists in 1975 and the Centre was established in its current premises in 2001. Work from around 50 local traders is on display. Artwork is produced in Devon and Exmoor using a wide range of materials, including pottery and ceramics, woodwork and leather. Goods on sale range from clothing and accessories, to bird feeders, local preserves, wildlife photography and sculpture.
4. Have lunch
Generous Pots of Tea at Cliff Top Cafaurant, copyright H. Winlow April 2013
There are a wide range of eating establishments in Lynton and Lynmouth. These include cafes, pubs and seafood restaurants. One option is the Cliff Top 'Cafaurant' near the entrance to the railway in Lynton. This serves hot meals, snacks and sandwiches and has daily specials. They also serve a very generous pot of tea for two and have excellent views. I would recommend that a full hot meal is better value for money than the sandwich menu as it is only marginally more expensive. I had a reasonable lasagne accompanied by a generous amount of salad and bread and my husband ate a spicy beef stew from the specials board. This was very welcome on a cold day and it was so tasty that our 9-month old ate a generous portion of it!
The funicular railway is a unique, water operated railway. In 1885 a proposal was made to develop the pier and the Esplanade in Lynmouth and to link the two towns with a cliff railway. The scheme was promoted by Thomas Hewitt and John Heyward who also financed much of the building in Lynton. Heyward, Newness and Bob Jones, partner in the building firm that had constructed the Esplanade, all invested in the cliff railway, which opened on Easter Monday in 1890.
The railway is an exciting and practical way to get between the two towns and there are great views on the way down (or up!). It is open daily from 10am and current prices are: adults £2.30 single, £3.20 return; children under 13 £1.40 single, £2.00 return; daily tickets available at £7.50 for adults and £3.00 for children and weekly tickets at £18.75 and £8.00.
6. Learn some local history at the Lynmouth Flood Memorial Hall
Lynmouth Flood Memorial Hall, copyright H. Winlow April 2013
The Lynmouth flood took place on 15th August 1952, when 10 inches of rain fell in 24 hours on Exmoor, which was already waterlogged due to heavy rain over the preceding period. Both rivers flooded and there was widespread destruction to the buildings and infrastructure of Lynmouth and 34 deaths. The flooded rivers had carved out new wider channels, which were further widened for flood defence.
The 1952 flood is commemorated in the Lynmouth Memorial Hall. An exhibition, which includes many historical photographs, brings home to the visitor the extent of the flood devastation which had a lasting impact on a small community. The lives of those lost in the flood are also commemorated by a plaque and cross next to the river.
7. Admire the cute harbour and take a stroll along the pier and seafront
Harbour and Rhenish Tower at Lynton, copyright H. Winlow April 2013
Lynmouth was originally a fishing town, and the harbour is still in operation. The harbour area and pier are very close to the railway exit. The pier was built in the late eighteenth/ early nineteenth centuries as part of the quay construction. It was damaged in the 1952 flood and rebuilt in 1954 and is Grade II listed. The 'Rhenish' tower, reflecting the building style of the Rhine valley, originated from the 1850s and was rebuilt in 1954 after the flood.
8. Stop for an ice-cream break, tea and scones, or a swift half
Devon is known for producing good ice-cream, so go for the real Devon ice-cream and not a Mr Whippy. We can recommend rum and raisin and cointreau and choc-chip from Mavis Thrupton's (not all options are alcohol related!) Also a lot of good ales are produced in Devon and Cornwall so why not opt for a local brew? The characterful Rising Sun Hotel restaurant/ pub overlooks the river and harbour and has an outside terrace.
9. Bask in the evening sun at the Valley of Rocks
Valley of the Rocks near Lynton, copyright H. Winlow April 2013
This may involve keeping your coat ON in early April.
A dry river valley running parallel to the sea, a large herd of goats, unusual shaped rocks, great scenery. Need I say more?
Okay, just a bit. It is thought that the valley originally formed part of the East Lyn river channel and that it was cut off by coastal erosion nearer to Lynmouth during the Ice Age. Frost weathering is believed to have shaped the current Torrs and screes in the valley. There are rock exposures from the Devonian period, of the Emsian age (385 million years ago). Fossils can also be found in some of the scree areas. The goats are wild Cheviot goats from Northumbria, introduced in 1976 and replacing earlier feral goats.
10. Take a longer walk
West Lyn River leads to Watersmeet, copyright H. Winlow April 2013
Lynmouth is a popular location for walkers and can be used for a base from which to explore Exmoor. A popular and scenic walk is to follow the East Lyn from Lynton up to Watersmeet, a National Trust property. The walk can also be lengthened to take in further wooded landscape and views towards Wales, as detailed on this link.
For those of you who want to do more walking or outdoor pursuits in Exmoor why not stay a few nights? Accommodation listings can be found on the Lynton and Lynmouth tourism website here as well as on the whatsonexmoor website here.