Lynton and Lynmouth travel information and guide
Without a doubt, this area is the most popular part of Exmoor – and rightly so. It really has it all, and it’s all within walking distance: a pretty seaside village, a cliff railway, a rushing river running through wooded slopes, heather-covered moorland and a dollop of recent history. Painters and poets raved about its beauty: Gainsborough thought it was the perfect place to paint, and Shelley lived in Lynmouth for nine weeks with his first wife.
Writing in 1928, SPB Mais opined that: “Ordinary standards simply do not suffice to describe this corner of Devon. We realize vaguely and stupidly that no other coomb of our knowledge approaches so complacently the door of the hotel to show its beauty of wood or the majesty of its cliff.
What to see and do
The sturdy Victorian homes and extraordinary Lynton Town Hall are surprising in a location that otherwise feels like a modern, upscale resort. The town hall is described in The shell guide of 1975 as “a cheerful building, 15th century masonry, “Tudor” half-timbering and boarding of “Flemish” barges”. the old Methodist Church has been put to good use: the church itself is home to the Lyn Valley Arts and Crafts Center and the hall is now a cozy 70-seat cinema, a lovely place run by volunteers.
Lynton has a particularly good selection of accommodation, many with great views, as well as excellent shopping and dining. Even with such a range of craft shops, the Center des Arts et Métiers, next to the town hall, stands out for its range of high-quality yet affordable crafts, which include preserves, honey and soap.
Notable stores include Lyn Candles on Lee Road, selling a huge range of eponymous wares with great enthusiasm, the Lynton Sheepskin Shop, also on Lee Road, with a full range, and John Arbon Textiles on Queen Street with many, lots of pure wool. socks.
Linking Lynton and Lynmouth is the cliff railway, a masterpiece of simple engineering and a model of “green” energy. Both carts are counterbalanced by water. Fill the tank at the top, and it’s heavy enough to pull the other cart up as it descends. We watched the “driver” down below judging how much water to let out to counterbalance not only the weight of the car but also the passengers. Really neat and a great way to get to the top of a 500 foot cliff. The year 2015 marked 150 years of continuous operation. Dogs and bicycles are allowed. Before the road was built in 1828, tourists were transported to Lynton on Exmoor donkeys or ponies, as were all goods arriving at the port.
Most people staying in Lynton get off at Lynmouth and take the Cliff Railway. It’s a very pleasant and steep descent, the path lit by solar-powered lamps donated by different organizations.
Lynmouth is clearly much older than its partner and very pretty with its harbour, cliffs and wooded hillsides. Near the Cliff Railway on the Esplanade in the western part of Lynmouth is Pavilion and the center of the Exmoor National Park. It has a café, a well-stocked shop with maps and guidebooks, wildlife presentations, webcams, an audio-visual presentation giving an overview of Exmoor and a microscope with which you can study the sea creatures collected on a guided tidal pooling excursion.
Continuing towards the harbor you can take a boat trip to Valley of Rocks and Lee Bay or continue to wander around and buy an ice cream from one of the many outlets.
The Lynmouth Flood Memorial Hall, on Lynmouth pedestrian street, is home to two exhibitions. On the ground floor is the story of the famous lifeboat rescue of 1899, while the upper floor is dedicated to the great Lynmouth flood of 1952 when, after torrential rains on Exmoor, a wall of water carrying broken trees and boulders washed away the East and West Lyn rivers. It happened in the dead of night, with the power supply being one of the first casualties, so all the terrified villagers could do was listen to the roar of the approaching torrent. Many houses were destroyed and 34 people lost their lives. As with all major disasters, this has its own conspiracy theory – that at the time the government was experimenting with cloud seeding.
Some visitors only come as far as the main street, Riverside Road, and pedestrianized Lynmouth Street. It’s a shame as beyond that on Watersmeet Road is a working pottery, Lynmouth Pottery, with a range of ceramics and lovely carvings.
The less steep route to Lynmouth and beyond is Watersmeet Road, which takes you past one of the area’s most popular tea rooms, the National Trust operated Watersmeet House. Most people walk here from Lynmouth, but there is parking (paid) on the road above with a steep path. Everything is perfect in this former fishing lodge: the choice of snacks and cakes, and above all the location.
The Valley of the Rocks
The Valley of the Rocks is accessible by car, but it’s such a beautiful walk that if you can, it’s well worth the walk from Lynton. The valley, which would not be exceptional on Dartmoor, is quite extraordinary on Exmoor where the soft sandstone has left few sharp outlines. The most likely explanation for these rock heaps and castles is that it was once a river valley, the rocks having been deposited during the ice age, before the river changed course. Glaciation and climatic erosion did the rest.
The place was already well known when RD Blackmore wrote Lorna Doone in the 1860s. The hero John Ridd goes there to consult a wise woman, noting that ‘strangers, who come and go seeing little of Exmoor, have called [it] the “Valley of the Rocks”.’ The rocks already had their names: “On the right is a steep rock, called by some “The Castle”, quite easy to climb… Opposite, on the inner side and at the bend of the valley, an old pile of rock strange stands, bold one behind the other, and enough to frighten a man, if only it were ten times bigger. It’s called the “Devil’s Cheese-ring” or the “Devil’s Cheese-ring” knife” which mean the same thing, for our fathers used to eat their cheese with a spoon; and perhaps once the highest rock… looked like such a tool if Satan ate unroasted cheese.