be Britain's smallest National Park, but within its boundaries
lies an almost perfect combination of coast, moorland and tree-clad valleys, or coombes as they are known locally. The twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth
lies on the northern extremities of the park.
its steep hillsides, rugged cliffs and breathtaking scenery,
this part of the area is often referred too as 'The little Switzerland
of England', but whereas the European country has
cable cars to ease travel, these two Devon villages have a cliff railway. Lynmouth,
with its attractive harbour, is hemmed in by high wooded cliffs, whereas Lynton, perched some 500 feet above, sits on a relatively flat plateu; the two having been joined by this unique link since
way back in the 19th century when the hilly terrain proved a
major obstacle to economic development.
At that time both villages
relied mainly on sea transport as land travel over Exmoor was both difficult
and dangerous. Coal, lime, foodstuffs and other
essentials arrived in Lynmouth harbour and then had to be carried by
packhorses or handcarts up the steep and tortuous gradients
to Lynton. Consequently,
in 1885, a major project was proposed which included the construction
of a pier and esplanade at Lynmouth, with a 'lift' up to Lynton.
The scheme was co-promoted by Thomas
Hewitt, a distinguished London Lawyer with a summer residence
in Lynton, and John Heywood. The fact that the latter had
a financial interest in the project did not seem to stop him using his
influence to persuade members of the local authority (of which he was a member) to spend ratepayers'
money on the first part of the esplanade; it could be argued
that Mr Heywood was a public spirited individual, or perhaps
an astute businessman! Sir George Newnes would have been the
man in the know, as he was the financier that the two men approached
to find the money to fund the schemes.
cliff railway itself was the second part of the construction project. This was eventually built by a private company named known as The Lynmouth & Lynton Lift Co., which had been formed by Act of Parliament in
1886 and it is this company that still runs the cliff railway over the 1:1.75 incline
- arguably the steepest of its kind - to this day.
Lynton at the top, Lynmouth below
by George Marks (who it is said was a disciple of Isambard
Kingdom Brunel) the cliff railway is believed to be the
last fully original Victorian water powered lift in the world.
engine or any source of power it is quiet in operation (apart from the
replenishment and discharge of water) with its principle of
operation dependant on the counter-balance of weight between the two cars connected to each other by an endless cable; effectively, as the heavier car descends it pulls the lighter one up from below.
what happens if the weight is greater in the lower car? To cover just such an eventuality the
ingenious engineers of the day came up with the simplest of solution and that was to incorporate
700 gallon water tanks into the structure of each carriage so that
by replenishing the tank in the upper car - while simultaneously
releasing water from the bottom one - the now superior weight of the
carriage at the top of the incline (including its passengers
and/or cargo load) is sufficient to pull up the lower vehicle
as the top carriage descends.
buffers and caliper brakes are also water operated, with the speed of decent controlled by governors. Additionally, a 19th century equivalent of a 'deadman's handle' can stop the carriages almost instantaneously if necessary. Unique
to this cliff railway is that no other source of power is used to
gather the considerable amount of water needed, it being diverted
by gravity, via
an underground culvert system from the West Lyn River some three miles, to reservoirs at the head of the
reservoirs were mined from solid rock and have an amorphous
shape due to the fact that the builders hit impregnable rock
and dug round rather than struggle to produce a symmetrical
shaped tank. Holding some 250,000 gallons, a ballcock arrangement
(similar to a modern cistern) is employed, albeit substantially
larger, to control the water flow.
Releasing water to lessen weight
is a proud boast of the railway that they do not cease running
due to flooding or leaves on the line! Indeed, when flooding devastated
Lynmouth in August 1952 and the road was impassable, the water
powered lift was the main source of travel between the two villages
delivering essential life-saving support as well as transporting
scores of cars, etc., back up to Lynton. The only time it cannot
operate is when severe frost freezes the system - interestingly,
the same Victorian method of checking whether it's safe to operate
is used to this day; as with most systems of that era it's virtually fool proof - a bucket of water is left
in each car, if either freezes the railway does not run.
on the cliff railway is an unforgettable experience and not
unlike the sensation of rising in a helicopter. Lynmouth harbour
rapidly gets smaller as the spectacle of Foreland Point and
Countisbury Hill opens up in a giant curve as you ascend the
862 foot trackway. For the fainthearted, it is advisable to
stay inside the cab for the two-and-a-half to three minute journey,
but stand alongside the driver for the best uninterrupted views.
the Lift is a skilled job. The drivers must work as a team by docking at the right speed, braking at the
correct place and all with the appropriate amount of water
aboard. Of course, as each driver is travelling in the opposite
direction, one could quite easily effect the approach
of the other as errors from one will be transferred to the other, via the
the years The Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway has become one
of the most popular working attraction
in this part of Devon and has run for well over a century without significant accidents. It even operated
throughout the two world wars and, as previously indicated,
was the main source of travel between the two villages during the Fifties flood
disaster. Operating seven days a week, it is open from 9am to
7pm but during the summer months it runs until 10pm.
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