Whether you are a biker or a hiker, wish to indulge in cream teas or views that please, Lynton and Lynmouth is the perfect place for all. Lynton and Lynmouth in North Devon, twin towns connected by the famous Cliff Railway in the heart of Exmoor National Park, have an impressive history, and are surprising and fascinating to discover. Arriving at Lynton and Lynmouth, I could immediately understand why C.S Lewis fell in love with this idyllic place. In 1925 C.S. Lewis (author of The Chronicals of Narnia) visited Lynton and whilst staying at the Cottage Hotel wrote ‘The view from the balcony was beyond everything I have seen…’
He purchased a copy of Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor for his companion and they lunched at the Cottage Hotel. “The view from the balcony was beyond everything I have seen – Straight ahead and across the gorge, the hillside rose hundreds of feet above us into a cap of well shaped rock. Behind that the Lyn valley opened out in long perspective of winding water and many coloured woods, heather and grass. To the left was the bay, not deeply blue but of a strangely pure clear colour and beyond it a line of surf between the water and the cliffs which fell away East and North.”
Travelling along the A39 via Porlock Hill (which incidentally demands a stop at the top to take in the colourful flora and forna, together with lungful’s of fresh air and stunning views across the Bristol Channel to South Wales) is the best way to arrive at Lynton and Lynmouth. Having motor biked along the North Atlantic Highway many times it never ceases to thrill me. I can certainly see why this hidden gem is lovingly called Little Switzerland.
The A39 meanders down directly into Lynmouth. Just a note of warning here – take extra care as you descend 1) because the views are stunning, and the edge is a sheer drop to the water below – just as C.S. Lewis stated ‘the cliffs which fell away…’ – well, they do so be warned, and 2) there are often sheep pottering along the road sometimes around each and every bend!
Other notable authors or poets who either took inspiration from or stayed here include J.M.Barrie – author or Peter Pan, R.D Blackmore – author of Lorna Doone, poets including Wordsworth, Coleridge and Percy Bysshe, Shelley the Enlglish poet, Bertrand Russell, Miles Malleson, the painter Thomas Gainsborough, Henry Wiliamson – author of Tarka the Otter, the singer Elkie Brooks and Sir Paul McCartney filmed a video for Once Upon a Long Ago, at Valley of the Rocks, Lynton. More recently the BBC made a documentary of this lovely place, featuring John Craven of Newsround fame who filled the water tank on the Cliff Railway which connects Lynton with Lynmouth.
This funicular railway has an ingenious mechanism which uses hydraulic engineering to power its cargo – people! (Water tanks are used to counterbalance the weight of the carriages, filling up at the top and emptying out on arrival at the bottom). John also tried his hand at cooking. He prepared some extremely interestingly shaped scones at Watersmeet House.
Disaster struck this pretty place in 1952. On 15th August Lynmouth’s two rivers the East and West Lyn flooded after torrential rain, and the result was devastating. Thirty of more people died as their homes were crushed and washed away. The world read and heard about the tragedy, and the response was overwhelming. In 2001 an English oak tree was felled on the Lynmouth Estate, the wood from which was used to make a cross by a local man who was just a child at the time of the disaster. The Bishop of Exeter at that time preached at the Memorial service held just two weeks after the tragedy. He said that when it was all over a cross should be erected at Watersmeet where the water broke through. The Bishop had preached ‘A cross is a sign, not simply of death, but of death followed by resurrection’. The Lyn and Exmoor museum is housed in one of the oldest houses in the village. Exhibits are on show here, dedicated to the disaster which stole so many lives.
Staying at Sinai Hotel 4* Hotel Lynway, Lynton – a detached Victorian house built in 1850 – has sumptuous rooms with views to die for, extremely knowledgeable and friendly hosts who prepare and cook a scrummy cooked breakfast for their visitors (or anything else from their menu) each morning, a delightful terraced garden, steps leading down to the main car park from the terrace, and its own private car park.
A ‘must do’ activity is walk to The Valley of Rocks. It is thought that this exceptionally unusual rock formation was created by the River Lyn flowing through it before it changed course to flow down to Lynmouth. There are geologists who suggest that the coastline was eroded to a bed in the river, which in turn created a cliff waterfall that continued to erode directly inland, and there are others who think that during the Ice Age an ice dam across the mouth of the Lyn diverted the river through the Valley of Rocks! Whatever the facts, this place is extraordinary, peculiar, yet strangely beautiful. The South West Coast Path state ‘this is a classic easy walk along a relatively level section of high cliffs between Lynton and the spectacular Valley of Rocks.’
Whilst walking along this pathway, it is likely, no, it is MORE than likely to meet a goat! I cannot help but admire these hardy, determined agile creatures. I am reliably informed that occasionally they drop over the cliff edge into the sea – just trying to munch on that delicious, delicate piece of green grass, which is of course, just slightly out of reach! I am also reliably informed they do bob back up again!
The other ‘must do’ activity is to walk to Watersmeet. It is one of Britain’s deepest river gorges, where the East Lyn Valley and Hoar Oak Water tumble together. Starting the walk from the Car park at Lynmouth, (it takes about 20-25 minutes with seats to rest upon along the riverside) being the easiest route.
The sounds of rushing water at all points along the river fill you with a sense of expectancy. There are a couple of bridges to cross, so you have the chance to simply stand and watch the white water dashing between large boulders. I was rewarded by continuously keeping watch.
This heron was delighted with his keeping watch too! At the point where the two rivers meet (hence the name) is the National Trust property Watersmeet House. It has been serving teas since 1901. Cream teas here are a must…and yes…I indulged (even though I had a eaten a cooked breakfast just 3 hours previously!)
Whilst on the subject of food, the Café and Restaurant Lilly Mays in Lynton is worth a mention. The menu is simple, the produce is locally sourced, the food is freshly cooked, and Front of House is run by the lovely Nancy (who is absolutely delightful – and I hope she won’t mind me saying that she is probably in her 70’s). I love this place! I chose fillet steak. ‘How would you like it cooked dear?’ enquired the softly spoken Scottish voice. ‘Medium rare please.’ I replied. ‘Excellent choice my dear.’ Came the reply. It was indeed an excellent choice!
If you choose to eat here it is wise to book beforehand – Lilly May’s Teashop & Restaurant 1 Castle Hill Lynton, Devon EX35 6JA Telephone: 01598 753972.
Thank you Nigel and Debbie for a great stay in your hotel and thank you Lynton and Lynmouth for yet another great stay in your ‘Little Switzerland’. I will certainly return – maybe I will visit again at Christmas, perhaps this time in search of Narnia!
Good Hotels, Guest Houses and B & B’s:
Lee House Lynton http://www.leehouse-lynton.co.uk @LeeHouseLynton
St. Vincent’s House Lynton http://www.st-vincent-hotel.co.uk @StVincenthouse
Sinai House Hotel Lynton http://www.sinaihouse.co.uk/
Cottage Hotel Lynton http://www.lyntoncottage.com/