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Visiting the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railroad, Devon, England: carrying passengers on a scenic route since 1890

Updated on February 25, 2016
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Lynton cliff railroad: looking down the cliff railroad towards Lynmouth.
Lynton cliff railroad: looking down the cliff railroad towards Lynmouth. | Source
Lynton & Lynmouth funicular railroad
Lynton & Lynmouth funicular railroad | Source
19th map extract of former Lynton and Barnstaple Railroad
19th map extract of former Lynton and Barnstaple Railroad | Source

An efficient and clean workhorse

Maybe this is not as amazing and unusual as it seems, but when you visit it and travel on it, it certainly can amaze.

This funicular railroad is set in a scenic location in Devon, England. For those of us who live in Canada — apart from in the Rockies — rail travel can mean stretches of monotonous landscape which last hundreds and even thousands of kilometres. (The funicular railroad in Quebec City is, however, comparable to the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railroad.) But here, between Lynton and Lynmouth, the scenery is outstanding along the entirely of the short railroad track.

Among the most remarkable features of the railroad is, however, the fact that it has been used since 1890. The growth of local tourism in the 19th century was one reason for its inception. But another was that deliveries of the necessities of life to these then remote locations made the improvement of communications urgent. Today, such has been the permanent impact of Henry Ford's harnessing of the mass production of the internal combustion engine that it is hard to grasp that this railroad built up the cliffs was produced by manual labour in its entirety: ponies and donkeys, not automobiles, were the alternative means of travel along the steep inclines between Lynton and Lynmouth.

Another poignant feature, at least by contemporary reckoning: such are the steep inclines between Lynton and Lynmouth that the ponies and donkeys only had a short working life before they would be worn out completely by the strain of negotiating the steep paths formerly used ... except that prior to the arrival of internal combustion engine there was far less sentimentality about beasts of burden.

There are two railroad cars which run between Lynton and Lynmouth, along a track 263 metres long which has a gradient of 1 in 1.75. The cars' propulsion is water-operated, with one car counterbalancing the other. It can truly be said that the system is an efficient and clean workhorse.

So, for those of you who think that a visit to England is an exercise in seeing many "quaint" things, this cliff railroad certainly matches this appellation, but what is so striking is that this railroad continues to be functional and very much fulfilling a role in the local economy.

Also worth seeing

In Lynton , the Lyn and Exmoor Museum contains many illustrations and artifacts of life in the locality over the past 200 years, as well as much older archeological remains. Literary buffs will note that the novel Lorna Doone, by R. D Blackmore, first published in 1869, has a local setting. Lynmouth has a picturesque harbour; in 1952 the Lyn River flooded severely, leading to extensive damage and loss of life.

Barnstaple (distance: 31 kilometres) has an 11th century castle mound and the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon. Another railroad formerly connected Barnstaple with Lynton.


How to get there: Flybe flies from Manchester Airport (England) , with worldwide connections, to Exeter Airport, where car rental is available. (Distance from Exeter to Lynmouth : 88 kilometres.) South West Trains operates a rail service between London Waterloo and Exeter St Davids Stations, with connections to Barnstaple. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

For your visit, these items may be of interest


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    • MJFenn profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Angie Jardine: Yes, these twin localities are well worth a visit, and are in a scenically outstanding situation. Thank-you for your comment.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 

      6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Lynton and Lynmouth are places I love and regularly visit ... they are so beautiful.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts about them with others.


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