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Thursday, 10 October 2013

North Devon Delights -Day 4

The weather this morning was much better than yesterday and we left the hotel at 10am for Lynton and Lynmouth, avoiding all the road closures! The road down through Watersmeet and on into Lynmouth is very pretty following the course of the river Lyn down a very steep hill, round hairpin bends, through craggy rocks and is not much fun to drive in a large vehicle. In places, a cyclist coming towards you would cause a problem! The passengers are always very quiet on this stretch of road and I think it's because they are all holding their breath!

Lynton lynmouth cliff railwayThe small rural town of Lynton and coastal village of Lynmouth guarantee an escape to those wishing a complete change from the busy pace of modern life. Set in the heart of Exmoor National Park the twin resorts are far from industry and commerce. It would be natural to assume that their appeal has relied solely on incomparable scenery and that they have no claim to any remarkable happening in the past or indeed, the present. Take time to look a little closer, for they boast an impressive history that is not only diverse, but is surprising, fascinating, and most of all - notable.

The Lyn Rivers that tumble through deep wooded valleys as a series of small waterfalls meet at Lynmouth and flow across a rocky shore to the open sea. A small harbour flanked by the famous Rhenish Tower hints that a herring trade once sustained the community. The small town of Lynton originally supported by sheep farming, stands high on the cliff above its sister village.


Lynmouth became known throughout the world for the disaster that struck in August 1952. On the night of the 15th, after continuous rain throughout the day, the East and West Lyn Rivers rose suddenly and filled with the waters from their Exmoor catchment. Large boulders and rocks were carried in the flow towards the village, destroying houses, roads and bridges. Many lost their lives during that dark and terrifying night. The whole of Exmoor was affected and considerable damage was caused on the Barle, Exe, Heddon and Bray but the worst effects were at Lynmouth. This is because the water draining from most of the northern side of Exmoor ends up in the East and West Lyn Rivers, which join at Lynmouth. Hundreds of thousands of years ago these rivers used to run to the sea much further to the west but during the Ice Age the side of their valley was eroded by the sea and, as a result, they fell to the sea along a much shorter and steeper course. This makes the waters descending on Lynmouth particularly fast and erosive.


Although not the biggest flood Britain has had, it was one of the most spectacular and most studied. Interest was shown in the small scale as well as the larger effects on the landscape. Green studied the effects on river courses, erosion and deposition and Gifford and Kidson studied landslipping and its causes in the upper reaches of the Exe. Whilst it is still possible to see landforms created by the flood and to calculate its flow from remaining flood channels, most of the evidence of the flood has now disappeared, although parts of the West Lyn - the Glen Lyn gorge and part of the headwaters near Woolhanger - are now a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest for the evidence they show of the flood. At first it seemed that the flood confirmed the theory that most of the shaping of our landscape occurred during such violent events that were perhaps hundreds of years apart. However, work by Anderson and Calver on how the great scars and piles of boulders left by the flood have largely been removed by commonplace fluvial activity has changed our view of the shaping of landscape. Few now remember the disaster but its study has had far reaching effects upon our understanding of erosion and the way we deal with floods.

There is a conspiracy theory that the flood was caused by the British Military experimenting with cloud seeding. Operation Cumulus was a project of the UK government in the 1950's which was investigating weather manipulation.


On a lighter note, Lynton and Lynmouth have a water powered funicular cliff railway. The high cliffs separating the two towns (then villages) were a major obstacle to economic development in the 19th century. Because of the remoteness of the area, and rugged geography, villagers had to rely on the sea for most deliveries of coal, lime, foodstuffs and other essentials, which had then to be carried by packhorses and carts up the steep hill to Lynton.

The cliffs also posed problems for the burgeoning tourist industry. Holiday makers began to arrive at Lynmouth on paddle steamers from Bristol, Swansea and other Bristol Channel ports, from about 1820. Ponies, donkeys and carriages were available for hire, but the steep gradients led to the animals having only short working lives.

The first proposals for a rail-based lift, able to carry passengers and goods, were made in 1881, although this first scheme was to have been steam powered.

Opened on Easter Monday in 1890, the railway has been in continuous use ever since. An Act of Parliament formed the Lynmouth & Lynton Lift Company in 1888, and a further Act gave the company perpetual rights to the water from the Lyn Valley.

The railway is now classified as a listed monument.

Of the two towns, I much prefer Lynmouth. It is far smaller than Lynton with its run of the mill high street shops which can be found anywhere. There are independent shops with their unusual items, a very nice art gallery where I nearly always end up buying something every time I look! There are several places to eat from tea rooms to pubs to hotels. Or just take away a Cornish pasty. The museum of the flood with its old photos is an interesting visit.

After spending 3hrs here we left for our next visit at Marwood Hill Gardens. It was quite a nice garden with a stream running through and a couple of man made lakes in the valley at the bottom of the garden. It was far too steep a hill for most of my people to even attempt it. It was a reasonable walk from the parking area, also hilly. This place is unsuitable for the slightest immobility problem. And there weren't even any flowers!


And the access to the garden for the coach was just stupid! A country lane where I kept meeting traffic, no one could pass, everyone had to reverse into driveways, field gates or up the hedge so I could get through. I asked at the garden about another route out which turned out to be even worse. Especially when I'm trying to squeeze past parked cars in a tiny village with a great long queue behind me and I come face to face with a tractor towing a plough with a great long queue behind him! Neither of us could go anywhere! 20mins to sort out that little issue! All good fun!

We finally made it back to the hotel after a couple more similar traffic problems, ie car drivers without a brain! Another lovely meal this evening and a glass of wine in the bar. Tomorrow we are going home, no visits planned, so I have decided to stay in Barnstaple for lunch before setting off.

It's been a funny old week. Not had any problems, passengers are nice, hotel is the best, but for some reason this week has been all work and no fun and I'm feeling a little flat. But I can't put my finger why it is. Having said that, all the passengers seem to have enjoyed their time which is all that really matters.