Cliff Railway, Lynton to Lynmouth
"A Truly Remarkable Journey"
By Keith Gray
Back in the late 19th century a combination of events and personalities combined at one time to give Lynton & Lynmouth one of its most famous, enduring, useful and environmentally friendly attractions (and saved much shoe leather!) :
- Sir George Newnes was in town
- Tourism was increasing
- Lynton had to keep pace with Lynmouth
- Technology was improving
Throw these four ingredients into the mix and the end result was the inception and building of the Cliff Railway in an unspoilt and remote area, it was the space shuttle of its time!
Looking down towards the sea
from the top of the Cliff Railway
Sir George Newnes, the Richard Murdoch of his era was the owner of a publishing company based in London. The most famous and enduring of his publications was Titbits Magazine, but he also printed the Strand and many books aimed at the 'lower' end of the market. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a close personal friend.
His empire quickly expanded and he rapidly became an MP and was a real celebrity of his time. Sir George loved both Lynton and Lynmouth and wanted a certain amount of commercial success for the twin towns. He masterminded the building of the Cliff Railway, the Lynton Barnstaple Railway the Town Hall too, as well as constructing an imposing mansion near the top of Hollerday Hill ........ by the way Ingleside is on the South Facing slope of Hollerday Hill.
He was always a man with an eye on the main chance and saw there was an opportunity to be had in linking the two villages and to provide a service to the North Devon communities that was not currently there.
Many a paddle steamer plied tourists and trade between South Wales and Bristol to Lynmouth. Holiday makers flocked to the village but were always put off by the daunting 500 foot climb up to Lynton. There were carriages and horseback available, but this cost money and it was a lot easier for the average day tripper to stay in Lynmouth. All freight that vessels disembarked at Lynmouth had to be carried up the steep hill by packhorses, adding costs and taking time.
Growth was being stifled
If some sort of an improved link could be built then Lynton would attract more trade and not miss out on the economic growth and social vibrancy of Lynmouth. This in turn could attract even more tourists to to the Lynmouth and Lynton region and the North Devon area.
Sir George teamed up with the famous engineer George Marks and the idea of a funicular railway was conceived. An Act Of Parliament was passed (red tape even then ....) and work on the link started in 1887 and was finished 3 years later.
"Cliff Top Cafaurant", Lynton
Next to the railway is the Cliff Top Cafaurant which was built at the same time. Inside the cafe are some lovely old photographs of the railway to enjoy whilst sampling lovely snacks and meals!
The Victorian era was truly one of drive, confidence and innovation. One can only imagine in times such as these, would a railway in so isolated a position and geographically difficult terrain be seriously contemplated.
So combined with the personality of Sir George, more and more tourists flocking to Lynmouth, the wish for Lynton not to miss out on the tourist boom, the fourth ingredient, the final piece of the jigsaw was provided by new technology of the Victorian era courtesy of George Marks.
How does the Cliff Railway work?
A full account can be found on the railway's website Cliff Railway, however basically it is as follows:
The carriage with the water
The two carriages are on parallel tracks, one at the top, and one at the bottom of the hill, separated vertically by 500 feet, the rails being only 862 feet long. This is what you call a steep gradient. It makes Porlock Hill seem like a gentle incline! Each carriage (which holds up to 40 passengers) is linked by a continuous cable and they each have tanks underneath the passenger seating which holds up to 700 gallons of water. As the carriages sit at the top & bottom stations collecting of disembarking passengers, the top carriage fills with enough water to make it heavier than the bottom carriage (passenger weight is taken into account).
All this is done without a computer chip in sight.
When the carriages are ready for the journey, the water is released from the bottom carriage, the brakes released, and the weight of the top carriage is pushed down the track by gravity, and the carriage at the bottom is pulled up by the weight of the carriage coming down.
Technical details now out of the way --- the actual journey is spectacular and exhilarating and if standing on the open deck a little scary! The noises of Victorian machinery, the whoosh of the water and the knowledge that this was designed and built nearly 125 years ago makes this "A Truly Remarkable Journey".
You may also like to see some of the views from Ingleside or have a look at some of the wonderful scenery in this part of North Devon in our Photo Galleries: