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History of the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway

History of the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway

Exmoor has always been a wild and remote area and horse drawn travel was the only way visitors could reach North Devon's attractive coastal towns and villages in the 1890’s. With the coming of the railways and British tourism booming, rails eventually reached Minehead and Ilfracombe, but the heart of Exmoor had much more difficult terrain to overcome, and a railway to Lynton seemed an impossibility

George Newnes, Lynton's wealthy benefactor thought otherwise, and following in the footsteps of the Ffestiniog Railway in North Wales, construction of the Lynton and Barnstaple railway - to the narrow gauge of 1' 11½" - was begun in 1895.

The railway was designed to follow the contours of the land via many embankments and bridges; chief of these was Chelfham Viaduct, standing some 70' above the Stoke Rivers Valley near Loxhore.

The Railway was originally equipped with three 2-6-2 tank engines named Yeo, Exe and Taw and built by Manning Wardle of Leeds. Once the railway commenced operations, it became clear that three locomotives was insufficient for daily operations and, unable to obtain a fourth Manning Wardle, an order was placed with the Baldwin Locomotive Works in the USA.  This fourth loco was named Lyn

The carriages were built to a high standard and also significantly larger than most other narrow gauge rolling stock. As a result, the coaches were both spacious and comfortable. The three larger stations had buildings which were also unusual, being of a "Swiss Chalet" style.

Although the railway enjoyed some success, insufficient passengers and freight meant that the shareholders received scant returns, with the railway struggling on through the First World War.  In the early 1920s, the LSWR were approached to buy the line.

The L&B was purchased by the Southern Railway in 1923, who commenced a major investment program including relaying and refencing the track, obtaining another locomotive from Manning Wardle named Lew as well as new goods vehicles too.

Unfortunately, the line continued to loose money and in the face of increasing competition from road transport, in 1935 the Southern decided to close the line.

The railway's rolling stock and track were sold at auction on 13th November 1935 and shortly after, the locos were cut up for scrap, and coaches cut into sections and sold of as garden sheds.  The track was lifted the following year and the line reverted back to nature.

With the track gone and the rolling stock cut up for scrap the Lynton and Barnstaple railway slumbered on for almost seventy years! Most of the buildings survived and remained in use – most notably Blackmoor as the Old Station Inn.

The trackbed has remained mostly untouched as have some of the bridges, and the magnificent Chelfham Viaduct is still standing, silently waiting for trains to return.

Renaissance

The L&B was and is not dead - only sleeping.  Back in 1979 a keen band of volunteers got together and undertook to restore this lost railway.  However, it was soon realised that unlike pioneers such as the Talyllyn and Ffestiniog Railways, rebuilding the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway is not preservation but reconstruction of almost everything the railway needs.  Consequently, rebuilding the L&B is an extremely ambitious project which few back then would even consider undertaking. 

Despite this, great progress has been made in the past few years and today you can board a train at Woody Bay Station and travel to Killington Lane and back on a two mile round trip behind a narrow gauge steam locomotive - the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway is once more carrying passengers on a section of the old trackbed. 

The volunteers who are slowly and courageously putting this lost little gem back into the Devon landscape deserve wider support, so do visit yourself and experience this most charming and unique of railways.

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