Lynmouth and Lynton Cliff Railway

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Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

April, 2019

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Travelled with

On your own

Reasons for trip

Lynmouth on the West and East Lyn Rivers is 600’ below Lynton which developed on the flatter land above the cliifs.

Because of the remoteness of the area and rugged geography, roads were poor. Villagers had to rely on the sea for deliveries of coal, lime, foodstuffs and other essentials, which had then to be carried by packhorses or horse drawn carts up the steep hill from Lynmouth to Lynton.

Visitors started to arrive in the early C19th, arriving at Lynmouth by paddle steamer. Ponies, donkeys and carriages were available for hire, but the steep gradients led to the animals having only short working lives.

In the late C19th there was a major proposal to extend the pier to increase excursion traffic, extend the esplanade and build a cliff railway, operated by water, to take visitors and goods up to Lynton.

An Act of Parliament was passed for the railway and another gave it perpetual rights to water from the Lyn Valley. Construction began in 1887 and took three years to build. The Lynmouth and Lynton Cliff Railway is 862’ long and the top station is 500’ above the quay. The incline is 1:1.75 or 58%

It is the only cliff railway still powered entirely by water. Others have been electrified or use a closed water system which recycles water between the top and bottom cars.

Water is brought from the West Lyn River by gravity and is stored in a reservoir. Each car has a 700 gallon tank mounted between the wheel below the car, with a reserve 10 gallon tank for the braking system. The cab can be removed to provide a flat bed to carry large items of freight and was even used to “carry motor cars.”:

The cars are connected by a continuous cable which goes round a large pulley at both ends. A second cable acts as a tail balance cable that counteracts the weight of the hauling cables.

The railway is operated by gravity. When both tanks are full, the cars are in balance. When loaded with passengers, the drivers use a system of bells to communicate to release the brakes. These are kept permanently locked on by 120lb lead weights when the cars are stationary. The driver of the lower car releases just enough “water”: to make it lighter than the upper car.

The heavier top car now descends by gravity pulling up the lighter bottom car. If the lower driver releases too much water, the cars will accelerate too fast and governors on the wheels slow the cars down to a pre-set speed. When the car reaches the top, its reservoir tank is topped up again.

The Cliff Top Cafe at the top station used to be the waiting room for passengers.

The railway runs from early February to early November. There is no set timetable and cars run every ten minutes according to demand. The journey takes a few minutes. The ticket officeis at the bottom station, so passengers joining at the top pay as they leave. A return tickets costs £3.90 and is well worth it!

There is restricted space in the cars and passengers are asked to fold wheelchairs and pushchairs. It is unsuitable for mobility scooters unless they can be folded. Drivers are not permitted to handle folded pushchairs or wheelchairs. There are two small steps down to the seating area.



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