This is about a wonderful narrow-gauge revival in North Devon, If you’re not interested in such things, look away now.
Being in need of a change of air, I spent a day wandering round Exmoor and North Devon, an area I haven’t really been back to since I spent most of 1973 there as a member of the community at Lee Abbey. One reason was that I wanted to see the revived Lynton and Barnstaple Railway. I was well impressed.
Built in the 1890s to link bustling Barnstaple with remote Lynton and Lynmouth, this narrow-gauge (1′ 11½”) line clambered across the fringes of Exmoor, but succumbed to motor competition in 1935. Even the Southern Railway couldn’t keep it going, but the day after closure, someone put a wreath on the bufferstops at Barnstaple Town with this biblical allusion – perchance it is not dead, but sleepeth.
It’s been a long sleep.
81 years later, a short section (the highest, 1,000 feet up) is now running daily steam trains using the original carriages, which have been wonderfully restored.
The little first-class compartments (I treated myself) are stunning – the observation one I used has red upholstery and panoramic views; the other one is a more subdued Edwardian blue.
Woody Bay station is in the pseudo-Swiss style much favoured for ‘little Switzerland’ seaside resorts. It reeks Southern authenticity. The café operation is not huge but they really do have home-made cakes.
The loco shed is there: currently there are two engines available, but there are replicas of the original USA-designed engines in existence, and they do visit.
The cunning plan is to extend the line in both directions from Woody Bay. Heading for Lynton, Caffyns may be the eventual terminal; going the other way a station at Wistlandpound reservoir is in prospect. But the ambition is huge: perhaps they have the revived Welsh Highland Railway project as their model. A team is already at work at Chelfham station, near Barnstaple (famous for it’s substantial viaduct), and other stretches of trackbed have been bought…
The run is only one mile each way at present, but it’s worth a visit, if only for the panoramic views and the excellence of the restored carriages.
Bibliography – and film clips!
I first learned about the line’s history through John Prideaux’s books (good old David & Charles):
- The Lynton and Barnstaple Railway (I’ve got the 1971 edition ISBN 0 7153 4958 9) – a study of the line’s history, operating practices, closure, with lots of diagrams for the modeller to pore over…
- Lynton and Barnstaple Railway Album (1974 – ISBN 0 7153 6809 5) – a comprehensive picture album with proper notes.
These days, Google is our friend, and YouTube has 8 lovely minutes of genuine 1930’s film of the line in action. There are also two BBC documentaries from 1987 which tell the good tale: Part 1 is here, part 2 is here.If your appetite has been whetted, and you are in North Devon…. It’s near Parracombe – head for EX31 4RA