Visitors to Lynmouth and Lynton will not be surprised to learn that this area of the North Devon coastline is known as England's Little Switzerland. The phrase was first used by poets Robert Southey and Percy Bysshe Shelley to describe its scenic beauty during their visits in the early 19th century. Set beside the wooded ravine where the East and West Lyn rivers meet, this lovely area was relatively isolated at that time.
Shelley's Cottage in Lynmouth was named after the poet who spent his honeymoon there in 1812 with his 16-year-old bride, Harriet.
In 1887, publisher Sir George Newnes lived at Hollerday House, which took its name from Hollerday Hill above Lynton. Together with Thomas Hewitt he had an 862-foot track laid up the steep hillside to run a cliff railway which was a boon to locals facing the steep climb. It was powered by water and opened in 1890. It continues to operate today and is a great experience, offering superb views of the coastline.
Other sights in this clifftop town include the Parish Church of St Mary with its 13th century tower, the town hall and the Lyn and Exmoor Museum housed in a typical whitewashed Devon cottage. Along with archaeological finds and local history it has various exhibits relating to the novel Lorna Doone, written by local author R.D. Blackmore and set in the area.
The small seaside town of Lynmouth is well worth a visit. It has a pretty harbour, a thatched 14th century smugglers inn – the Rising Sun, winding narrow streets, fishermen's cottages and quaint tearooms overlooking the babbling stream. The river may look benign today, but in August 1952 a sudden torrential downpour on Dartmoor filled the East Lyn River. The ensuing flood, carrying huge boulders and trees, washed down the narrow gorge in Lynmouth taking many bridges and cottages with it.
The landmark Rhenish Tower overlooking the harbour was built by General Rawdon in the 1850s to store sea salt for his saltwater baths. It was badly damaged in the flood and had to be reconstructed. Even the lifeboat house was washed away.
In total, the disaster cost 34 lives, 38 cars were washed out to sea and 100 homes were destroyed. Suspicion for the cause of the flood, which has never happened before or since, was unofficially blamed on experimental “seeding” of the clouds on Dartmoor by the Ministry of Defence in “Operation Cumulus”. However, government papers were mysteriously lost and to this day no definite conclusions have ever been drawn.
Around Lynmouth and Lynton
This delightful area of North Devon is where Exmoor meets the sea and it offers plenty of attractions nearby. Close to Lynmouth and Lynton are the surreal rock formations in the Valley of the Rocks, inhabited by wild goats and well worth a drive. In the opposite direction, Watersmeet is a delightful wooded glade with a National Trust teahouse, waterfalls and numerous walks leading off across Exmoor National Park.