- Start: Lyndale Cross car park, Lynmouth (grid ref SS724494)
- End: Lyndale Cross car park, Lynmouth (grid ref SS724494)
- Country: England
- County: Devon
- Type: Country
- Ordnance Survey: Explorer OL9 (Exmoor) or Landranger 180
- Difficulty: Medium
Take a stroll along the delightful East Lyn River with Robert Hesketh and discover some poignant and dramatic history along the way
The first half of this superb Exmoor walk follows one of Devon’s most beautiful riverside paths beside the East Lyn to Watersmeet tea rooms. From there, a stiff climb up Myrtleberry Cleave is rewarded with wild and dramatic views of both the steep East Lyn gorge and the high cliffs surrounding Lynton.
There’s always a sporting chance of seeing wild red deer, before the ridge path descends to Lynmouth and a well-earned pint at the Rising Sun, a 14th-century thatched inn described by RD Blackmore in Lorna Doone as a place where smugglers ‘landed their goods without regard to the King’s Revenue’. The adjacent cottages on Mars Hill with their ample salting houses were no doubt handy for storing contraband.
The poet Shelley was among the first to appreciate Lynmouth’s scenic beauty and had a cottage there, whilst Poet Laureate Robert Southey thought it one of the finest places he ever saw. A new-found taste for Romantic scenery brought many more admirers and the area became known, with Victorian hyperbole, as ‘Little Switzerland’.
Lynmouth retains real charm, especially the pretty harbour with its Rhenish Tower, a replica of the 19th-century water tower destroyed in the 1952 flood. A little further along the seafront is the unique cliff railway, still the easiest and quickest way to reach Lynton 261m (861ft) up the cliff. Built in 1890, it is powered entirely by water drawn off the West Lyn and works by balancing the weight of its two cars on a pulley system. The top car’s tank is filled with water, enabling it to descend and pull the lighter car from the bottom of the slope. When the first car reaches the bottom it dumps its load, 3,000 litres of water. Brilliantly simple!
On a spring day with the fresh green leaves budding forth the East Lyn looks benign, but even during settled weather it’s a lively river, plunging rapidly over tumbled boulders and through waterfalls from Exmoor to the sea. After heavy rain it roars and rages; it can rise sharply and should always be treated with respect. All hope the terrible flood of 1952 will never be repeated. After a prolonged wet period, 9in (225mm) of rain fell on Exmoor in just two days that August. This caused the East and West Lyn to flood so suddenly and violently that the ensuing spate, carrying more water than flows down the Thames in three months, brought a 40ft-high wall of water which swept away trees, bridges and cars.
1.Start from Lyndale Cross car park. Cross the road bridge at the lower end. Turn right along Tors Road and walk uphill, parallel to the East Lyn. Only 100m ahead bear right through a public garden. Simply follow the bankside path as signed to ‘Watersmeet’. It is well surfaced and well graded. Walkers have the choice of using bridges to explore either bank for much of the walk. There are many paths to explore. They were first developed by foresters, who coppiced the oaks every 25 years or so and used the wood for charcoal, burning limestone or for pit props. Mules carried some of the charcoal to Lynmouth for shipment to the Welsh ore furnaces.
2.Hoar Oak Water joins the East Lyn by Watersmeet, a Victorian hunting and fishing lodge, now a National Trust information centre, tea room and shop. From the centre, cross to the opposite bank by two wooden footbridges. Turn right, then after 20m left and uphill on a zigzag path. After a further 20m, turn sharp right at the sign ‘Lynton and Barbrook over the Cleaves’.
On reaching the road, cross straight over and take the path opposite, ‘Lynton, Lynmouth via the Cleaves’. This path winds uphill to Myrtleberry’s Iron Age North Camp. The ramparts are still clearly delineated. Follow the path uphill through the camp and up to the top of the steep slope ahead. Steps relieve the steepest part of the climb.
3.At the top of the slope, turn right ‘Two Moors Way’ and follow the signs for Lynmouth. The path zigzags downhill, and then zigzags up Oxen Tor. As you enjoy the views spare a thought for the gallant Lynmouth lifeboat crew. One January night in 1899, they were telegraphed to aid the Forrest Hall. The seas were so high they could not launch from Lynmouth and so, with the aid of 20 horses, they hauled their heavy lifeboat 22km (14 miles) over the 400m- (1300ft) high hills opposite you and launched at Porlock to aid the vessel and her crew. After shepherding the Forrest Hall to safety on the Welsh shore, they returned home to a hero’s welcome
4.From Oxen Tor, the path descends again. Take the right-hand path downhill, signed for ‘Lynmouth’, with yet more zigzags to relieve a steep descent to the start. To explore Lynmouth, follow the left bank of the river past the Flood Memorial Hall, with its evocative photographs, to the harbour.
Start/parking: Lyndale Cross car park, Lynmouth (grid ref SS724494)
Distance: 6.7km (4¼ miles)
Time: 2½ hours
Terrain: Well-marked paths; two steep ascents and descents
Maps: Explorer OL9 (Exmoor) or Landranger 180
Refreshments: Bistro, cafés and pubs in Lynmouth; tea room at Watersmeet
Public transport: 300 Lynmouth to Minehead daily; 309 and 310 Lynton to Barnstaple Mon – Sat; Lynton Cliff Railway daily February to early November
For more Exmoor walks see Shortish Walks on Exmoor and Exmoor Pub Walks, both by Robert Hesketh (Bossiney Books, 2005 and 2008).