The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway
One day I was looking through the list of heritage railways on
Wikipedia and came upon a thumbnail photo of a red and white Victorian
passenger coach. At once my reaction was, “Wow, what a gorgeous
coach!”. I clicked the photo to view it at full size
and then went to find out more about the coach and the railway it belonged to.
Moments later I found myself at the Wikipedia page for the Lynton &
Barnstaple Railway. I scanned the page and saw a hand colored
photograph of the locomotive Yeo
and its train set against the dramatic Devon landscape.
I looked at that picture and right away thought, “That looks like
paradise!”, and that’s how my interest in the Lynton &
Barnstaple Railway began, and I scoured the internet to learn all I
could about it.
I’m not qualified to go into detail on the railway’s
history, but here's its story in a nutshell for the uninitiated;
Lynton & Barnstaple Railway was opened in 1898 and built to the
narrow gauge of 1 foot 11 1/2 inches. It was built as an extension to a
standard gauge service that terminated at Barnstaple and carried
passengers nineteen miles between Barnstaple and the twin towns of Lynton and
Lynmouth on the coast.
While most narrow gauge railways in the United Kingdom were initially built to carry freight, the
L&B geared itself towards passenger traffic from the start, and was built
to an exceedingly high standard for a narrow gauge railway of the time.
The coaches, locomotives, and engineering works
like the Chelfham viaduct were to rival those
of the main line. Even main line standard signaling equipment was used.
The L&B was well loved by those who used it and many others who didn't, but the railway was generally
unprofitable. The line was absorbed into the Southern Railway in 1923,
and in 1935 it was closed and pulled up, a casualty of the increasingly
popular private motorcar.
the internet could no longer satisfy my thirst for information about
the L&B, I sprung up the cash to have a copy of The Lynton
and Barnstaple Railway
by G.A. Brown, J.D.C. Prideaux, and H.G.
Radcliffe shipped over to my home in the US.
According to user feedback I’ve read at online booksellers like
Amazon, The Lynton and Barnstaple Railway
is one of the
best available books about the L&B.
This book (from which much of the information on this page originates), features an entertaining and highly detailed
history of the railway spanning from its conception to its
demise. It also contains plenty of photographs, time tables, rolling stock rosters, locomotive and coach
diagrams, station blueprints, engravings, and more.
To add to my excitement, when I received my copy I discovered that it
was a retired library book. I find that library books have a sort of
magical property to them. There's a feeling of wonder and connection
that comes when I hold my book and consider all the other hands that
have held it, all
the other homes its been in, all the enjoyment and information that
it’s given those who have read it before me.
According to the card
attached to the book’s cover page, my
copy belonged to the Kent County Library and was borrowed a
total of 49 times between May, 1971 and September, 1991. This book has
had quite a journey over the years I’m proud to have been a part
of it. I wonder who it will end up with it next.
As a child I was captivated by the tale of the lost city of Atlantis and it seems that for many the Lynton & Barnstaple's story has a similar appeal, with admirers making pilgrimages down the right-of-way after demolition was complete, and others
hunting unsuccessfully for the sole surviving L&B locomotive
, which was shipped off to a plantation in South
America following closure and hasn’t been heard from since.
In 2010, the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales completed Lyd
, a full scale
replica of the L&B’s iconic purpose built locomotives
designed by Manning Wardle & Co., which is pulling trains on the sister Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways.
Since the day the Lynton & Barnstaple was closed there has been
talk of restoring the line as a combined tourist attraction and
seasonal form of local transportation. The team at the The
Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Trust has been working to make that dream a reality.
About a mile of the route has been reinstated since 2004, and the
World War I steam locomotive Axe
restored to pull trains. There are long term ambitions of
rebuilding more of the route, perhaps someday all the
way from Lynton to Barnstaple again.
The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Trust has long term intentions of building its own replica Manning Wardle locomotive, and there is a
shorter term plan to rebuild the L&B locomotive Lyn
which was designed and built for the railway by Baldwin Locomotive Works in
Baldwin also built the steam locomotives that once polished the rails of the
commuter railway that runs through my town in New York.
It’s cool knowing that my local commuter line shares an engineering heritage with the Lynton &
Barnstaple half a world away in Devon, and reminds me that links to people and places unseen pop up in even the most unexpected of places.
There is a theory currently being explored by quantum physicists
which suggests that every possible outcome of history has played out
in neighboring parallel universes that we can’t see or feel.
Maybe in a
parallel universe the Lynton & Barnstaple beat the odds and didn't vanish in 1935, but survived intact up until the present day.
Perhaps there is something unique about the legend of the Lynton &
Barnstaple that pulls those who are captured by it closer
to that other world where its rails were never pulled up and its little
steam trains still platform alongside main line giants at
Perhaps the existence of such a world is unlikely, but then again, how unlikely was it that a scene gone from the earth for 75 years, a Manning Wardle engine pulling a train through the hills of Devon, would again play out when Lyd
visited the revived L&B in 2010?
Thanks for reading, and Success to the Railway!
Special thanks to those who have made their
materials available for use on this page by releasing them into the
public domain or under a Creative Commons
The photograph of the restored Woody Bay station was taken by Peter Walker
who released his work under the Creative Commons license linked to here
To submit feedback, including fan mail, love letters, and legal threats, please use the site guestbook
or email the author at,
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