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;

The 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.

When 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 Lew, 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 has been 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 Philadelphia.

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 Barnstaple Town.

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!


Website of the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway

The Ffestiniog Railway's "Lyd" Project

The 762 Club

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 license.

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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