Lynton has long been an inspiration for artists and poets alike, the romatic poets in particular found the stunning surroundings a home away from home.
Shelly and his family honeymooned here in the summer of 1812 and soon developed a strong connection to the village.
They came to Lynmouth on their way to Ilfracombe and "...the beauty of it made us residents here for the summer months...It combines all the beauties of our late residence with the addition of a fine bold sea. We have taken the only Cottage there was, which is most beautifully situated, commanding a fine view of the sea with mountains at the side and behind us."
Coleridge and the Wordsworths fell in love with the Lynton area and even thought of settling there. Coleridge wrote to a friend: "We will go on a roam to Linton and Linmouth, which if thou camest in May will be in all their pride of woods and waterfalls, not to speak of the august cliffs, and the green ocean, and the Vast Valley of Stones all of which live disdainful of the seasons or accept new honours only from the winter's snow." A flowery combe near Lynton was later described in his poem Reflections on Leaving a Place of Retirement, although not specifically named.
Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner was planned during a walking tour with the Wordsworths later the same month. Wordsworth later recalled: “Coleridge, my sister and myself started from Alfoxden with a view to visit Lynton and the Valley of Stones . . . . In the course of this walk was planned the poem of the Ancient Mariner.”
In the 19th century, the high cliffs separating Lynton from Lynmouth were a major obstacle to economic development. The twin villages mainly relied on sea transport because land travel was extremely difficult over Exmoor. Coal, lime, foodstuffs and other essentials arrived at Lynmouth in sailing vessels, but this freight had to be carried by packhorses or in horse drawn carts up the steep hill to Lynton.
The cliffs also posed problems for the growing tourist industry. From the mid 1820's holiday makers began to arrive at Lynmouth on paddle steamers from Bristol, Swansea and other Bristol Channel ports but a daunting hill faced those who decided to walk up to Lynton. Ponies and donkeys could be hired at 6d a time, but the steep gradients severely tested the unfortunate animals. Other tourists travelled up Lynmouth hill in carriages, but the horses that pulled them had a very short working life. It was in December 1881 that a novel solution to the problem was proposed, a 'Cliff Railway' joining Lynton on the top of the hill with Lynmouth at the bottom.
Thomas Hewitt invited his friend George Newnes, the wealthy publisher if Tit Bits, to be his guest at the Hoe within 24 hours of arriving at the Hoe ,Newnes had agreed to put up most of the money for the cliff railway. Some 900 feet of rail was laid rising over 500 feet vertically at an incline of 1:1.75.
The Cliff Railway is still operational today and offers stunning views over Lynmouth
On 15 and 16 August 1952, a storm of tropical intensity broke over south-west England, depositing 229 millimetres (9.0 in) of rain within 24 hours on an already waterlogged Exmoor. It is thought that a cold front scooped up a thunderstorm, and the orographic effect worsened the storm. Debris-laden floodwaters cascaded down the northern escarpment of the moor, converging upon the village of Lynmouth; in particular, in the upper West Lyn valley, a dam was formed by fallen trees, etc., which in due course gave way, sending a huge wave of water and debris down that river.
The River Lyn through the town had been culverted to gain land for business premises; this culvert soon choked with flood debris, and the river flowed through the town. Much of the debris was boulders and trees.
Overnight, over 100 buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged along with 28 of the 31 bridges, and 38 cars were washed out to sea. In total, 34 people died, with a further 420 made homeless.
Similar events had been recorded at Lynmouth in 1607 and 1796. After the 1952 disaster, the village was rebuilt, including diverting the river around the village.
In 2001, a BBC Radio 4 documentary suggested that the events of 1952 were connected to government operation Project Cumulus involving cloud seeding experiments being conducted in southern England at the time. There does not presently seem to be any direct evidence to support such allegations, but conspiracy theories have been fuelled by rumours of missing or destroyed government documents relating to the experiments.
The small group of houses on the bank of the East Lyn river called Middleham between Lynmouth and Watersmeet was destroyed and never rebuilt. Today, there stands a memorial garden.
Exmoor is Lorna Doone country, as brought to life by Richard Doddridge Blackmore who penned Lorna Doone, was actually born in Oxfordshire, but will forever will associated with North Devon, where he spent most of his childhood. The book's Doone Valley is around five miles from Lynton and is best reached via Malmsmead.
John Ridd of Somerset is twelve years old in 1673 when
his father is killed by Carver Doone, one of a murderous
outlaw band. John wants to avenge his father’s death, but
falls in love with Lorna Doone, who later turns out to be
Lorna Dugal, the daughter of a rich Lord. Carver Doone
intends to marry her to get her inheritance.
John’s uncle enlists the help of Judge Jeffreys to fight
the Doones. Soon afterwards, rebellion begins. John is
wrongly suspected of being a rebel fighting with the Duke
of Monmouth against King James II. However, he is
rescued from hanging and taken to London where he is
made a knight.
Back in Somerset, an attack is launched on the Doones.
They all die except Carver. At John and Lorna’s wedding,
Carver shoots Lorna. He is chased by John and perishes in
the marshland. Lorna recovers and they live happily.
On 12th January 1899 Edward Pedder, who owned the post office in Lynmouth, received a telegram for Jack Crocombe, which he passed to the latter at 7:52p.m. Jack was coxswain of the Louisa, the Lynmouth lifeboat, and the telegram reported that a large ship was drifting ashore at Porlock Weir. Watchet lifeboat station reported shortly afterwards that severe weather prevented them from launching their boat, so the Lynmouth boat was the ship's only hope.
A gale had been blowing all day and had already flooded several houses and a shop in Lynmouth, and it was clear that the boat could not be launched at Lynmouth. Not to be beaten, the coxswain proposed to take the boat by road to Porlock's sheltered harbour, and launch it from there.
This meant using whatever horses and men could be obtained to haul the boat and its carriage (which together weighed about 10 tons) the distance of 13 miles, including climbing up the 1 in 4½ Countisbury Hill, reaching a height of 1,423 feet above sea level, and later taking it down the 1 in 4 Porlock Hill.
20 horses were brought from the local coach proprietor, and six men were sent ahead with shovels and pickaxes to widen the road. The combined efforts of the horses and 100 local men eventually brought the boat to the top of Countisbury Hill, where a wheel came off the carriage and had to be put back on.
Most of the helpers gave up at this point, leaving only 20 to help the crew for the rest of the journey. At one stage the road was too narrow for the carriage and could not be widened, so the boat was dragged on skids while the carriage was taken off-road over the moor to get round the obstacle.
Porlock Hill was especially dangerous, but with the horses, and all the men using ropes, to hold the carriage back they managed to get down safely, only to meet another obstacle. Here a garden wall blocked the road. The old lady who owned the property was not pleased to be woken in the early hours by the noise of her wall being demolished, but when she discovered the cause agreed to a corner of her cottage being removed as well to let the carriage through.
The next problem was finding the road to the coast was impassable as a result of a sea wall having been washed away. During the diversion onto a higher road they had to fell a large tree, but they eventually reached Porlock Weir at 6:30a.m.
The crew were, of course, soaked, hungry and exhausted, but immediately launched the boat. It took an hour to reach the ship, which had drifted dangerously close to Hurlstone Point. It was the Forrest Hall, a 1,900 ton ship with a crew of 13 men and 5 apprentices, on its way from Bristol to Liverpool. The ship had been under tow down the Bristol Channel because of the headwind when the cable snapped and the rudder was washed away.
Since the ship was safe as long as the anchors held, the lifeboat stood by until daybreak, when the original tug appeared. The lifeboat was used to get a line from ship to ship, and some of the lifeboat crew even went aboard the ship to raise the anchors because the ship's crew were too exhausted to do it.
A second tug was needed to avoid drifting into Nash Sands, but eventually the ship was towed safely to Barry, accompanied by the lifeboat in case the cable snapped again. Darkness had fallen by the time they docked at Barry.
The crew of the lifeboat were:
Jack Crocombe (coxswain)
George Richards (second coxswain)
Richard Ridler (bowman)
Richard Moore (signalman)
William Richards (age 16)
Edward Pedder, the post office owner, also sailed in the boat.
Four of the horses used died as a result of their labours on the journey.
The men of Lynton and Lynmouth re-enacted the land journey, in similar weather conditions but in daylight and on today's far better roads, to celebrate the one hundredth aniversary of the event on 12th January 1999. In the re-enactment, Edward Pedder's grandson John Pedder played the part of his ancestor in delivering the telegram.