This walk starts at the Lynton station of the cliff railway, which is the easiest way to climb up the 500 feet (140 metres) ascent from Lynmouth. This railway is a feat of Victorian engineering, built between 1887 and 1890, with most of the rock being cut by hand. It is powered by water. The two carriages are linked by a cable and the top lift carriage is loaded up with sufficient water, (piped from the River Lyn), to counter-balance the weight of the lower carriage and so lift it to the top, whereupon the process is repeated.
From the lift station follow the track out to Lynton’s main street, and then turn left to descend to St Mary the Virgin Church.
The tower of the church dates from the 13th Century, but most of the rest of the building is Victorian. A local legend claims that it was planned to build this church opposite Cherrybridge on the Barnstaple road, but whilst the workmen toiled each day, each night pixies would move all the materials away, until the builders gave up and instead built it on the pixie’s chosen spot.
At the church turn left down North Walk Hill. At the bottom of the hill, you cross a bridge over the cliff railway and join North Walk which will leads all the way to the Valley of Rocks.
From the bridge you get a particularly good view down over Lynmouth and along the coast to Foreland Point with its lighthouse on the end. Just off the coast you can see what looks like a small oil platform. This is a prototype turbine generating electricity using the powerful tidal currents of the Bristol Channel to turn the blades of an underwater ‘windmill’. It is proving to be a success, and there are plans over the next few years to install an array of 12 slightly larger versions which would provide enough power for around 5500 homes (see the Foreland Point Walk).
Continuing along North Walk the road turns into a path, and once you pass through a wooden gate you are in the territory of the Valley of Rocks goats.
The Domesday Book recorded that there were 75 goats in the Manor of Lyntonia, and a herd of feral goats roamed the valley until the mid-nineteenth century. These were hunted to extinction due to their habit of killing the more valuable sheep by ramming them off the cliffs. A replacement herd of white goats was reintroduced in the early twentieth century, but these died out by the mid 1960’s.
The current herd was introduced in 1976 from the ‘wild’ goats of the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland. These goats are now part of the character of the Valley of Rocks, and many people come specifically to see them (they are used to seeing people and are placid, but please do not feed them). However their nocturnal raids on local gardens meant that at one stage they were threatened with a cull, but since a new fence and cattle grids were installed in 2005, this problem appears to have been resolved – so make sure you close the gate behind you.
Along with a small herd of pedigree Exmoor ponies (did you know the population of Exmoor ponies is smaller than that of Giant Pandas?), the goats do an important job of keeping the area the vegetation under control. Without them, within a few decades trees and scrub would grow up, and not only would the views be lost, but so would many of the flowers. If you come in the Spring, you will not only see the baby goats (kids), but also lots of Early Purple Orchids.
After about ½ mile, a jagged tor appears on the left.
This is the celebrated Rugged Jack with his companions. Legend has it that some Druids were dancing here on a Sunday, and making impious revelry, when Satan suddenly appeared in the midst of them and turned them into stone.
Continuing onwards, the towering mass of Castle Rock comes into view, and soon you enter the Valley of Rocks.
It is thought that this, now dry, valley was created by the River Lyn flowing through it, and there are two theories to explain why it has since changed its course to flow down to Lynmouth. The first of these is that the coastline eroded back to a bend in the river, creating a cliff waterfall that quickly eroded directly inland. The alternative theory is that during the Ice Age an ice dam across the mouth of the Lyn caused the river to be diverted through the Valley of Rocks.
On the opposite side of the valley to Castle Rock is the ‘Devil’s Cheese Ring’, where Mother Meldrum lived when John Ridd sought her in R D Blackmore’s novel, Lorna Doone (see the Lorna Doone Walk). Here is John Ridd's description of it:
"This valley, or 'goyal' as we term it, being small for a valley, lies to the east of Linton, about a mile from the town, perhaps, and away towards Ley Manor. Our home folk always call it the 'Danes' or the 'Denes,' which is no more they tell me than a hollow place, even as the word 'den' is. However, let that pass, for I know very little about it; but the place itself is a pretty one, though nothing to frighten anybody unless he hath lived in a gally-pot. It is a green, rough-sided hollow, bending at the middle, touched with stone at either crest, and dotted here and there with slabs in and out the brambles. On the right hand is an upward crag, called by some the 'Castle,' easy enough to scale, and giving great view of the Channel. Facing this from the inland side and the elbow of the valley, a queer old pile of rocks arises, bold behind one another, and quite enough to affright a man, if it were only ten times larger. This is called the 'Devil's Cheese Ring,' or the 'Devil's Cheese Knife,' which means the same thing, as our fathers were used to eat their cheese from a scoop; and perhaps in old time the upmost rock (which has fallen away since I knew it) was like such an implement, if Satan eat cheese untoasted.”
Ley Manor, mentioned here by Blackmore, was a Domesday manor sited a little way to the north of Lee Abbey (see the Crock Point Walk).
To return to Lynton, turn left to walk up the road, passing a couple of car parks, a café, public toilets and a picnic area. After going past what must be one of the prettiest locations for a cricket ground anywhere, a tarmac path leads off on the left, signed to North Walk.
If you follow this path it will take you through a small ‘pass’ between Chimney Rock and Rugged Jack and onto the Coast Path whereupon you can retrace your steps back to Lynton. Alternatively, for a shorter, but less scenic walk, continue following the road which leads directly back to Lynton.
In Lynton there are shops, pubs and cafés, and there is also a café in the Valley of Rocks.
There are regular bus services to and from Lynton from Minehead, Porlock, Combe Martin, Ilfracombe, Woolacombe and Barnstaple. For timetable information visit Traveline or phone 0871 200 22 33.