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Interesting England: North Devon; Exmoor, Lynmouth and Lynton; Walks, Wildlife, History and Literature

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I love to investigate the history and geography of my home town, my area and my country, England, as well as other parts of Britain.

North Devon has much to offer

North Devon including Exmoor National Park

North Devon including Exmoor National Park

South West England

When people mention the South West of England, what usually springs to mind? The English Riviera around Torquay in South Devon, the surfing beaches around Newquay in Cornwall, the wind-swept crags of Tintagel steeped in Arthurian legend and myth or maybe the countryside down to Land’s End?

South Devon is indeed popular for its sunshine and long sandy beaches but North Devon has its own appeal, having spectacular scenery both along the wave-beaten coast and inland on beautifully wild, misty and sometimes sun-bathed Exmoor. It is a walker’s paradise.

Exmoor National Park covers a large part of North Devon, stretching over a triangular area from Minehead to Ilfracombe along the north coast, then inland to Dulverton, offering a choice of scenery from plunging cliffs to hill-top cairns, chill misty valleys to warm wide skies. Exmoor gets its name from the River Exe which reaches the English Channel at Exmouth in South Devon. It has more than 600 miles of marked footpaths!


Travel in Style between Lynmouth & Lynton

The Victorian water-powered railway

The Victorian water-powered railway

Lynmouth & Lynton

The ‘twin’ villages of Lynmouth & Lynton are a good base from which to explore this impressive area. Lynmouth, as its name suggests, is where the River Lyn meets the Bristol Channel. It has a small harbour nestling between two promontories; typical English cottages survey the river walls and cling to the steep rock. The wide bay offers some shelter and is also popular with surfers both in summer and riding the wild horses in winter! (I suppose the name comes from the sea-breezes whipping up the crests of the waves to look like horses’ manes in the wind.) Lynton is the town perched on the rocks above, requiring a drive up steep sharp bends, or a walk up the zig-zag path guaranteed to let you know where your hamstrings are, or, for a more leisurely few minutes, a trip in the unique Victorian water-operated funicular railway.

The villagers claim to have the highest cliffs in England at Countisbury Hill, which soars up into the moor and bears the road east out of Lynmouth, as well as the deepest natural gorge at Watersmeet, up the tightly wooded Lyn valley to the north. Dramatic waterfalls, deep autumn russets or a vibrant palette of spring colours are some of the diversions as you explore.


Great Walks & Scenery

Valley of the Rocks

Valley of the Rocks

Lyn Valley

Lyn Valley

Further Afield

To the west, up in Lynton, a path leads you to the Valley of Rocks, formed during the Ice Age, where wild goats roam and cling to the steep slopes which plunge to the sea. A longer walk can take you to Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on the moor affording breath-taking views across the Bristol Channel. Exmoor is wild, dramatic, misty and mysterious, breathtakingly beautiful and surprises you with sudden gullies hidden in sweeping green mossy folds of hillside. The coastline is brown-red rugged and vanishes steeply into the waves.

It is worth taking time to experience the varied terrain of all these walks; you can enjoy the dappled shade of the Lyn Valley, the heady route along the coastal path or a journey across the rolling moors, past packhorse bridges, through fords and under mares’ tails skies. You might encounter goats, Exmoor ponies, red deer or foxes. You’ll probably see buzzards circling, hear them ‘mewing’, often in twos or threes far, far above you. If you’re lucky, you could also catch a glimpse of a Merlin, one of the smallest but fast birds of prey.


Flash Floods

Terrible floods in 1952 led to the river being redirected, the bed widened and its banks being heightened and strengthened, to better withstand flash floods gushing off the moor and pounding down the Lyn valley. There is a museum in Lynmouth dedicated to the story of the flood; photographic and first-hand witnesses of the disaster are displayed.

Example of the Devastation

Literary Connections

Exmoor has also provided a dramatic backdrop to several works of literature. Doone Valley is a much-visited part of the moor; R D Blackmore’s 1869 novel ‘Lorna Doone’ unfolds among these hills and valleys. It narrates ‘a romance of Exmoor’ set in the late 17th century; you can easily imagine ‘girt Jan Ridd’ striding across the moor to rescue Lorna from the pistol-bearing Carver Doone who kept her prisoner in a guarded hamlet deep in the valley. (‘Girt’ is a west country dialect word meaning large, best said with an exaggerated ‘r’!) Other authors of note impressed by Exmoor were Coleridge and Wordsworth, Margaret Drabble (The Witch of Exmoor 1996), Southey and Shelley. Henry Williamson wrote ‘Tarka the Otter’, set in the waters of this area where otters can still be seen. It is said that Coleridge and the Wordsworths planned Coleridge’s ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ whilst walking along the path of the Valley of Rocks. The name ‘Lorna’ is one of a few made-up names from literature, along with ‘Wendy’ from ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Pollyanna’ from the story of the same name.


A Place to Lay your Head

Let’s return to our base in Lynton. There are, of course, lots of hotels and B&Bs in which to stay but we chose the Lynton Cottage Hotel; it had such a friendly, relaxing atmosphere, was comfortable with excellent food, a bar, and the views are incomparable. Now, it is a collection of holiday apartments and has a more contemporary feel. It is perched high above the bay, on a rocky ledge and looks over to Countisbury Hill, across the channel to Wales (if somewhat misty!) and up the deep valley of the River Lyn. What better place to stay and relax after a day’s walking or sightseeing?

C S Lewis visited here in 1925 and said the ‘view from the balcony was beyond everything I have seen.’ Order a cream tea, sit on the terrace and you’ll see what he meant - the view will astound you! The light constantly changes the mood and aspect whatever the weather. You are only two minutes from the dizzying funicular railway, much the easiest way to visit the beach and enjoy the views on the way. Or you can walk down through the hotel gardens to join the public path winding down to the old fishing cottages, craft shops and local ice creams! A walk the other way will take you to the Valley of Rocks.

Be it spring, summer, autumn or winter, this quiet, comfy, gentle yet wild and wondrous corner of North Devon deserves at least a day’s visit, if not a week’s holiday to discover all it has to offer.


Information


  • Lynmouth Before and After the 1952 Flood

    After visiting Lynmouth in England I was drawn to the tragedy of the 1952 flood there and the lives it impacted. This my research on that topic and my memoriam to those who died there.

Holiday Preferences

© 2012 Ann Carr

Comments

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on June 30, 2015:

Thank you, Carolyn, for your kind comments. I'm glad you liked the photos; they're a mixture of mine and my partner's, as we're both keen photographers.

I'm lucky to live near to Exmoor. One of my favourite books is 'Lorna Doone' and my older daughter is named after her!

We do have so much wonderful history and heritage here. Clichéd Americans are fine in my book!

Ann

Carolyn Emerick on June 29, 2015:

Hi Ann, what a great article. I am one of those cliche Americans madly in love with England, but it is most of my family heritage and I just love it so much. The culture, the history, the folklore, the literature, countryside, so much there to love. And you have done a great job highlighting the culture and scenery of a beautiful region. Those coastline shots were stunning!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 28, 2013:

BlossomSB, thank you for your comment. I too love 'Lorna Doone' so much so that my first daughter was named Lorna!

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on September 28, 2013:

As a girl, one of my favourite books was 'Lorna Doone' and it was so interesting to eventually visit that part of the world many years ago. Thank you for reminding me of it. Another I enjoyed was 'Westward Ho!' and I was surprised to find a seaside town of that name in the south west of England, too.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 14, 2013:

Thank you Eiddwen. Good of you to visit and I look forward to seeing you again. Thank you for the 'follow' too.

Eiddwen from Wales on February 14, 2013:

What a wonderful hub and I now most definitely look forward to many more.

Eddy.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 04, 2013:

Thank you Graham and thanks for the follow. I love that area. Sadly there have been lots of floods here this year too (fortunately not where I live) but no loss of life as far as I know, thank God. Glad you like the pics.

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on January 04, 2013:

Hi annart. Thank you for a lovely visit. Words and pictures a delight. I remember the floods and loss of life . voted up and all.

following.

Graham.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on July 17, 2012:

Hi freecampingaussie, good to hear from you again! Thanks for reading and the comments. It's a beautiful part to visit; let me know when you're coming over.

freecampingaussie from Southern Spain on July 15, 2012:

Loved your hub & the pictures ! We hope to visit next year . I have been back over to Wales etc but my husband has't been there yet .

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 18, 2012:

Thank you Sharon, glad you liked it. We have so many lovely places; I just wish the weather was as good as yours! Ann

aboutaustralia from Newcastle, New South Wales on May 18, 2012:

A wonderful hub, full of interesting information and beautiful pics. Definitely a must for any visit to England!

Hopefully I will get to see it first hand one day. Voted up, Sharon

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 24, 2012:

Hi alocsin! It's a lovely part of our lovely country. The railway is great fun and gives you amazing views (it's not expensive either). Glad you're inspired and thanks for the votes.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 24, 2012:

I'll have to make time for this region on my next visit to England. Never been to that part at all. I like the water-powered railway. Voting this Up and Interesting.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 24, 2012:

Yes, it's a great surfing area (not that I do any!). Glad to have stirred your memories, Judi. And thanks for following me. Ann

Judi Brown from UK on February 23, 2012:

I spent a wonderful week at a farm near Dulverton, years ago now, but it is a beautiful part of the country and your hub bring back some great memories. We've also camped a bit further down the coast at Croyde (husband surfs!) more recently.

Voted up and interesting.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 08, 2012:

Glad you liked it! Will go to look at your hubs now. Thanks for the vote.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 07, 2012:

Glad you liked it. Have just looked at your hub re crazy chef - interesting!

MP50 on February 07, 2012:

Hey annart, loved this Hub, have family in North Devon Braunton, Walked the otter trail and baggy point many times. Also surfed in Croyde.

Thanks for the memories, voted up.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 07, 2012:

England is well worth a visit. We have loads of castles all over the place! Glad you enjoyed the read.

Flickr on February 07, 2012:

nice. i would love to travel to England one day. i'm infatuated with castles and the like. thanks for the read.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 07, 2012:

Thank you JKenny. I love it too. Fortunately it's not far from home!

James Kenny from Birmingham, England on February 07, 2012:

Great article, really well written. I've been to Exmoor, wonderful place; I loved seeing the Ponies roaming freely, it was absolutely magical.