Exmoor NT Basecamp,

North Devon

22nd - 24th March 2013



It was in the  midst of the long, gloomy, bitterly cold winter that had been testing the resilience of life all across the land that we found ourselve heading west to the North Devon coastline the weekend before Easter, to the National Trust Basecamp situated in the village of Countisbury, just before Lynmouth. A lift had been arranged with Gordon Farquhar around midday and I was to to share a room with Bernard Gardner. .

Saturday's weather started with a strong wind and thick mist but at least it was dry, as we descended the slopes of the valley down towards Watersmeet House, a former fishing lodge and used today as an information centre, tea room and shop by the National Trust, who have owned it since 1996. The fishing lodge, which dates from approximately 1832, stands at the bottom of a deep gorge at the confluence of the East Lyn River and Hoar Oak Water. The site has been a tea garden since 1901. We continued up the path along the Hoar Oak Water until we reached Hillsford Bridge and the entrance to Combe Park, also run by the National Trust.

From here we left the gorge and ascended through the park past Combe Park Lodge (following the the signs towards Cheriton Way) through Old Wood, until we reached Cheriton Road, continuing past the a farm up the hillside along a muddy dirt track leading out onto the barren moorlands of Exmoor. No sooner had we reached the exposed, unsheltered landscape than the cold hit us instantly. On our previous walk, we had taken the Tarka Trail / Two Moors way along Cheriton Ridge. On this occasion we much less inclined. At this point, the group split, as Bernard opted to take a more sheltered route, though the ultimate goal was to head back towards Lynmouth via Lynton. This left Martin, John, Tim and I. The signs indicated that Sparhanger Cross was only a mile and a quarter away. En route we crossed a stream via a number of stepping stones with the aid of a metal chain for stability. Upon reaching the road, we headed towards the town of Barbrook. Besides the river Lyn, we stopped briefly for lunch. Here we lost John who opted for forty winks, I presume. Faced with three choices, a hilly stretch to the right before descending into Lynmouth, taking the road directly into town or crossing the B3234, following Lynway (at first up a steep incline) into Lynton. The third option appealed the most and one which ultimately proved the most satisfying, not least because it allowed us to wander down the steep roads of Lynton, a rather quaint little town that seems steeped in the past but also for the reason that boys will be boys, it allowed us an opportunity to take the Lynmouth Cliff Railway funicular.








Photo taken by and courtesy of John Adams.





















Lynmouth village straddles the confluence of the West Lyn and East Lyn rivers, in a gorge 210 m below Lynton, to which it is connected by the water powered Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway funicular. The high cliffs separating the two towns (then villages) were a major obstacle to economic development in the 19th century. Because of the remoteness of the area, and rugged geography, villagers had to rely on the sea for most deliveries of coal, lime, foodstuffs and other essentials, which had then to be carried by packhorses and carts up the steep hill to Lynton. The cliffs also posed problems for the burgeoning tourist industry. Holiday makers began to arrive at Lynmouth on paddle steamers from Bristol, Swansea and other Bristol Channel ports, from about 1820. Ponies, donkeys and carriages were available for hire, but the steep gradients led to the animals having only short working lives.

Opened on Easter Monday in 1890, the railway has been in continuous use ever since. An Act of Parliament formed the Lynmouth & Lynton Lift Company in 1888, and a further Act gave the company perpetual rights to the water from the Lyn Valley. The railway comprises two cars, each capable of transporting 40 passengers, joined by a continuous cable running around a 5 ft 6 in (1.676 m) pulley at each end of the incline. Water feeds through 5-inch (127 mm) pipes from the West Lyn River — over a mile away — into tanks under the floor of the upper car. Each car has a 3,182 litre tank mounted between the wheels. Water is discharged from the lower car, until the heavier top car begins to descend, with the speed controlled by a brakeman travelling on each car.

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.  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.

Upon reaching Lynmouth, we took the path via the beachfront promenade, staying above the A39 along Wind Hill, until the bunkhouse at Countisbury came into view. Though this route returns to the main road, we branched off across the hillside and picked up a Watersmeet path that led through the gate at the rear of the National Trust bunkhouse. We had secured a booking for dinner at 18h45 at a popular stopover just a few yards up the road, known as the Blue Ball Inn. Sunday the weather turned even colder., though it was only in the vicinity of Swindon on the M4 that we encountered surrounding hillsides covered in a light dusting of snow.



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