The world’s steepest, water-powered railway is right here in the UK

·4-min read
Photo credit: Education Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Education Images - Getty Images

The Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway has been ferrying passengers between the classic North Devon harbour town of Lynmouth and pretty Lynton on the cliffs above for over 100 years now. And it’s pretty unique too – there are only three like it in the world.

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In fact, as well as being one of only three completely water-powered railways, it’s also the steepest and the highest. Pretty impressive right? No wonder the train has won so many awards - just last year a reader poll by Which? voted it the UK’s Best Cliff Railway.

Often called ‘Little Switzerland’ thanks to their scenic woodland location, old timbered buildings and quirky shops, Lynton and Lynmouth are two of the most charming towns in the region.

That’s why we’ve included them in a wonderful railway holiday in Devon and Somerset, exclusive to Good Housekeeping readers this summer. During our trip, you’ll travel up the cliff on the railway, as well as ride four other trains through the area’s beautiful scenery.

Like the sound of reaching new heights on the Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway? Here’s everything you need to know about this amazing cliff railway before you go.

How does the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway work?

The train works by balancing the weight of two cars, one at the top and one at the bottom, which dock at each station and use brakes to clamp onto the rails.

Photo credit: Education Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Education Images - Getty Images

When each car is ready to depart the drivers release the brakes, and then the lower car discharges water from its tanks until the top car is heavier. The top car then rolls slowly down the rails, pulling the lower car up.

Is the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway eco-friendly?

Absolutely! In fact it’s one of the most eco-friendly tourist attractions in the world, and its carbon footprint has barely changed since it first opened in the 1800s.

Water travels from the West Lyn River around a mile away, through pipes and into the tanks. It’s then discharged onto the beach about 100 metres from where it was taken by the river.

Photo credit: MyLoupe - Getty Images
Photo credit: MyLoupe - Getty Images

The train doesn’t create any emissions and doesn’t use any fuel - it’s purely powered by water and the magic of gravity.

Why is Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway so unique?

The Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway is the only fully water-powered railway in the UK. Other similar trains like the Saltburn Cliff Lift and the Folkestone Leas Cliff Lift re-pump the water back to the top using electric motors - in fact, most other water-powered railways need some electrical power.

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Other water-powered cliff railways are the Portuguese Elevador do Bom Jesus in Braga, and the Funiculaire Neuveville-St.Pierre in Fribourg, Switzerland. But the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway is the highest and the steepest, lifting you 500 feet from bottom to top.

How old is the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway?

Just over 130 years. The railway opened to the public on Easter Monday in 1890, nine years after it was first suggested.

At the time, it was a huge boost for the local economy - as well as being a major tourist attraction, it was now much easier to transport goods from the harbour to the top of the cliffs, which had been done (very slowly!) by packhorses until that point.

Photo credit: vau902 - Getty Images
Photo credit: vau902 - Getty Images

In 2015, to mark the 125th anniversary of the train’s opening, Princess Anne visited for the second time. She unveiled a plaque to celebrate the railway’s history, then boarded and travelled up the cliff to enjoy the views and meet local volunteers at the top.

What can you see from the train?

Expect spectacular views of the north Devon coastline as you slowly make your way from Lynmouth to Lynton (or from the cliffs down to the beach). Lynmouth is a shingle beach, and the bay itself is a rugged landscape of steep cliffs and forest.

Gazing across it, you’ll have wonderful views of the Bristol Channel, which separates south Wales from Somerset and north Devon.

Photo credit: acceleratorhams - Getty Images
Photo credit: acceleratorhams - Getty Images

Once you’re at the top, why not linger a while to enjoy the scenery over a delicious cream tea at the Cliff Top Café, which is housed inside a Grade II-listed building looking out to sea?

When does the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway open in 2021?

The train re-opened to visitors on 12th April, with Covid-secure measures in place to keep you safe including hand-sanitiser stations, social distancing and all passengers being required to wear face coverings.

You can ride on this amazing water-powered train with Good Housekeeping this summer, as part of our Devon and Somerset rail break. You’ll stay near the pretty market town of Tiverton and explore the whole area, including the famous Quantock Hills and coastline. A nostalgic ride on the Dartmouth Steam Railway is another highlight of our fantastic trip.

Book your place on our Devon and Somerset railway break and see our full range of train holidays.

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