Gauge: 1ft 11½in (600mm)
In the late nineteenth century railways were encouraging the growth of tourism. In Devon the remote coasts of Exmoor had several attractive towns wishing to develop as seaside resorts. Travelling to them was the problem. Although main railway lines had reached Minehead and Ilfracombe the heart of Exmoor had such difficult terrain that a railway seemed impossible.
Following the example of North Wales, Exmoor sought a solution in narrow gauge railway. On 11th May 1898 the 1ft 111/2 in gauge Lynton and Barnstaple railway opened. The single-track line ran from Barnstaple Town station, shared with the Ilfracombe line of the London and South Western Railway and ran across the western end of Exmoor to a terminus at Lynton which also served Lynmouth.
The railway was designed to follow the contours of the land as closely as possible, although some embankments and bridges were required. The major feature was the splendid Chelfham Viaduct which soars 70′ above the Stokes River. Sadly the cost of constructing the line was underestimated. The Railway Company was forced to raise further funds by issuing new shares laying the foundations of an insecure financial position which remained until the lines demise.
The railway’s three 2-6-2 tank engines were built by Manning, Wardle and Co. of Leeds and named Yeo, Exe and Taw. All the rolling stock was built to generous proportions, considering the gauge of the track, and the coaches were spacious and comfortable. The railway was equipped with most attractive and unusual chalet style buildings
Shortly after service began it became apparent that three locomotives would not be enough and, since Manning, Wardle was busy with other work, an order was placed with the Baldwin Locomotive Works in the USA. The Baldwin was named Lyn and, whilst not as elegant as the British built locos, it gave good service.
The railway enjoyed some success initially, carrying local passengers, tourists and a certain amount of freight. Unfortunately the high debt burden and running costs did not allow for significant profit for the shareholders. Nevertheless the railway carried on until, in the grouping of 1923, it was absorbed by Southern Railways.
Southern Railways began a major investment programme. Another locomotive was purchased, built by Manning Wardle to their original drawings and named Lew. New goods wagons were bought and more frequent services introduced but the railway was still not profitable. Unfortunately, due to the route followed by the line many of its stations were far from the settlements they served making competition from road transport all the more severe. On 29th September 1935 Southern Railways closed the line. Rolling stock and track was sold off with almost indecent haste, and the locos were cut up for scrap
Much of the route still survives, as do most of the buildings and the Chelfham viaduct, restored in 2000. The Lynton and Barnstaple Railway is now the subject of active restoration, and the first section was re-opened at Woody Bay station on 11th May 2003, 105 years to the day after the original opening.