Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Trust

Lynton and Barnstaple Railway

The economy of North Devon and Exmoor is set to be transformed. In Lynton Town Hall on Tuesday 6 March the Exmoor National Park Authority approved by 15 to none the planning applications submitted by the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Trust to reinstate the famous narrow-gauge railway over the 3½ miles between Killington Lane (the terminus of the existing one mile of track from Woody Bay Station) and Blackmoor Gate.

North Devon Council gave the Trust permission in 2016 to reinstate a further mile between Blackmoor Gate and Wistlandpound Reservoir and to convert the Old Station House Inn, the former Blackmoor Station, into a combined railway station and pub/restaurant. The historic Lynton & Barnstaple Railway is already a well-known local attraction carrying nearly 50,000 passengers last year; the extended 5½ mile line will become a national heritage asset drawing visitors to North Devon to spend their money in shops, restaurants, accommodation – and other attractions.

BarnstapleThe Exmoor National Park Authority have now given the L&BR Trust planning permission not only to relay the track of the railway that many people think should never have been closed but also to erect an engineering centre and rolling stock shed north of Blackmoor Gate where it will fold into the landscape scarcely visible from the main road. There will be a 160-space car park on the site of the old Blackmoor Gate Hotel on the other side of the A39 with a pedestrian underpass taking visitors under the A399 to the station.

The National Park Authority rejected by 10 votes to 5 a planning application to replace a bungalow put up in 1987 on the site of Parracombe Halt (and rented out by the present owner) by two semi-detached houses at the back of the halt, one to provide affordable needs accommodation and the other a home for a railway employee. The proposal to demolish the bungalow itself, however, is part of the application to reinstate the Railway which was overwhelmingly approved.

The reinstated railway is forecast to support 24 fulltime jobs directly and many more in the wider service sector locally. Apprentices will also be trained in the engineering centre. The net local economic benefit compared to current operations is calculated as an additional£62 million into the local area over the first ten years of construction and operation.

This much-loved narrow-gauge line across Exmoor was opened in 1898 and closed in 1935 before springing back to life in 2004. On 10 February 2018 the Trust received from the Heritage Railway Association (which represents 185 heritage railways and associated museums across the country) the Morgan Award for Outstanding Achievement in completing the new-build steam engine Lyn and four rebuilt original Lynton & Barnstaple carriages. The original Lyn was constructed for the L&B in 1898 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, bringing a touch of the American West to the hills of North Devon.

Armed with the planning permission that has now been granted the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Trust (a not-for-profit registered charity) can embark confidently on raising the remaining funds needed to carry out this stage of the restoration of the legendary steam railway. A separate company – L&B Blackmoor Company plc – has been set up by the Trust to purchase and remodel the Old Station House Inn, giving investors the opportunity both to support this exciting project and to secure a return on their investment as well as boosting local employment. (Details can be obtained from the railway’s website, www.lynton-rail.co.uk.)

The engineering design work for the next phase is already well under way, including the design of those bridges that have been demolished (some are still in place) and the reconstruction of Parracombe Bank with a culvert larger than a double-decker bus to allow the River Heddon to flow unobstructed under the embankment. This will ensure that the bank can never be breached again as it was at the time of the Lynmouth Flood in 1952.

When this section of the railway has been restored the Trust intends to rebuild the line right through to Lynton and back to Barnstaple, all of which is supported in the two planning authorities’ Local Plans for the area. The reconstruction phase that the National Park Authority has now approved includes a shuttle bus service from Woody Bay to Lynton until the Railway returns there. Visitors will be able to park their cars at Blackmoor Gate on the edge of Exmoor National Park and ride through the national park itself without disturbing the very beauty and tranquillity they have come to enjoy.

To find out more about Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, please visit their website.