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Picturesque England
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Lynmouth and Lynton


NE of the most beautiful spots in England is Lynmouth, in North Devon, so named because here the two rivers, the East and the West Lyn, meet and roll together into the sea. It has been justly called the Switzerland of England. We have before observed that our small island unites in itself, in miniature, the beauties of the world; and Lynton and Lynmouth form its Switzerland. But it has a beauty that the land of glaciers does not possess. It rests on the shores of the sea, that majestic " Severn Sea," that no Alpine lake can equal.

This lovely village nestles at the foot of the great hills, sheltered on either side by them; one a thousand feet high and the other nine hundred feet. The ascent to Lynton, which stands midway up the hills, facing all aspects, and at a height of 430 feet, was tremendously steep, and was made by zigzag paths, but now a railway has been constructed that will be of the greatest service to the place, for visitors to Lynton have to go to Lynmouth for bathing, boating and sea-fishing, and the climb up the hill road used to be a severe tax on their lungs and pedestrian powers. They can now take the train, the opening of which was graphically described some little time ago in the papers. We believe the place is indehted to the liberality of a private individual for this boon. Lynmouth is not a good bathing place; only a narrow creek is used for bathing; there are no sands or beach, and the rough, black boulders are slippery and dangerous, though picturesque. The houses are embosomed in trees up the whole side of the hill, which faces east.

Lynton Hill

The air of Lynmouth is bracing, though it is warm, for high hills shelter it on the north, west, and east. No words can do full justice to the beauty of the neighbourhood; coast, sea, moorland and rivers are all most picturesque, while in Lynmouth the climate is not subject to changes from hot to cold, but is pleasantly warm and constant.

Lynton Church is situate in the centre of the village. There is a tradition about it very much resembling that of Hollington Church, near St. Leonards. It is said that it was intended to be built opposite Cherrybridge, on the Barnstaple road, but while the workmen brought materials or worked by day, the Pixies - the Devonshire fairies - carried the stones away by night, till the builders grew weary of their fruitless labour and erected it on the spot chosen by the Brownies.

The North Walk - the more picturesque of the two roads that lead to the famous Valley of Rocks - is one of the finest cliff walks in England. It was made by a Mr. Sanford in 1817. After walking along it for the distance of about half a mile, a great, rugged, and fantastically jagged tor appears on the left. It is the celebrated Ragged Jack with his companions. There is a legend attached to these tors. It is said that some Druids were dancing here on a Sunday, and making impious revelry, when Satan suddenly appeared in the midst of them and turned them into stone. We must suppose that Ragged Jack was an Archdruid - but what had Druids to do with Sunday? Very shortly after passing Ragged Jack, the Castle Rock comes into sight, and on rounding the last turn of the cliff walk we see before us the whole of the wonderful Valley of Rocks, with the Castle Rock on one side and the Devil's Cheese Ring on the other. It was in the Cheese Ring that Mother Meldrum lived when John Ridd sought her in "Lorna Doone." We will give "John Ridd's" description of it: "This valley, or 'goyal' as we term it, being small for a valley, lies to the east of Linton, about a mile from the town, perhaps, and away towards Ley Manor. Our home folk always call it the 'Danes' or the 'Denes,' which is no more they tell me than a hollow place, even as the word 'den' is. However, let that pass, for I know very little about it; but the place itself is a pretty one, though nothing to frighten anybody unless he hath lived in a gally-pot. It is a green, rough-sided hollow, bending at the middle, touched with stone at either crest, and dotted here and there with slabs in and out the brambles. On the right hand is an upward crag, called by some the 'Castle,' easy enough to scale, and giving great view of the Chanuel. Facing this from the inland side and the elbow of the valley, a queer old pile of rocks arises, bold behind one another, and quite enough to affright a man, if it were only ten times larger. This is called the 'Devil's Cheese Ring,' or the 'Devil's Cheese Knife,' which means the same thing, as our fathers were used to eat their cheese from a scoop; and perhaps in old time the upmost rock (which has fallen away since I knew it) was like such an implement, if Satan eat cheese untoasted.

"But all the middle of this valley was a place to rest in; to sit and think that troubles were not, if we would not make them. To know the sea outside the hills, but never to behold it : only by the sound of waves to pity sailors labouring. Then to watch the sheltered sun, coming warmly round the turn, like a guest expected, full of gentle glow and gladness, casting shadow far away . . . and awakening life from dew, and hope from every springing bud." 1.

The Castle Rock is a huge rock on the top of a great heap of smaller ones. The summit is easily reached by a winding path and steps cut in the rocks, and when the height is gained the view of the sea, the cliffs and headlands is magnificent.

That a castle ever existed here is not credible; but tradition has declared that there was one, and that it was lost by the sins of a family, though no vestige of it nor any written account of it exists.

The tradition is, that one dismal winter evening, a monk, tall, dark, in a black robe and cowl, called at the castle and asked for food and shelter for the night, in the Virgin's name. The lady, who chanced to be in the hall, and who disliked his countenance, refused him the solicited hospitality, and the angry pilgrim cursed her. It is probable that there was in the lady some lack of hospitality, that she was mean; and uncharitable, so that evil was allowed to assail her; or it might have been that she detected the true nature of the monk, and therefore refused to help him. The curse was a peculiar one. "All thine shall be mine," said the pilgrim, "till in the porch of Holy Church a lady and a child shall stand and beckon."

Years rolled on, and the next baron of the castle was of so greedy a nature, that he pulled down the Church of St. John, which then rose in the valley, for its materials, and took the holy vessels of the altar for his own use. One night, as he was feasting alone, and sacrilegiously drinking from the sacred chalice, the black monk appeared, told him his time of account was come, and that he must go with him. The baron's cries summoned the affrighted servants, but when they reached his room they found their lord lying on the floor a blackened corse. His only son, solemnly impressed by his father's fate, went on the Crusades and did many acts of valour against the infidels. But even to the Holy Land the black monk followed him, and never left him day or night. The unhappy man, driven nearly mad, sought to bury his trouble in drink. He grew a wild, dissolute gallant, and the mother and sister that he had left in the castle on the rock wept bitter tears over his fall, and were glad when death summoned them to the land where "the wicked cease from troubling."

Years afterwards the knight returned to his Devonshire home, and one Sunday morning, as he rode through the valley, he heard the church bells calling men to prayer. They reminded him of the days of his innocent childhood; of his mother's teachings, and lured him towards the house of prayer. The black monk sought to draw him back, with the whisper of false pleasures awaiting him; but as the sinner hesitated, scarcely able to wrest himself away from his evil associate, he saw in the church porch the forms of his mother and sister, clad in garments of light, and beckoning to him with their spirit hands. He tore himself from the grasp of the monk, rushed to the porch, and darting into the church, threw himself before the altar.

The black monk developed into a fiend, and stamping his foot there was an earthquake; the castle on the rock shook to its foundations and fell crashing into the valley; the rocks rolled over, the Ring was formed, and where a smiling vale had been there remained the Valley of Rocks. Was this an allegory? Did the black monk personify an evil habit, so difficult to break?

Lee Abbey is a very beautiful place near Lynton, buried in woods and with charming views from it. It originally belonged to the De Whichehalses. During the persecution of the Protestants in the Low Countries by Philip IL's Duke of Alva, great numbers of families fled for safety to England. Among these was Hugh de Whichehalse, who succeeded also in bringing his wealth with him. His son became one of the leading men in the West, and his granddaughter was one of the wealthiest heiresses of the time. A lover came to this young lady from the Court, wooed and won her love. and the wedding day was fixed; but the betrothed bridegroom never returned; he had found a fairer or a richer love. Jennefriedde Whichehalse was forsaken. On the very day that should have seen her wedded, they received the tidings that her false betrothed was married to the daughter of a foreign noble. There is in the Lee grounds a cliff called Duty Point, because here the coastguard watched for smugglers. It was the poor girl's favourite seat; to it she wandered on that unhappy day in her despair, and was never again seen alive. Either she threw herself into the sea, or she had walked too near the edge of the cliff and had fallen over. It was never known how the catastrophe happened, but the next day her body- was found on the rocks below. Her enraged and heartbroken father sought for justice on her false betrothed in the London Law Courts; but what could they do for him ? His time for revenge came, however, in 1642, when the civil war broke out. He instantly joined the Parliamentary army under Lord Essex, and at the battle of Lansdown, near Bath, recognised his daughter's false lover in the ranks of the Cavaliers; he sought him out and killed him, after a short but severe contest. De Whichehalse returned to his home, and was there, almost alone, when his nephew came to him one evening from Ilfracombe, and told him that the Royal troops were advancing on the house. " Fly," he said, "at once." But there was some delay, and before they left the house the stables were surrounded by their foes. They managed to reach the sea-shore, however, by a secret path, and put to sea in an open boat, in a great storm. The De Whichehalses and the crew must have perished in it, as they were never again seen; and an oar of the boat was found on the shore the next day.

Descending from Lee Abbey we reach a beautiful cove called Lee Bay, which is very picturesque, with oak woods growing to the very edge of the cliffs. Duty Point is on the right hand as we approach the cove from the beach. The tide here is extremely strong and rapid, and bathing is very dangerous. Returning to the abbey lodge by which we left the grounds, and taking the road by the coast from thence, we shall shortly see a deep gorge on the edge of the path. This is called the Smuggler's Leap. Tradition says that a smuggler-Lynmouth was a favourite haunt of theirs-was riding through the Valley of Rocks at midnight, with a keg of spirits on each side of his saddle, when a mounted exciseman rode out of the shadow and called on him to surrender. The smuggler's reply was a pistol shot. It missed its aim, however, and he fled as swiftly as his horse would bear him through the valley; the exciseman followed him at full speed. They passed Lee Abbey, rode down the hill, round the corner, and up the opposite side. The smuggler glancing back, saw his pursuer close behind him, and just at the top of the hill he felt a hand upon his collar. Pulling himself violently away, his horse tottered for an instant on the edge of the precipice; he caught at the arm of the excisernan, and both riders and horses were precipitated into the gorge. Their bodies were found on the rocks, frightfully mangled. The dead man's hand still firmly clasping the poor exciseman's arm told their story.

A short distance onwards (that is a little over a mile), we reach a most lovely bay, so surrounded by woods that it has been named Woodabay or Woody Bay. Here a great cliff runs out into the sea : it is Riddy Ball Point, and we see also the Yellow Stone, a point for conger fishing; the Castle Rock; Duty Point; Lee Bay, the Smuggler's Leap, while as we sail along the coast, we are struck by the wonderful colouring of the rocks.

There is a legend about Woody Bay, that is almost too strange for fiction and which has, we believe, already taken its place in a very clever collection of Cornish stories and legends by Mr. Hunt. It may belong to both counties.

There was a certain squire living near Woody Bay, who was a great gambler, and was therefore often in want of money. On one occasion when fortune had deserted him, and he was nearly penniless, he had recourse to burglary for a supply. It was the day before rent day, and he knew that the tenant of one of his largest farms would have the money in his house ready for the payment of his rent. He determined to break into his house and take the money. He would not be seen or recognised, and the farmer would still be obliged to pay his rent. With this villainous project in his head, he dressed himself in rough shooting clothes, took a pair of pistols, and set out for the farm. Here he tried to break open a window, but made so much noise that the farmer heard him, and shot him with a blunderbuss just as he was half-way into the house.

After this the ghost of the squire haunted the farm. Things went very badly with the farmer, his crops failed, his stock died, and it was all laid to the charge of the squire's ghost; so, in his despair the poor man applied to the parson of Trentishoe to lay the spirit. The parson came, but all his exorcisms were of no avail: the ghost still "revisited the glimpses of the moon," and ill fortune still befell the farmer. He applied for advice to a "wise man" living at Exeter. The wizard advised him to have six parsons instead of one, and the yeoman returned home and followed his advice. Six parsons actually assembled at the spot where the ghost was wont to appear, and repeated together some powerful exorcisms, by which the spirit was banished, "until it had drawn a truss of sand by a rope of sand to the top of High Veer Point." The farm has never been visited since by the squire, who cannot succeed in his appointed task, and whose howls of rage when his sand ropes break are heard mingling ofttimes with the roar of the storm.

At Glenlynn is a scene that can hardly be equalled for picturesque beauty; we mean the water - falls and ferns of Mr. Riddle's place, the grounds of which are open to visitors three days in the week. Friends and artists, of course, are generally admitted.

On leaving the lodges we pass up the avenue for a few hundred yards, " under the shade of melancholy boughs" till at the fir tree we turn and behold a great body of water falling from a height of ten feet from the west side of an island, to which a wooden bridge on the right hand leads. There are delightful nooks in this island, the water rolling over the low rocks or stones amidst and bordered by the most wonderful ferns.

Another bridge is seen immediately above the great fall, and the view up the West Lyn, with Lyn cliff in the distance, is very fine. There are two paths from this bridge, one on each side of the stream; by the one on the east bank we pass on our way up the glen, where we see lovely falls and deep pools, surrounded by the loveliest foliage.

The first fall is the "Horseshoe"; then comes the "Seven Falls," which are of sparkling rainbow-tinted waters falling amidst rocks and flowers and ferns. Following this really exquisite path up rocky steps and many turns, under thick trees, and by banks of wonderful ferns, we reach the upper end of the glen, and the "top water fall." Here is a fine cascade, pouring over the rocks in grand style, and form ing a sheet of water, with foam bubbles on it, casting its spray on every side.

Nothing can equal the delicious coolness of this glen on a hot summer's day, when the water sings its soothing lay, and the boughs shelter us, and the lovely ferns and wild flowers of Devon are everywhere around us; it is a very paradise of tender beauty.

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1. "Lorna Doone."

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Picturesque England
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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004