After the difficulties experienced with Nuthalls, (who were now in receivership), the contractors for the L&B, Robert McAlpine & Co was chosen for the new railway with Rhys Davies BSc C.Eng. as consulting engineer. Davies was a subordinate to James Szlumper, having assisted him in laying out the L&B and Vale of Rheidol Railways, and was recommended as Chief Engineer for the project by Szlumper, who was unavailable due to his commitments in Wales.

Construction of the 40 miles of main-line and branches took nearly three years. The works included 76 bridges, seven viaducts (Robert Barnard C.Eng consulting engineer) and four tunnels on the main line alone.

gradient profile - click on image to enlarge

Glenlyn / Lynton 310 yards
Watersmeet 290 yards
East Lyn 185 yards
Badgeworthy, 74 yards
Nutscale 190 yards
Stoke Pero 180 yards
Cloutsham 152 yards


Watersmeet 164 yards
Ashton Cleeve 109 yards
County Gate / Glenthorne Hotel 339 yards
Porlock / Lucott Moor 2745 yards (1.55 miles)

Faced with such daunting prospects, and recognising that the heaviest works were concentrated in the summit section, it was decided to open the line in stages, thus spreading the burden of construction.

Porlock tunnel under construction (photo: Institution of Civil Engineers)

The eastern section, Minehead to Wootton Courtenay, and the branch thence to West Porlock, were opened to traffic in 1901. The railway was thus in a prudent position of being able to earn revenue while continuing construction of the heavier engineering works. Services over this section were operated by the two handsome 4-6-4 tanks delivered to Minehead by the North British Locomotive company. These locomotives were considerably more powerful than the existing Manning Wardles. Named ‘Axe’  and 'Lyd', after local rivers, these engines were to have been supplemented by further machines of similar design, but sadly, they were never built. Additional coal wagons and coaches were purchased for the branch lines a year later.

The end of the line is actually on the Minehead harbour breakwater

Station buildings were built in Nuremburg style (similar to the L&B) except at Minehead where 'GWR style architecture’ to harmonise with the adjacent standard-gauge station was insisted upon.

the new narrow gauge station at Minehead was in the same style as the GWR which can be seen in the background

The western section, Woody Bay to County Gate, opened in 1902. The harbour branch was completed in the same year, and was one of the most expensive railway projects per mile of the time. The harbour was ready for the first shipment of coal to arrive the following month. By this time, the Lynton and Barnstaple railway had been forced to accept that the extension was a reality and an arrangement was made to operate this section until the extension was completed.

navvies pose during the railway construction

Finally, the summit section was readied for traffic, and amid much celebration, the first through train steamed triumphantly into Minehead on April 6th 1903 to be met by Minehead town dignitaries, three years to the day of the Minehead Extension Railway Act’s passing. The ten coach train was double headed with 'Axe' and 'Lyd' and was filled to capacity.

The Minehead town band greeted the first train as part of the celebrations

It quickly became apparent that savings could be made if the entire main line was operated as one railway. An uneasy truce was made between Newnes and Halliday via an intermediary.  The Glenthorne Estate proposed that the extended railway should be renamed the Minehead and Barnstaple Railway and a suitable device was struck.

click image to enlarge

In reality, the new name was popular in Somerset but Devon folks stubbornly continued to call the line the Lynton and Barnstaple! Lynton Junction (Barbrook) was regarded as the 'frontier' in much the same manner as Beddgelert was later to become on the Welsh Highland Railway. This was exacerbated by the continuing friction between Newnes and the Hallidays.

At the same time, agreements were finally made with the Lynton and Barnstaple railway which became the titular operator of the line in exchange for a percentage of operating profits.

Nutscale viaduct


bring 'Lyn' back to life