The Barnstaple – Ilfracombe Railway

1874 to 1970

The Ilfracombe-Barnstaple line was opened in 1874 by the London and South Western Railway, ran between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe in North Devon. The branch opened as a single-track line but was sufficiently popular that it needed to be upgraded to double-track in 1889. The 1–in–36 gradient between Ilfracombe and Mortehoe stations was one of the steepest sections of double track railway line in the country and was most certainly the fiercest climb from any terminus station in the UK.

The Devon Belle was a luxury express passenger train in England which ran between London Waterloo station and Ilfracombe and Plymouth in Devon in the years from 1947 to 1954.

 Despite nearly a century of bringing much-needed revenue into this remote corner of the county, passenger numbers dropped dramatically in the years following the Second World War due to a massive increase in the number of cars on Britain’s roads, and the line finally closed in 1970 and an attempt to buy the line for preservation in 1975 was unsuccessful.

The former railway trackbed from Ilfracombe to Willingcott now forms part of the National Cycle Network’s Coast-to-Coast Route 27. The route between Ilfracombe and Plymouth is 99 miles long, of which 71 miles are traffic-free.