Picture this. Tarr Steps…

06 Oct

Our day out to celebrate Elaine’s birthday, postponed from earlier in the week due to uncooperative weather, found us heading for the Somerset border yesterday and a trip over Exmoor to Tarr Steps, one of the many the ancient scheduled monuments that we’re fortunate to have in this part of the country.
Midway between Dulverton, popular destination for hikers and tourists alike and the picturesque village of Withypool, Tarr Steps, nestled in the Barle River Valley, isn’t hard to find and is definitely worth a visit.


Parking in the very reasonably priced car park (£2 all day) we released the excitedly whining Roo from captivity in the back of the car and strolled down the public footpath that crosses a sheep field (dogs on leads here please) to reach the bottom of the valley.

Elaine chose to stop at the Tarr Farm Inn for a drink first, and who was I to argue. 
Located directly above the river, the beautiful 16th century stone building offers great views from the beer garden, down to the even more ancient stonework below.



From the perspective of this high elevation you don’t get much more than the impression of a solidly built pontoon bridge, but descending to the river bank the impressive scale of the engineering can be fully appreciated.



The date of the Clapper Bridge (from the old Latin word claperius, meaning “pile of stones”) is uncertain, but best estimates put it somewhere around 1000BC.

[Although Exmoor legend has it that it was built by the Devil as part of a bet. He threatened to vaporise anyone attempting to cross the bridge until, faced down by a local hard man preacher, he acquiesced and allowed safe passage across the river on the condition that he retained sunbathing rights on the stones]



Tarr Steps bridge is 180ft (55m) long and is constructed from 17 main slabs, all of which weigh upwards of a ton and the largest, 8ft long × 5ft wide, tips the scales at two tons.
The many smaller stones that make up the piers of the bridge are intricately fitted together without any form of cement or mortar and also incorporated are the unique, raked “buttress” stones, angled in such a way as to deflect debris washed down the river in heavy rains.


Despite this feature the Great Flood of 1952 (the night Lynmouth was devastated by flooding)  demolished the bridge, leading to the stones now having been numbered for easy reassembly by conservation workers.


In fact since 1952 there has been a web of anchored cables further upstream, designed to catch fallen branches before they reach the bridge..


..which worked fine until 2012, when the extreme weather brought so much uprooted timber down the river that it ripped out the cables, carrying them downstream to do even more damage and once again providing patient heritage experts with the world’s heaviest jigsaw.


The Barle River Valley itself is a SSSI, (site of special scientific interest) and has been designated a National Nature Reserve, with easy walks along the river bank through woods of oak, beech, ash and hazel trees.




The reserve is also recognised as an internationally significant site for fungi, mosses, liverworts and lichens and it isn’t difficult to see why.








This peaceful river valley has been used by man for hundreds, possibly thousands of years for hunting, fishing, charcoal burning as part of the iron smelting industry, and now of course walking, canoeing and just enjoying the ancient beauty of the woods.





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14 responses to “Picture this. Tarr Steps…

  1. Ron

    October 7, 2013 at 00:55

    Fascinating post, Dale! Loved reading about the bridges and how they were constructed. That’s AMAZING!

    Also, the inn is just beautiful. The stonework is stunning. That’s what I love about Europe, all the breathtaking historical architecture that still stands proud.

    Love the photos of the mushrooms!

    Thanks for sharing your day. And a belated Happy Birthday to Elaine!

    • dalecooper57

      October 7, 2013 at 05:37

      Thanks Ron, yes we are very lucky to have so many beautiful buildings here. And I shall pass on your birthday wishes.

  2. Helena Fortissima

    October 7, 2013 at 14:25

    A truly magical place, Dale. We don’t have buildings or structures this old in the U.S., save for some Native American ruins. Happy birthday to Elaine.

    • dalecooper57

      October 7, 2013 at 21:55

      You can’t beat a bit of prehistory.
      Elaine had a lovely day and thanks everyone for their good wishes.

  3. menopausalmother

    October 8, 2013 at 02:17

    What a lovely place–it looks so tranquil. The pontoon bridge is interesting–I’ve never seen one like that. Your pictures are really beautiful. I have zero talent with a camera so it’s nice to see photographs by someone who knows what they’re doing. Keep sharing them!

  4. nothingprofound

    October 8, 2013 at 02:22

    Truly exquisite, Dale. It’s wonderful how seamlessly those antique buildings blend in with the magnificent countryside. Happy birthday, Elaine!

    • dalecooper57

      October 8, 2013 at 05:30

      Yes, it’s almost as if the bridge grew out of the river bed.

  5. Rum Punch Drunk

    October 8, 2013 at 16:56

    Happy Birthday to Elaine, and she had the right idea about the Tarr Farm Inn. Nothing like a good drink before you start the tours.

    Well, looking at that bridge, I don’t think I’d venture out on it. Looks beautiful but a little too dodgy for me. The devil can use it to sunbathe all he wants, he won’t have any trouble from me ha ha ha.

    Always love to see those pictures Dale, so keep it up. And thanks for all the information you share with us.

    • dalecooper57

      October 8, 2013 at 17:00

      Cheers RPD. Actually, cars regularly drive across the bridge, it’s incredibly solid.

  6. Big D

    October 8, 2013 at 19:07

    I love that bridge. Whoever put it together must have been a hell of an engineer.

    Are people actually allowed to walk across it?

    • dalecooper57

      October 8, 2013 at 20:32

      Land Rovers drive across it. People walk over it, canoe under it, jump off it. It’s incredibly solid.

      • dalecooper57

        October 8, 2013 at 20:35

        You can see people walking across it in the third photo down

  7. jerseylil

    October 13, 2013 at 07:40

    Belated Happy Birthday to Elaine! What an interesting place to visit. Like those ancient bridges and the fascinating history. Great photos too.

    • dalecooper57

      October 13, 2013 at 11:06

      Elaine has been spoilt by so many birthday wishes, she is very grateful.


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