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  • Writer's pictureRoyston Nicholls

Tarr Steps

Exmoor is an area of hilly open moorland in west Somerset and north Devon in South West England, which takes its name from the River Exe, which rises on the moor. One of the tributaries of the Exe is the River Barle, which also rises on Exmoor and joins the Exe at Exebridge in Devon. Crossing the River Barle, a few miles upstream from the small town of Dulverton, is Tarr Steps, a possibly prehistoric clapper bridge.

No one knows the true age of the bridge. Several theories claim that Tarr Steps dates from the Bronze Age, but others date them from around 1400 AD. Certainly it has been restored several times in recent years, following flood damage, and whatever its age, it is almost impossible to estimate the number of times it would have been repaired over the centuries. The name "clapper bridge" comes from the Medieval Latin "claperius" which means "pile of stones". It is an ancient form of bridge constructed with large unmortared slabs of stone resting on one another, and Tarr Steps is the largest example of its type. There are 17 spans across 50 metres (160ft), the top slabs weigh 1-2 tons and are about 1m (39”) above normal water level. The largest slab is over 2.4 m (8ft) long and is about 1.5 m (5ft) wide.

Visitors to Tarr Steps approach along a narrow moorland road, from the Winsford crossroads (site of the enigmatic Caratacus Stone), through the little hamlet of Liscombe for 2 or 3km, until they reach the official car park for the Steps. A pathway then takes you down the valley to the Steps, past the Search Tarr Farm Inn and Restaurant, an old Exmoor farmhouse converted into a hotel. Traditional Cream Teas are available, and the Farm is a super place to stay. Apart from Tarr Steps themselves, there are several circular walks that explore the area, as well as footpaths that take you along the river, upstream to Withypool and downstream to Dulverton.

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