Tarr Steps Circular - Ancient Bridge and Swimming Pools

Tarr Steps is nestled in the Exmoor National Park, an ancient monument to the past, the name derived from the Celtic word 'tochar' meaning 'causeway'.  Driving through the Exmoor countryside on a warm Bank Holiday weekend, the plan for a short walk was soon out of the window.  The adventure started as we walked through a meadow from the car park down to the river below.  A steep and dusty walk but away from the road with banks full of flowers and colour.

Ancient Clapper Bridge

Tarr Steps is an ancient clapper bridge, literally a pile of stones and boulders.  The name is derived from the Latin 'claperius' which means 'pile of stones' and there are still a number around the UK.  Tarr Steps has 17 spans, the longest clapper bridge in Britain.  The top has flat slabs and this is then supported by angled stones.  These sloping stones act as a buffer against the current.  On this sunny day it was hard to believe the raging torrent that the River Barle can become but the bridge is damaged during winter storms and has to be rebuilt.  Some of the large flat stones weigh 2tonnes.  Hard to believe that the current in a storm will carry them 50m downstream. However given the age of the bridge, believed to be from the Tudor period, periodical repairs are inevitable.

Tarr Steps Legends

Legend has it that the devil built the bridge and still has sunbathing rights on the stones.  He was said to have vowed to kill anyone who crossed the bridge but after meeting the village parson in the middle of the bridge a compromise was reached and now anyone can pass unless the devil wants to sunbathe.  On this sunny day, the devil must have been away as people were on the bridge, paddling in the cool river and children were exploring the bridge.  It was a lovely spot which kept us entranced for a while.

Tarr Steps Circular Walk

Leaving the bridge and heading along the river bank the shade of the trees was beautiful after the harsh sun of the bridge and the ford.  The circular walk starts in woodland, following the undulations of the river.  It is shaded and the ever present sound of water provides a calm after the frenetic playing at the bridge.  A short walk from the bridge is a rope bridge, hard work for two boys but great fun.  Carrying on there are deep pools ideal for swimming with small stone beaches and even trees that are growing money.

Eventually the path leaves the woodland and a short walk through a sunny meadow brings you to another swimming area. The water here is deeper and still, ideal for a wild swim.   A bridge comes into view shortly after the meadow to cross over and start the walk back.

The other side of the river is steeper with some slightly larger hills.  The path follows the river but at the top of a very steep bank.  This gives a different perspective looking down on the river below. The woodland floor is covered in stitchwort, herb Robert and almost finished bluebells.   Towards the clapper bridge the path flattens out and the ferns and mosses become more prevalent.  The tree cover intensifies and on this warm day the cool shade was magical.  Dappled light darting through the tress when it got the chance.

Ice Cream and Quiet Days

Crossing back across the river, the walk back to the car is steep but the promise of ice cream from the nearby Liscombe Farm was enough of a promise.

On our visit the car park was busy, but on a winter's day this will be a magical location to return to for some photography.  I was battling other visitors and the harsh summer midday sun to get these images.  Early morning sunlight on a frosty morning will be stunning.

Visiting Tarr Steps


Tarr Steps is located in the heart of Exmoor just outside the village of  Dulverton.  It is worth having a rough idea of how to get there as signposts are limited!  There is a large pay car park with a lovely pub and toilets on the hill above the river.

Parking grid reference SS 87261 32401

Parking Lat/Long 51.079823,  -3.6107976

Parking postcode TA22 9QA

Map OS Explorer Map 114 (1:25000) Exeter and the Exe Valley