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.

What is Tarr Steps?

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 is within woodland owned by Exmoor National Park and is part of a National Nature Reserve with lichens, ferns and liverworts of international significance.

The Legend Behind Tarr Steps

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.

Walking and Swimming at Tarr Steps and the River Barle

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. The whole path is shaded making it perfect for a summer walk with a dog.  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 trees when it got the chance.

Liscombe Farm Ice Cream

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.

Photography at Tarr Steps

On our visit the car park was busy, but on a rainy 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.  The bridge is quite long and fitting the whole thing into one photograph can be a challenge. Better photographs can be achieved by standing on the river bank close to the bridge and shooting along it. Both banks offer great options although care should be taken crossing the stones as they can be very slippery. On the west bank is a beautiful beech tree which leans over the bridge and can be used as the perfect frame. In spring time the lime green leaves are just emerging and can make the bridge look vibrant and fresh. Autumn at Tarr Steps can also be beautiful. The beech trees will turn a stunning orange and red which frames the photograph perfectly. The bridge area has a ford and is relatively shallow unless there has been heavy rain. Bringing a pair of wellies will enable you to enter the water and show the curve of the bridge perfectly. Taking a walk along the river upstream from the bridge takes you into a wooded area. This has lots of options for flower photography and intimate landscapes. This spot is not ideal in the winter as the trees will be bare and the trees make the location.

How to Get to Tarr Steps


Updated 2019

Tarr steps can be reached from the small village of Dulverton. In the centre of Dulverton there is a small sign for Tarr Steps on the B3223. This is small narrow road that follows the River Barle out of the village before heading up onto the moor. After about 5 miles there is a turning on the left to Tarr Steps. Parking is at a large pay and display car park with information and toilets. It is then a short walk on a footpath down to the river.

Parking Long/Lat: 51.079818, -3.6102450

Parking Grid Ref: SS873 324

Parking Postcode: TA22 9PY

Map: OS Explorer Map: OL9 (1:25000) Exmoor