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Tarr Steps

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Discover Dramatic Scenery at Tarr Steps

In a steep gorge on the northern fringes of Exmoor National Park, the Grade I listed medieval clapper bridge of Tarr Steps provides a timeworn link across the River Barle’s tumbling waters. Comprised of massive stone slabs arranged in spans across the river, this iconic bridge lets you journey deep into inspiring Exmoor landscapes surrounded by nature.

With woodlands teeming with wildlife, places to picnic, scenic trails to explore and an ice cream van for refuelling, it’s a tranquil spot to appreciate an Exmoor icon up close. Here’s everything you need to know for an invigorating day out.

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Getting There

Tarr Steps sits around 9 miles north of Dulverton within Exmoor National Park. While remote, brown National Park signs direct drivers from the B3223 between Dulverton and Simonsbath towards small parking areas in the valley near the bridge.

By Car

Driving is the easiest way to visit. Leave the M5 at J27 following the A396 towards Dulverton. After 5 miles turn towards Exebridge, then follow minor roads to parking areas in the gorge.

By Bus

For non-drivers, bus 198 connects Dulverton and Tarr Steps 2-3 times daily in summer, stopping in Exebridge where it’s 1.5 miles walk through the valley to the bridge.

Open Access

As a public right of way, Tarr Steps is freely open to visit year round during daylight hours. Being very remote, there are no visitor facilities on site so come prepared with weatherproof clothing, sturdy footwear and supplies as needed. Mobile service is very unreliable in the gorge.

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History of Tarr Steps

Built in medieval times but with origins perhaps as far back as the Bronze Age, the bridge spans 50 metres across the River Barle. Its 17 spans allow the river to still flow freely during higher water. Originally created for pack horses transporting goods across inhospitable moorland terrain between communities, it remains a timeless Exmoor icon.

The Angling Trust care for Tarr Steps after receiving guardianship from the National Trust. It’ s listed as an Ancient Scheduled Monument.

Crossing the Bridge

Walking across Tarr Steps’ huge slabs polished smooth by centuries of footfall while gazing down at the cascades below makes for an exhilarating experience. Some stones are over 3 metres long spanning the river. Pause to admire the skilled arrangement and appreciate this ancient Exmoor landmark up close.

The central crossing stones can be slippery when wet – take care. The bridge walkway allows a vital crossing point during wet weather when the independent stepping stones submerge. When water levels drop, you can attempt to hop between the stones. River levels vary considerably based on recent rainfall.

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Woodland Trails

Surrounding Tarr Steps, enchanting woodland trails follow the cascading River Barle and lead off over hills to extend your walk:

  • Riverside Path – Follows the riverbank on mostly level terrain if starting from the lower parking area. Pass over little footbridges across gullies.
  • Woodland Loop Trail – A signed 2.5 mile trail through trees and moorland. Some steady climbs rewarded by views.
  • Higher Trails – Attempt more strenuous uphill paths into the forests if seeking longer walks. Look for hillfort and ancient site remnants.

With bubbling brooks, gnarly oak trees and glimpses of Exmoor’s famous ponies, trails offer ever changing views to immerse yourself in nature.

Wild Swimming at Tarr Steps

When water levels allow, one of the best ways to experience the scenic gorge is by taking a refreshing dip below Tarr Steps. The large flat rocks beside the bridge create ideal entry points into deep clear pools between cascades – perfect for wild swimming.

The chilled waters and isolated gorge location make it an invigorating swim close to nature. Arrive with your towel and swimwear to take the plunge if conditions permit during summer. Avoid after heavy rainfall when currents will be too strong.

Angling at Tarr Steps

As a prime salmon and trout sport fishing location, you’ll often see anglers trying their luck in the waters around Tarr Steps. The river holds native brown trout, Atlantic salmon, coarse fish like grayling and occasional pike. Both fly fishing and bait fishing are allowed with the proper day licence. Novices can book guide trips to learn on the Barle’s unspoiled waters.

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Folklore about Tarr Steps

One of the most enduring myths surrounding Tarr Steps is its supernatural guardian, a mischievous, hag-like entity named ‘Gertie.’ According to folklore, Gertie is said to haunt the bridge, playing tricks on those who dare to cross it after dark. Legend has it that if you encounter her, she will lead you astray and make you lose your way in the surrounding woods.

Other tales tell of the stones themselves, which are said to come to life at night, dancing in the moonlight and then returning to their positions by dawn, leaving no trace of their revelry.

Tarr Steps’ folklore not only adds a layer of enchantment to this ancient structure but also serves as a testament to the enduring power of storytelling in preserving the history and mystery of such remarkable places.

Family Fun at the Bridge

Younger visitors will have fun:

  • Carefully paddling upstream from the bridge if water levels are low enough.
  • Picnicking on the spacious flat slabs if dry.
  • Clambering across the separate stepping stones. Take care as slips can be dangerous.
  • Following the woodland trails to spot wildlife and interesting stone remnants from abandoned cottages.
  • Enjoying a cooling ice cream from the seasonal refreshment van conveniently located in the parking area.

With scenic nature and the chance to see an Exmoor landmark up close, it makes for an engaging day whatever your age.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are Tarr Steps open? – Yes, they were closed for repair during Winter 2022 / 2023, but are now open again all year around

What fish will you find in the River Lyn? – Many types of fish live in the river, including trout, tenkara and even, from time to time, salmon.

What are they called Tarr Steps? – The name ‘Tarr’ is presumed to come from the Celtic word ‘tochar’, meaning ’causeway’.

Other Nearby Attractions

  • RHS Garden Rosemoor – Fabulous 105 acre gardens with formal/informal planting, specialist collections and peaceful woodland walks.
  • Tiverton Castle – Impressive Norman fortification, now a historic house museum with beautiful gardens, parkland and ornate interiors to explore.
  • Dunster Castle – Historic castle transformed into an elegant stately home boasting expansive gardens with vistas over Exmoor moorland.
  • Exmoor National Park – Stunning moorland, woodlands and heritage coast offering scenic hikes, cycling, horseriding and wildlife spotting opportunities.
  • Arlington Court – Elegant Regency mansion that was once home to the Chichester family, set in acres of parkland near Exmoor.
  • Dunster Working Watermill – Historic working mill powered by the River Avill where you can see the original machinery in action. Shop on site.

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