Tarr Steps

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Tarr Steps
Low bridge of stone slabs supported by seven groups of vertical stones, across water with trees in the background.
Tarr Steps viewed from downstream
Crosses River Barle
Locale Exmoor National Park, Somerset, England
Design clapper bridge
Material stone slabs
Total length 55 metres (180 ft)
Number of spans 17
Coordinates 51°04′37″N 3°37′05″W / 51.077°N 3.618°W / 51.077; -3.618Coordinates: 51°04′37″N 3°37′05″W / 51.077°N 3.618°W / 51.077; -3.618
Tarr Steps is located in Somerset
Tarr Steps

The Tarr Steps are a clapper bridge across the River Barle in the Exmoor National Park, Somerset, England.[1] They are located in a national nature reserve about 2.5 miles (4 km) south east of Withypool and 4 miles (6 km) north west of Dulverton.

A typical clapper bridge construction, the bridge possibly dates to around 1000 BC. The stone slabs weigh up to 1-2 tons apiece. According to local legend, they were placed by the devil to win a bet. The bridge is 180 feet (55 m) long and has 17 spans.[2] It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument.[1][3]

Half of the bridge was washed away by the river whilst heavily swollen by rain in December 2012. The bridge has now been re-assembled[4]

Nature Reserve[edit]

Owned by Exmoor National Park Authority, Tarr Steps Woodland National Nature Reserve covers 33 hectares of the River Barle valley.[5] This is mainly Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) woodland, with beech (Fagus), ash, sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), hazel (Corylus), blackberry (Rubus), bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and honeysuckle (Lonicera). It is internationally significant[6] for the mosses, liverworts and lichens which flourish in the cool damp conditions. Much of the woodland was once coppiced, primarily to provide charcoal for the local iron smelting industry. The river and the valley woodlands are part of the Barle Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest and abound with wildlife, ranging from red deer to dormice, including the rare Barbastelle Bat (Barbastella barbastellus)[7] and otter that feed along the unpolluted and fast-flowing river.

Well marked footpaths run along the valley between Simonsbath and Dulverton and to the village of Withypool. There is a circular walk from the main car park for Tarr Steps down to the river, along the riverbank for about 1.3 kilometres (1 mi) to a footbridge and returning on the other side, crossing the river on the clapper bridge. The main car park and toilets (some 400 metres (1,312 ft) from the bridge via a footpath) can be reached from the B3223 road between Withypool and Dulverton. Parking for the disabled and refreshments are available nearer the bridge, as are information panels put up by the Exmoor National Park, giving details of Tarr Steps history and design.

Bridge[edit]

Tarr Steps from river right

Within the reserve is the scheduled monument Tarr Steps grid reference SS867321, a clapper bridge over the River Barle. 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; this is the largest example of its type. There are 17 spans across 50 metres (55 yd), the top slabs weigh 1-2 tons and are about 39 inches (99 cm) above normal water level. The largest slab is over 8 feet (2.4 m) long and is about 5 feet (1.5 m) wide.[8] This is one of the best known monuments on Exmoor. Its age is unknown, as several theories claim that Tarr Steps dates from the Bronze Age but others date them from around 1400 AD. It has been restored several times in recent years, following flood damage. Over the years the damage provides a good indicator of the strength of each flood. Some of the top slabs have been washed away in extreme flood conditions and they have now all been numbered to facilitate replacement. The Exmoor National Park web site says

“The stones forming the spans weigh between one and two tons each and have on occasions been washed up to 50 yards (46 m) downstream. A distinctive feature of Tarr Steps is the slabs that are raked against the ends of each pier to break the force of the river and divert floating debris. Despite this, much of the damage has been due to debris such as branches floating down with the flood and battering the bridge. Debris used to be removed once a year by farmers from the Dulverton and Hawkridge sides of the river but since the flood of 1952 it has been trapped by cables strung across the river upstream of the bridge".[9]

The bridge was badly damaged by floodwater on 22 December 2012 when steel wires upstream (designed to protect the bridge from damaging debris) were broken by fallen trees washed down the river.[4][10][11]

Myth[edit]

Myth has it that the Devil built the bridge at Tarr Steps and still has sunbathing rights on its stones. The myth says that the devil swore he would kill anyone who tried to cross his bridge. The terrified locals got the parson to face him. A cat was sent over the Bridge but was vaporised in a puff of smoke. The parson then set off and met the Devil midway. The Devil swore and intimidated him but the parson reciprocated equally and finally the Devil conceded to let people pass except when he wants to sunbathe.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Tarr Steps". Images of England. Retrieved 2007-05-09. 
  2. ^ Leete-Hodge, Lornie (1985). Curiosities of Somerset. Bodmin: Bossiney Books. pp. 63–64. ISBN 0-906456-98-3. 
  3. ^ "Tarr steps". Listed Buildings Online. English Heritage. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "One of Britains oldest bridges swept away by floodwater". Telegraph. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  5. ^ "Tarr Steps Woodland NNR". Natural England. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  6. ^ "Tarr Steps and the Exmoor National Park". Everything Exmoor. Retrieved 2014-10-26. 
  7. ^ Walker, M.D. (2006). "Barbastelle Bat Barbastella barbastellus". British Bats. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  8. ^ Otter, R.A. (1994). Civil Engineering Heritage: Southern England. London: Thomas Telford Ltd. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-7277-1971-3. 
  9. ^ "Floods at Tarr Steps". Exmoor National Park. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  10. ^ "1,000-year-old bridge at Tarr Steps washed away in Exmoor floods, the stones have now been replaced.". This is Somerset. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  11. ^ "Medieval clapper bridge swept away in flood". The History Blog. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 
  12. ^ Warren, Derrick (2005). Curious Somerset. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-0-7509-4057-3. 

External links[edit]