Do you love walking and hiking?
I do. Especially in quiet or remote places far removed from the madding crowds.
I’m lucky to travel to England quite regularly to see my family, and when I’m there I’ll often be found out walking along the coastal paths of Devon, or on Exmoor.
Climb every mountain
Exmoor is set deep in England’s green and pleasant West Country, and early summer is a beautiful time to walk here when the fields are green and the trees are bursting with new buds, and if you’re lucky you may see fields and woods full of bluebells.
But don’t dismiss Autumn either, when the deciduous trees are turning gorgeous shades of red, gold and burnt sienna, or even deepest winter when on a crisp day with watery sun shining and a white frost on the ground you could imagine fairies at play in the hedgerows.
One warm day we drove to Tarr Steps which forms a bridge over the River Barle near the pretty village of Withypool. Myth has it that the Devil built the bridge and still has sunbathing rights so I didn’t hang around in the middle for long.
Tarr Steps is actually one of Britain’s finest Medieval Clapper Bridges (clapper means ‘pile of stones’) and it’s set within the Barle Valley in a National Nature Reserve that covers about 33 hectares.
Washed away by a wall of water
The bridge dates back to about 1000BC and links the Somerset villages of Withypool and Dulverton . It consists of 17 giant slabs of stone.
In December 2012, after thousands of years, the massive boulders were washed away by a flood – a 10 foot wall of water came cascading down with huge uprooted trees, and the bridge has only just been reconstructed. You can read more about the Tarr Steps flood here.
But what a season to go walking. We had mapped out a 10km route and with spring still a-lingering I was thrilled to discover there were Bluebells everywhere you looked and didn’t look (Tip: late May is a great time for Bluebells).
The Barle River flows through thick woodland, oak, beech, ash, sycamore, hazel and blackberry. Leaves were bursting into every colour green you can imagine.
We hugged the river and then climbed high onto open moorland where a windy squall and black cloud of rain had me thinking of the novel Lorna Doone which was also set on Exmoor.
A cuckoo and a skylark but no partridge in a pear tree
I don’t think you can beat the melodic sounds of English birdsong, which today was loud and strong in the woods and hedgerows.
We even heard a cuckoo – near a bog – yes there are bogs to beware of on Exmoor.
And a Skylark.
Then we saw a blackbird with a dragonfly in his beak. He was obviously taking it to feed his young as he wasn’t going to move far away from us, and seemed to be protecting his nest.
Did you know there is research to suggest that the sound of birdsong has a calming effect on us in times of stress, and that houses with birds in the garden sell quicker?
Can’t prove it myself, but I know I tend to seek out birdsong wherever I am.
I loved the mosses, liverworts and lichens that we saw in the cool damp understory.
An old Inn far from the madding crowd
Above Tarr Steps is the ancient Tarr Farm which has been there since Elizabethan times.
It’s a tranquil spot. The nearest roundabout and traffic lights are about half an hour away, so don’t expect a mobile phone signal.
Tarr Farm Inn itself is oldy worldy and the restaurant is open from 11am to 11pm plus there is comfortable country living accommodation if you want to stay the night.
Fast Facts if you’re heading to England on holiday
Tarr Steps is about 3 hours from London by Car just off the B3223 between Withypool and Dulverton. Trains run from London Paddington to Taunton, Tiverton and Exeter from where you could hire a car.
There is a shorter circular walk from the main car park down to the river, along the riverbank for about 1.3 kilometres to a footbridge. It returns on the other side, crossing the river on the clapper bridge. The main car park and toilets are about 400 metres from the bridge via a footpath.
7 Things to do on Exmoor
- Walk – there are loads of marked trails – find a map and get hiking
- Horse riding
- Fly and Sea Fishing
- Clay Pigeon and Game Shooting
- Off road safaris and wildlife watching
- Sailing, windsurfing at nearby Wimbleball Lake
- Abseiling and rock climbing at The Valley of the Rocks
Pics: Copyright Jo Castro