Tarr Steps Walk in the Exmoor National Park, England

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.

About Exmoor National Park

Exmoor National Park England
Exmoor National Park

Exmoor is loosely defined as an area of hilly open moorland in west Somerset and north Devon in South West England. It is named after the River Exe, the source of which is situated in the centre of the area, two miles north-west of Simonsbath.

Exmoor was designated a National Park in 1954

Exmoor National Park is a unique landscape of moorland, woodland, valleys and farmland, shaped by people and nature over thousands of years.  Where high cliffs plunge into the Bristol Channel, and cosy pubs and tearooms offer delicious local produce.

Exmoor National Park is not a wilderness, it is a living and working landscape with many settlements from small towns and picturesque villages to tiny hamlets and isolated farmsteads. You can learn more about the park here.

Best time to visit Exmoor National Park

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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.

Devilish Myth at Tarr Steps, Withypool

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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.

History of Tarr Steps

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.

Walk through the Bluebell Woods

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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).

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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.

The amazing birdlife on Exmoor

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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.

The Old Tarr Farm Inn far from the madding crowd

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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 for the Tarr Steps Walk in Exmouth

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.

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7 Things to do on Exmoor National Park

  • 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
  • You can join this Exmoor National Park Walking tour

Other posts on England you may enjoy

Do you have a favourite walk – where in the world is it?

Pics: Copyright Jo Castro

19 thoughts on “Tarr Steps Walk in the Exmoor National Park, England”

  1. The Public Footpaths linking villages (and their pubs!) across Britain really are magic – Its the one thing I wish Australia had more of – Public rights of way to be able to get out bush and enjoy more of the landscape.

    In Australia, one of my favourite walking spots is Lamington National Park, a few hours south of Brisbane on the border with NSW – The rainforest walks up along palm frond cascading creeks there, is superb.

    All very well re-building those Tarr Steps with a crane and digger – but wow – imagine leveraging all those rocks into place by hand when it was originally built!

  2. Hi Linda, yes the footpaths and rights of way across private acreage linking some of the prettiest parts of the English countryside are well worth replicating – although I think it’s the little pubs dotted along the way that really ‘do’ it for me 😉 I agree with you about the Lamington National Park. We once stayed at Binna Burra for a few days – and the walks around there were just gorgeous. I guess my favourite walk of the moment has to be the Cape To Cape trail in Western Australia – because it’s on our weekend doorstep.

  3. Sounds so good! An ideal getaway for nature lovers. 🙂 I just came back from Dandeli where I enjoyed nature walks in the forests! It was so refreshing! England is a great country with many hidden gems.

  4. Catherine Curnow

    Any time I read your posts I just wanna get on a plane and go wherever you’re describing! This looks like a beautiful place to visit! Thankyou for sharing this with us.

    1. Thanks Catherine! I’m so glad that I inspire you sometimes to get on a plane and GO! I’ve just hear from my family though that Exmoor is currently under water as they’ve had so much rain in Devon over the last couple of weeks. So maybe wait until Spring to visit 😉 😉 (when the daffodils will be out)

  5. We still have not spent a lot of time in the English countryside but after our last visit, we’re tempted to do so. Walking through fields of bluebells, beautiful woods and over stone bridges sounds idyllic!

    1. If the weather is on your side Jenny, I still think that England’s countryside offers some of the prettiest natural vistas in the world. Hope you manage to get over again soon.

  6. I have only visited England once – in 2005. When we went down to Cornwall I wanted to walk on the moors – but alas it wasn’t to be – our tour bus didn’t allow time for such things. Next time! I love dipping into your travel posts Jo – but they make me add yet another destination onto my list.
    My favourite walks? Well anywhere in the South West of Western Australia is beautiful particularly in spring and walks to the gorgeous gorges on the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley.

    1. Thanks for that Jill 🙂 I guess tours in England are focused on seeing the old, the quaint and the unusual, and a walking tour would be something separate. Hope you get back to do some walks in the Devon or Cornwall area one day. Ah yes, SWA just beautiful, and I agree with you about some of the gorge walks in The Kimberley too.

  7. Hi Carmen, I agree walking in England is a bit of a mindset – you have to get out whatever the weather and enjoy the green (that’s created by rain!). There are some really underrated walks and hikes, I think, and a cap and sunnies or wellies and a raincoat need always to be in the day pack!

  8. Walking in Exmoor sounds great, Jo. I visited England this year but didn’t manage any walks – next time! My favourite walks include the alpine walks in northern Italy’s South Tirol region and, closer to home, Mt Buffalo National Park. Thanks for sharing your tips.

  9. Sounds like a lovely walk and the flowers are magnificent. I’m very tuned into bird calls when I travel as new sounds always make a place feel somewhat exotic to me. I have done a few multi day hikes in England – the West Highland Way and the Cumbrian Way and both were beautiful.

  10. Stunning photography! I’m looking for ideas for places to go on my weekends, this is perfect! It isn’t very often that there are any travel blog posts about things that are a little more out of the way… Great to see!

  11. So glad to have read this post, thanks Jo. We are heading back down to Cornwall where my mother in law lives on Bodmin Moor, and I planned to head via Exmoor. Shall visit here for sure. We lived near the New Forest for 5 years and had a tea shop walks book, so would pick a walk in Hampshire and stop at a tea shop or pub en-route. I loved the public access to paths too, used to give each walk a rating out of 10.

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