Tarr Steps Hike 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.

In the UK there are over 100,000 miles of trails and public footpaths, leaving plenty of options for all kinds of explorers to hike or take a simple stroll in the stunning countryside and highland mountains.

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.

Tarr Steps bridge made of stone slabs in Exmoor National park
Tarr Steps Bridge

One of my favorite walks in Exmoor National Park is the Tarr Steps Walk, a gentle stroll down to the Tarr Steps, an ancient clapper bridge.

The beautiful wooded valley of the River Barle is also worth exploring for its wildlife, as is the heathland of Winsford Hill and its wild ponies in the surrounding countryside.

This more challenging circular walk from Dulverton to Tarr Steps is around 12 miles (20km) and should take about 6 hours.

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.

Or you can walk down a 400m path to the Tarr Steps Bridge from the parking lot.

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

waterfall on the Hoar Oak Water river at Watersmeet in Exmoor National Park
Waterfall on the Hoar Oak Water river at Watersmeet

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.

What are the Tarr Steps? The History and the Myth

steon bridge over water known as the clapper bridge tarr steps exmouth england
The Clapper Bridge

The Tarr Steps is the place of legends and ancient history. They form a bridge over the River Barle near the pretty village of Withypool.

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.

The clapper bridge dates back to about 1000BC.

The name ‘Tarr’ is thought to be derived from the Celtic word ‘tochar’, meaning ’causeway’. At 59yds (54m), Tarr Steps is by far the longest of the 40 or so clapper bridges left in Britain. It consists of 17 giant slabs of stone linking the Somerset villages of Withypool and Dulverton.

Myth will tell you that the Devil built the bridge, promising to kill anyone who attempted to cross. After the mysterious disappearance of a cat sent to cross over and a parson who stood his ground with the Devil in the middle of the bridge, the Devil decided to allow people to cross.

He had one stipulation – people would be banned from the bridge in the event of him choosing to sunbathe there. And we all know in England that wouldn’t happen often so I think you’ll be safe on your Tarr Steps hike!

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 (Tarr Steps Woodlands)

path through the bluebell woods

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.

The amazing birdlife and wildlife on Exmoor

bird flying to bird feeder in exmoor national park

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.

Exmoor is known for its great variety of habitats and abundance of wildlife. Thanks to its spectacular moorland, rich oak woodland, clear streams and dramatic coastline, you’ll find species such as majestic red deer, elusive otters and some of the UK’s rarest butterflies and bats.

One of the more famous species in Exmoor high on any wildlife lovers bucket list, are the commonly spotted British native ponies. The ponies are only ‘wild’ in the sense that the herds roam freely on the moor, for all the ponies belong to someone.

Exmoor is so important for wildlife that almost a third of the National Park is protected under UK and European law.

Getting to the Tarr Steps Walk in Exmoor

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.

The Old Tarr Farm Inn far from the madding crowd

stone cottage called the Old Tarr Farm Inn

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.

7 Things to do on Exmoor National Park

Bossington Hill coverd in blooming pink heath with views of the ocean
Bossington Hill, 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
  • You can join this Exmoor National Park Walking tour

Pics: Copyright Deposit photos

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Comment: Have you explored Exmoor National Park? Do you have any other great hikes or walks to recommend?

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19 thoughts on “Tarr Steps Hike 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. 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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