Friday, 28 May 2021

An Ancient Monument

The route across Exmoor from where we were staying was closed due to roadworks, so we had to take a much longer circular route to Dulverton, the southern gateway up onto the moors. The journey took us through lush green valleys, beautiful forests, and scenic countryside.
Dulverton was once a thriving mill town - this is one of the old mills still to be seen in the town






The ancient monument we were seeking lies at the heart of a U shaped valley a few miles outside Dulverton, with just two narrow roads down from the moors. Unfortunately for us, our sat.nav. directed us to the most difficult route, a very narrow tortuous single-track road, not one for those of a nervous disposition. The roads high grassy banks were prettily strewn with wild flowers beyond which were ancient forests growing amongst large mossy covered boulders deposited during 'The Ice Age'. At every bend we hoped that no other vehicle would be travelling up towards us - passing places were few and far between. The road was very steep with precipitous boundaries. On arrival, breathing a sigh of relief that we had made it, we temporarily forgot about the return journey as we viewed what we had travelled to see.


Tarr Steps is a Grade 1 listed Ancient Monument crossing the River Barle in a beautiful wooded valley. The steps are a 17 - span clapper bridge (the term comes from the Latin claperius, meaning 'pile of stones') constructed entirely from very large stones and boulders.

The first written mention of the crossing was in the Tudor period, but experts believe that it was built 1000 years BC, making it over 3000 years old.

The River Barle is a swift flowing tributary of the River Exe - Atlantic salmon that hatch in the river may journey as far away as Greenland before returning years later to spawn. For rivers to be suitable for salmon they need unpolluted, cool, well oxygenated water along with clean gravel on the riverbed for spawning, these are exactly the conditions that are found in this river.

The water eddies around the supporting stones then gurgles merrily on its journey beneath the clapper bridge.
The surrounding woodland is mainly Oak, Beech, Ash, Sycamore, and Hazel which was once coppiced to provide charcoal for the local iron smelting industry. It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest abounding in wildlife - Red Deer, Dormice, the rare Barbastelle Bat along with Otters that feed along its fast flowing river.
On a hillside close to the steps is a Bronze Age burial mound - dating back to a period five hundred years before Tarr Steps, but, I wondered, did they too use this same crossing point in the river? 

40 comments:

  1. Welcome back, Rosemary. What a refreshing and scenic trip! I can feel sunshine, breeze, and murmuring of the river. I love the fresh verdure of this season before foliage becomes thick. I can relate to your drive experience. When my husband and I drove to Mt. Koya, our car navigation guided us to take a valley route which is narrower, steeper, and more crooked route than the other relatively narrow, steep, and crooked. We took the other on our way back.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - unfortunately we were unable to take the easy route back as it would have meant crossing the river, not possible in our saloon car - it is only crossable by a jeep or heavy duty 4/4 vehicle.

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  2. It is a region of incredible beauty, and I am always struck on visits to England that despite its huge population, for so small an island there seems still to be so many places such as this. It truly merits the name "green and pleasant land". As for the winding, tortuous route I think the designers of GPS devices secretly build that into their units!

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    1. I am beginning to feel the same about GPS devices too.

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  3. Hello Rosemary, Wow, this is perhaps the most amazing monument you have shown us yet. I wonder if the bridge has been repaired over the years--it seems that a swift current could move those stones or undermine their foundation. Do you get tremendous spring freshets in your area? With those side supports the bridge almost looks like some mythical creature with its legs sticking into the river.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - it has been repaired many times over the centuries, but the archaeologists have mapped all of the stones and know exactly where they belong. The stones are very heavy - the smaller ones weigh 1 - 2 tons and some of the very large flat stones weigh 5 tons. Even in the strongest current they never move very far down the river. I agree with you that it does resemble a mythical creature.

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  4. And of course I have to ask if you bravely walked across the bridge. I might have...or at least ventured on the first stone. Or is it roped off from tourists? So glad you went through that ride just to capture these wonderful shots of it. It's is truly amazing!

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    1. I ventured halfway across, but my husband walked over to the other side. It is not roped off, and there no restrictions to crossing it. It is used regularly by walkers and cyclists.

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  5. This is so beautiful. What a wonderful and peaceful place to visit.

    https://trois-lievres.skyrock.com/1.html

    I also wanted to share a blog I found about the Three Hares. You seemed interested in this subject. It should translate to English from the French. I finally found a copy of the out of print book. I thought it would be a small. It is a huge, heavy book with lots of photos.. XXX Catherine

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    1. This is the better link.

      https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=https://trois-lievres.skyrock.com/&prev=search&pto=aue

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    2. Dear Catherine - sorry for delay but we have been away visiting our family. Thank you very much for the link - the first link worked well.
      I must admit that I had forgotten to check out the 3 rabbits on this trip down to Devon, but next time I will be bearing it in mind now that you have reminded me. We like the hotel that we go to, and that is an excellent reason for us to return again.
      It was lovely to hear from you, and I do hope that all is well with you.

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  6. Wow, that is so cool! Are people allowed to actually walk on the clapper bridge, or is it fenced off?

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    1. People, cyclist, anyone can use the clapper bridge there are no restrictions. It is very remote so you never get hordes of people there. It has stood for over 3000 years and hopefully, all being well in the world, it will continue to be there for another 3000 years.

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  7. Wonderful to see the weather was fine for this special trip Rosemary - one needs sunshine to enjoy the lovely countryside and rivers. I recall visiting Tarr Steps as a teenager - yes, in those days teens really seemed to enjoy a Sunday afternoon drive with parents (in my case my best friend's because we didn't have a car) actually viewing historic places and learning about nature - and of course no distractions in hand (literally!) such as phones!

    Other special bridges for us, and a little closer to my home, were Dartmoor's 17th century Fingle Bridge, and Postbridge's Medieval Clapper Bridge - a taller version of Tarr Steps.
    How lovely to think salmon spawn there - as we always say, nature never ceases to surprise. . . . . .speaking of which, we have just been warned that there is a black bear spotted in our neighborhood, a first around here!!!!!

    Enjoy the long weekend dear.
    Mary x

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    1. Dear Mary - I am pleased that you have been there too - it is a magical spot, and we enjoyed the valley to ourselves.
      We have just returned home following a weekend away having visited our two sons and their families which was a treat after so long apart.
      I hope that you catch a glimpse of the black bear. We once saw one when we were travelling in Canada, it crossed the road in front of us.

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  8. An impressive structure and beautiful shots.

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  9. I've been there many times, but always as part of a walk. I can tell your earlier commenter that parts of it have been frequently rebuilt over the years after being damaged by winter floods, but the stones don't go very far so it's not quite such a puzzle as you might think! I remember seeing lots of Dippers on the walk down to Dulverton.

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    1. I have been in your neck of the woods this weekend.

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  10. Dearest Rosemary,
    England is so rich on history and this is extremely rare for seeing such an ancient stone bridge. One wonders HOW did they move such large and heavy pieces?
    Incredible and glad you managed to reach this historical place by car and made it back home.
    Thanks for sharing those excellent photos with great information.
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. Dear Mariette - I am so pleased that you enjoyed seeing this beautiful historical monument sitting in its lovely remote valley.

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  11. Quelle adventure! Now to read about les trois-lievres that Catherine shared! I will also do a little research on the Tarr Steps. What source are you using or which sources might be more accurate for choosing your destinations in England? Hope you are refreshed and that you enjoyed your time away!

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    1. I didn't actually use any source for this visit as I knew about Tarr Steps already. However, we have a load of books in our bookcases for places to visit up and down the country.

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  12. What a beautiful and peaceful place to visit. The stones with their vertical supports remind me of an alligator-like creature. Others have asked my question - did you walk on the stones? Your SatNav experience reminded me of one of our own when we were in England. We still laugh about it. I think SatNavs are best combined with maps!

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    1. Yes, we walked on the stones, but I only went halfway across. However, it is very secure, the large stones weigh at least 5 tons, but the sensation of the swirling water does make you feel uneasy.

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  13. I was wondering what the ancient monument would be, photo by photo,then burst out a laugh. Been there in the 1970s so long ago the name Dulverton didn't ring any bells at all as I was picking out items of interest in an old 1970s AA road map to visit and Tarr Steps was one. Liked Devon a lot. Happy times.

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    1. I am pleased that you have been there too - it sits in a really beautiful valley.

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  14. Thank you for sharing this wonderful place. Glad I did not have to endure the drive on the narrow road.

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    1. I wouldn't like to do that drive down again, but it was very very memorable as it was so pretty.

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  15. What a beautiful place, I want to visit, sit on that bridge and dangle my feet in the water.

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    1. You must do that, the water is crystal clear, but don't go down the wrong route as we did.

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  16. Welcome back and seems you had a hair raising trip when the satnav sent you the wrong way - funny they do that sometimes.
    The area is beautiful and I do like the foot bridge.

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    1. We have just been away again, hence my delay in replying. GPS signals can sometimes be misleading.

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  17. I can see from the photos that Dulverton was once a thriving mill town, so do we know when the industry started and when it really took off? I am guessing 16th century. Can tourists go through and closely inspect how the architecture then may have looked?

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    1. Dulverton has a long history of using water power dating back to mediaeval times, when a weir was built in the Norman style to divert the River Barle along a leat for the use of mills. From the 13th century there was a thriving woollen industry which lasted for the next 500 years. Buildings connected with the wool trade in Dulverton are: – Dulverton Laundry, which was originally the Tangier Mill, a fulling mill with two waterwheels, and which in 1826 became the Silk and Crepe Mill with a 12 foot wide waterwheel producing ten horsepower; the Woollen Factory which had two waterwheels and which manufactured woollen goods such as blankets, though it is is now sadly blighted by unsympathetic restoration; and Holland House, built around 1770, and was probably a wash-house for finished woollens after fulling.

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  18. The survival of that stone bridge in full view is a little miracle. I suppose they survived because they were useful.

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    1. There is a Clapper Appreciation Society and there are apparently many up and down the country. There are a couple in Scotland, 3 in Ireland, several in Wales and at least 40 across England.

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  19. I can see why you wanted to see it. Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures.

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