Rachel Mead heads to Exmoor to walk over the iconic Tarr Steps, a 700-year-old clapper bridge. There’s beauty and folklore to be had in this part of our National Park and it’s a perfect weekend destination at this time of year.

I’m going to suggest you set your alarm clocks for this weekend’s walk. Sorry to raise you from your slumber, especially if you deserve a lie-in, but this riverside ramble is best savoured solo and so you need to get there early doors. I’m taking you to Exmoor so you’ll already know that the scenery is going to be knock-out spectacular; but a bright and early stroll around Tarr Steps is the order of the day and if you arrive early you’ll be able to glorify in the splendour as Nature’s soundtrack plays exclusively for you. It’s a special place, and as you traverse ancient walkways you’ll even find that money does in fact grow on trees in this part of the county.

Great British Life: The view from Tarr Farm Inn Photo Rachel Mead The view from Tarr Farm Inn Photo Rachel Mead

Aside from the wander down the hill from the car park, this Sunday (or Saturday) stroll is relatively flat. You’ll pass by the Tarr Farm Inn (note that for later) and then you'll be tracking a woodland trail which hugs the riverbank, coursing through the established woodlands of North Barton, Knaplock and Liscombe before coming across a ‘riverbank’ rich with coins. Sounds unusual? Well it is, and not all who venture here will find the ‘money tree’, but all the same this is a well-trodden path, hence my recommendation for an early start. There’s no need for maps as the Exmoor National Park team have waymarked it well, but it is well worth slipping a coin or two in your pocket for the fairies which you may encounter later on in this walk.

Great British Life: The 700 year old Tarr Steps Photo Rachel Mead The 700 year old Tarr Steps Photo Rachel Mead

Usually I like a weekend walk to challenge me a little before I receive the gift of a far stretching view, trig point, or pub lunch, but on this occasion you will be awarded with the prized and coveted view of Tarr Steps from the get go. It’s magnificence is tangible from the moment you drop down the hill and no matter how many times you visit, I believe you will always be spellbound. Constructed entirely without cement or any kind of fixings, this ancient clapper bridge relies entirely on the weight of the giant stones themselves to maintain its structure. Stretching across the River Barle for 58 metres, Tarr Steps has been recognised nationally as the longest, and most impressive, clapper bridge in our lands. You can’t help but feel like a small child in a playground; it’s exciting crossing the bridge as the River Barle flows or rages around you; depending on the amount of recent rainfall.

Great British Life: Over the bridge Photo Rachel Mead Over the bridge Photo Rachel Mead

The stone slabs are mighty with each ‘step’ weighing about 2-3 tonnes (akin to a white rhinoceros for comparison!) and despite this sizeable mass, it isn’t unknown for the clapper bridge to become washed away during torrential storms. Unbeknown to day trippers, each sandstone slab is in fact numbered on its underbelly and once any storm water has receded the national park team bring in the cranes to re-position the stones if they are dislodged.

Great British Life: Resting on the riverbank Photo Rachel Mead Resting on the riverbank Photo Rachel Mead

After your first clapper crossing (and I say first because I think the majority of us are curious enough to cross it in both directions!) you’ll immediately pick up the signposted looped trail of around 1.5 miles. For those of you who want to stretch your legs further, you absolutely can do so, the trail links up with plentiful footpaths and a walk along the riverbank to Withypool (where there’s a great café, shop and pub) and back; would be a welcome extension. But for today, I’m keeping it leisurely, enjoying the woodland track and keeping an eye out for Wagtails, little Dippers and Kingfishers. Naturalists will enjoy spotting lichens, liverworts and mosses; all of which flourish in these clean Exmoor nature-friendly conditions; alongside the local inhabitants of dormice, otters, bats and eels.

Great British Life: Keep an eye out for the money tree Photo Rachel Mead Keep an eye out for the money tree Photo Rachel Mead

At the halfway point, a more typical bridge will lead you back over the River Barle at Westwater Copse and you’ll now be on your way to finding treasure amongst this woodland trove so keep your eyes peeled. If it’s a bright morning you may catch a glimpse of the sunlight glinting off the coins; a sparkle here and there amongst the greenery to guide you, and possibly even the magpies, in. It’s a lush green area of the woodland and with the sound of the river dominating the airwaves, you’ll be thankful that your alarm woke you and you arrived early to have this ‘sterling’ moment to yourself.

Great British Life: Money Tree Photo Rachel Mead Money Tree Photo Rachel Mead

Family Tree

There is a charming little tale which recounts how the money tree came into being after an 8 year old girl from London was holidaying on Exmoor with her father. ‘Whilst walking along the riverbank, the girl’s legs grew weary and she point blank refused to walk another step, stroppily shouting to her father, ‘I want a pony!’ Her father, used to such childish outbursts, stopped and pulled an old threepence coin out of his pocket saying, ‘Darling, it is not for me to decide if you can have a pony either on Exmoor or in Ealing Broadway, it is actually for the log fairies to decide.’ And with that, he hammered the old coin into a log which lay on the bank of the River Barle. The little girl made her wish, but no pony magically appeared, and as the years went by the pony never arrived in London either. But, what did happen as consequence was far greater…coins from all over the world have since joined that old threepence making the ‘money tree’ a special place for all who walk there. And every year since then, that little girl who has now grown and has children of her own, has revisited the coin her father put there for the fairies; making the money tree a special place of connection for her and the many other visitors to Exmoor.’