Many years ago when I worked in Taunton and stayed there during the week I regularly went out walking in the evenings after work. My favourite location was the Quantock Hills and occasionally I would venture onto the Brendon Hills. Very rarely, during the long summer evenings, I would manage to get onto Exmoor. One walk that I never managed has remained on my tick list for a long time, the circular route between Withypool and Tarr Steps.
As I take the dogs for an early morning stroll there are signs that this could be a fine day. There is a bit of spring mist in the valleys, but on the hilltops the sky is clear and the sun has a pleasant warmth to it. It is back to the Coachman for a mornings work before we can get out and really enjoy this lovely spring day.
After lunch we head off to Withypool and manage to secure a spot in the car park close to the bridge. From here we turn right and walk along the road keeping left at a fork and going up hill past the village hall. The road then has a serious bit of up. Our training yesterday walking up the Punchbowl is already beginning to show and we both stride out as the road climbs Withypool Hill.
Yesterday the gorse was just coming into flower, but today it is blooming and fragrant. The sight of gorse in flower is always a good sign, not least because it signifies the ‘kissing season’. Lynnie will have to be on her guard today, the combination of gorse in flower and the sun on my back might result in me being ‘unnecessary’!
At the top we are rewarded for our climb with stunning views down the valley. Our route is now easy-going along the country road with only the very occasional car passing by. After passing through the gate by a cattle grid we start to descend, first gradually and then steeply down to Westwater Farm.
We pass the farm and cross West Water on the narrow road bridge. Immediately after the bridge we take the footpath on the left signposted to Tarr Steps. This takes us into a field beside a brook and from the next field climbs on a clearly way-marked route across several fields. The views from here are cracking.
On reaching Parsonage Farm we turn right following the way-markers to Tarr Steps. We cross a couple of fields and then follow the markers, turning right to join a rough track leading down to Tarr Steps.
This is a clapper bridge that has spanned the Barle River for at least 700 years. It is one of those spots frequently seen on postcards of Exmoor.
Before crossing we stop to take the obligatory pictures and then on the other side our route turns to the left. But first we have to make a minor diversion to the small hut selling ice cream. It is still only March, but apparently for Lynnie the Ice Cream season has started!
Purchase in hand we head away from Tarr Steps; it is a picturesque but busy spot. I can do picturesque, but have an aversion to busy. The route back to Withypool from here is clearly defined and easy to follow. We just have to keep the River Barle on our left and follow it.
The route sounds easy, and looks easy on the map. But this is a rough, boggy, path and some sections close to the river are precarious and require care due to the rough terrain.
The upside is it is proper cracking. There are numerous spots where we just stop and wonder at the beauty of nature. After the first half-mile we don’t meet a soul and on this early spring afternoon there is no better place to be.
As we approach Withypool Lynnie spies a plane high in the sky and sensibly asks why people jet away on holiday when there are places like this on your doorstep.
Towards Withypool we climb away from the river crossing a pleasant dell with small waterfalls on either side and then the path leads to a road where we turn right to walk down into Withypool. On the way we pass the Royal Oak, it is odd how the pub in the next village, Winsford, is called by the same name. It must lead to some confusion in these parts. Apparently General Eisenhower visited this pub whilst on Exmoor. Unfortunately, it is an experience that I am not about to repeat.
Back through the village we cross the stunning bridge across the River Barle before returning to the car park. My fancy Suunto Traverse watch says that we have done just over 7 miles. The combination of steep climbs, muddy paths and rocky terrain makes it feel like it was longer. The main thing is that it has been a truly cracking afternoon.
To follow this walk you will need Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Map OL 9 – Exmoor
31st March 2016
© Two Dogs and an Awning (2016)