Exmoor floods wash away Tarr Steps

Recent heavy rain has had serious repercussions on Exmoor National Park's iconic landmark

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Recent floods in Exmoor National Park have caused one of the region’s oldest bridges to be swept away. More than half of the 50m-wide (164ft) Tarr Steps will need to be repaired after heavy rainfall caused the River Barle’s water levels to be 4m (10ft) deeper than normal.

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Tarr Steps is a well-known visitor attraction. It is a surviving example of a ‘clapper’ bridge made from large, un-mortared slabs of stone and is the longest of its type. But its age is unknown. Some theories claim it dates from the Bronze Age, others date it from around AD1400.

Flooding has damaged it before. English Heritage lists previous incidents in 1942, 1952 and 1979. Slabs have been washed as far as 50m (164ft) downstream in previous floods, but the recent damage is believed to be the worst in living memory. 

The bridge is the latest landmark to be struck by the aftermath of weeks of heavy rain. Incidents of flooding increased particularly during the Christmas and New Year period. The rain has also badly damaged some rights of way, which is likely to cost tens of thousands of pounds to repair.

Engineers from the Somerset Country Council have been out on the river this week to search for the lost slabs, which weigh between one and two tonnes each. The county council spokesman said that the slabs had been numbered after previous floods, allowing them to be put back together in the correct place.

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But the rebuilding of Tarr Steps will still be a challenge. “A team of our engineers has gone out to look at the scene, but the river’s still swollen so it’s difficult to say exactly where the stone slabs are,” said a council spokesman. “They’ve also had to speak to the Environment Agency and get approval to begin work – and that’s now been given the go-ahead.”