First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A dawn start on West Anstey Common, watching a magnificent red deer stag roaring rivals away from his harem of hinds. How to follow that? A pint and a sandwich at Tarr Farm Inn didn’t hurt at all, and we strode out across Tarr Steps among the gold and green oaks of the Barle Valley just as if the western sky were not heaping with ominously slaty clouds.
No-one really knows how long the ancient clapper bridge of Tarr Steps has spanned the nut-brown River Barle in its narrow combe. Saurian in shape, resistant to flood waters yet built to allow them free passage, this subtle old bridge might have been placed across the river by medieval monks, or it could have been carrying travellers dryshod over the Barle for as long as three thousand years. Its flagstone decking rang underfoot, and the swollen river rushed through the rough piers in curling trails of bubbles.
High above the valley an enthusiastic dog came to meet us at Parsonage Farm, drawing his black lip back from his teeth in an ingratiating grin. At Hill Farm it was the hens that greeted us with fat volleys of clucks; at Cloggs Farm, a sweet smell of hay from the barn. From farm to farm we pursued the path, dipping to cross Dane’s Brook among rushes and thorn hedges, climbing to Lyshwell Farm and sight of a scattered herd of hinds on the canter. Some Exmoor farmers detest the red deer for the damage they do; others, such as Raymond and Sarah Davey of Lyshwell, rejoice in the sight and sound of them.
On Anstey Rhiney Moor the weather caught us a smack. There were smells of wet bracken and turf, sodden grass and sedges. The rain-slick path fell away to a flooded ford over Dane’s Brook. Take the detour to Slade Bridge and forgo the pleasure of splashing across? Not on your nelly. The brook came up to our knees, and sent impertinent scouting parties higher still. On the far bank we tipped a good pint of peat-stained water out of each boot, and squelched on up past Zeals Farm, up the lane and field slopes to Hawkridge on its crest.
A mile or so along the heights, then a final plunge down through dripping trees to walk up to Tarr Steps against the brown tides of the Barle; a beauty of a walk, all in all.
Start & finish: Tarr Farm Inn, Tarr Steps, Dulverton TA22 9PY (OS ref SS 869322)
Getting there: Bus: service 401 (www.somerset.gov.uk/media), summer only
Road: M5 Jct 27, A361 to Tiverton; A396, B3222 to Dulverton; B3223 towards Exford; Tarr Steps signposted in 5 miles; minor road to car park (872323)
Walk (7½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL9): From car park, down path to cross Tarr Steps (868321); bear right off road up Two Moors Way/2MW (‘Withypool Hill, Hawkridge’). In 50 yards at private gateway, keep ahead uphill on stony lane which doglegs right. In field above, left along hedge, and on with hedges on your left. At end of 3rd field, through gate; follow yellow squares through farmyard of Parsonage Farm (857320). On down lane (2MW) to sharp left bend; right (854318) across stile, diagonally left up slope, aiming for 3rd telegraph pole to left. Follow hedge up to top corner of field; through gate; on to gate above. Don’t go through, but turn left with hedge on your right. Through left-hand of 2 gates close together; in 50 yards, right through gate; left along hedge; through next gate. Skirt below Hill Farm (847320); through another gate, and on to road. Left to Withypool Cross (845315); right (‘Molland’), then left (‘Bridleway, Shircombe Drive’) to Cloggs Farm (840310). By barn, left through gate (‘Anstey Gate’); down to cross stream (841311); through gate, right along fence above stream for a few yards, then left up bank (‘Anstey Gate’ fingerpost at top). Descend to cross Dane’s Brook footbridge (840308); right up stony track, then field slopes, aiming for line of trees on skyline. Through gate (fingerpost), on past Lyshwell Farm (837306); farm drive to road at Anstey Gate (835298). Left across cattle grid; then diagonally left across Anstey Rhiney Moor (left-hand of 2 diverging tracks) for 1 mile, descending to cross ford (850300; NB – Deep, maybe up to knees! Detour via Slade Bridge signposted!). Up track to pass below Zeals Farm house (853300); through white gate; right between barns, out of farmyard gate. Bear half left off drive (bridleway fingerpost) on grassy field track to gate; continue to Slade Lane (855303). Left to next corner; right (bridleway fingerpost) across field to road. Right through Hawkridge. At crossroads in village, left (‘Withypool’) for 100 yards; right to follow 2MW through fields for ¾ mile. Right (856317) through Row Down Wood, down to road at Penny Bridge (860316); left to Tarr Steps.
Lunch: Tarr Farm Inn (01643-851507; www.tarrfarm.co.uk)
Accommodation: The Bark House, Oakfordbridge, Devon EX16 9HZ (01398-351236; www.thebarkhouse.co.uk)