Exmoor is a wonderful area for walking. It’s a National Park to start with. Its moorland isn’t as inhospitable as Dartmoor. Many valleys cross its beautiful landscape and at the bottom of these are some delightful streams and rivers. This walk takes in part of the Two Moors way on the River Barle at the famous Tarr Steps.
Date walked: 7th October 2012
Map Required: OL9
Distance: about 7 miles
Starting point: Tarr Steps , SN 868322
Terrain: a short section by the river is followed by a steady clamber up a rocky, track and then across open countryside. Then a steepish descent and a level section is followed by a climb back up the hill and then fairly steeply back to the river.
If you do this walk at around this time of year then it comes with a health warning for those with a nervous disposition or heart condition: you will spend the day being terrorised by squawking pheasants leaping from the hedges. The shooting season sees the release of thousands of them and they are, understandably, pretty nervous themselves.
There is a car park on the east side of the minor road that leads to Tarr Steps from Liscombe. Although the road has a ford at Tarr Steps I would not attempt it unless you have the most robust of 4x4s. I wouldn’t try it myself in anything other than a canoe, and even then not with the river in full spate. The walk from the car park takes you past Tarr Farm Inn. The Inn has everything going for it. It does cream teas, excellent meals, decent beer, a cosy bar and very comfortable spacious rooms. Anne and I have stayed there three times and have our next stay booked already.
Before you start the walk do cross the River on the Tarr Steps. These are Uber-stepping stones, and you can play Pooh Sticks if you are so-inclined. In fact it’s a 1,000 year old grade I listed bridge, so don’t damage it. (surprising, really that we are still allowed to walk on it).
There is a little hut that sells ice-creams in the summer.
Cross back to where you started and take the path off to the left (if you are now facing the Inn) which enters Knaplock Wood after a hundred yards or so and keeps close by the river Barle. I love this river and the path (which here is part of The Two Moors way) follows it to Withypool (about 2.5 miles). It is a bit muddy and slippery over the rocky parts but its rushing turbulent water is an exciting companion.
You’ll get a real feel for it if you watch this video:
You pass a couple of fallen trees into which have been hammered hundreds and hundreds of coins. I haven’t found out the story here.
After about half a mile there is a stile. Cross this and then take a path to the right immediately afterwards that climbs up into the wood. This is called Watery Lane and it is well named. For the most part it is a stream bed and in wet weather it can literally be a stream. This is a beautiful little wood with moss covered boulders, trees sprouting with ferns, and the rushing water of a little stream just to the right.
The path takes you through the farm called Knaplock and then dog legs through Higher Knaplock, rising all the time.
The path goes by the edge of a couple of fields with good examples of the characteristic field boundaries of the area of grassed over stone walls with a hedge of (often) beech planted on the top. Here, as in many places, the hedge has not been laid for years and has become a line of trees.
The fields lead to the edge of the somewhat boggy moor. There is a network of little paths here; you want to keep going in a north-easterly direction for a little way until you come to the B3223.
Cross the road and find a path that roughly heads north-west. Again there is a little network of tracks but in a short while you come to a wider track. Turn left and you are soon rewarded with the fabulous view down into the deep combe known as The Punchbowl. Beyond are extensive views towards Dunkery Beacon.
A good track descends the edge of the Punchbowl and drops down to Withycombe Cottage and Farm where you cross over Winn Brook and then turn right to walk in the bottom of this little valley east, towards Winsford. There is a little ruined building on the right – have a little poke around as the field boundary here shoes just what craftsmanship and care went into its construction.
The village of Winsford is about a mile from Withycombe Farm and is a pretty little place situated on the river Exe. You cross a little pack-horse bridge which leads to the Royal Oak pub and which would be the obvious place for lunch or a drink if you didn’t bring one with you (having said that I did not go in so I don’t know how walker-friendly they are).
Turn right at the pub to climb the steeply rising minor road called Halse Lane. It’s a bit of a puff for the first half a mile but the views are rewarding over to Burrow Wood.
The next half mile rises more gently and passes a house on the left called Folly (I misread the map and was looking for a folly, so nice as the house was I was a bit disappointed).
Walking on this minor road is no hardship as it was not very busy. At the top of the hill it reaches the B3223 (just a quarter of a mile along from when you crossed it earlier). This point is called Spire Cross and there is a signpost on the corner.
Cross over and follow the lane for a few hundred yards until you see a wide track to the right. This leads back to Higher Knaplock.
If you are unlucky with the weather or want to stay on the road you can keep on it though Liscombe to the car park at Tarr Steps (this would be about a mile and a half from Spire Cross).
Assuming you are following my route, at Higher Knaplock to take an alternative route than simply retracing my steps down Watery Lane I followed the path that crosses the little steam by Knaplock. And then I promptly lost it. It should have reached the lane at Tarr Farm but I meandered for a bit and headed east rather than south. I didn’t have my sat nav or compass, which was silly of me. I came across these cages which despite appearing to be open still had dozens of partridge in them.
The birds went ballistic on my approach, scattering into the nearby field of sweet corn.
I found a path which followed the edge of Knaplock Wood heading for Watery Lane but then seemed to stop. There was no path though the wood but I found a fallen tree that allowed me to cross over the stream and I re-joined Watery Lane a and returned to Tarr steps by the river path.