Pheasants on Exmoor, photographed by Charles Hawes

A circular walk in Exmoor starting at Tarr Steps

December 10, 2012 · 13 comments

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.

Pheasant in Exmoor, photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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.

River Barle near Tarr Steps, Exmoor, photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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.

Coins in tree by River Barle in Exmoor on circular walk from Tarr Steps, Photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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.

Moss covered tree in Kanplock Wood, Exmoor photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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.

Grass covered field boundary bank with beech trees in Exmoor, photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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.

Path at the edge of the moor near Winsford Hill, Exmoor, photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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.

The Punch Bowl near Winsford Hill, Exmoor, photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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.

Filed boundary stone wall near Winsford in Exmoor, photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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).

Packhorse Bridge in Winsford, Somerset, Exmoor, photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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.

View to Burrow Wood near Winsford, Exmoor, Somerset, photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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.

Signpost at Spire Cross on the B3223 near Winsford, Exmoor, Somerset, photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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.

cages for partridge on Exmoor, Somerset, Photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

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.

Moss covered fallen tree near Watery Lane, Exmoor, Somerset, photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in Exmoor.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

ant December 10, 2012 at 9:08 am

Really enjoyed reading this article,i can see me doing this walk come spring when i venture that way,gives inspiration, Im venturing out to the allotment this morning , its sunny but cold here in Sussex,but i love the fresh air and outdoors.
Have A good week and thanks for the blog,regards, Ant

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Charles December 11, 2012 at 6:20 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed it. Been freezing here in wales all day so have been happy preparing the next blog.

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Anne Wareham December 10, 2012 at 10:21 am

Best bit is stroking the pics with the mouse….Wonder if everyone actually does that?

So who are all these reddit readers???

XXXXXX

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Charles December 11, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Yes folks, every opportunity is taken to entertain you with my witty captions.
Reddit readers are renowned for their outdoor spirit.

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John December 10, 2012 at 11:28 am

Maybe this link will satisfy your curiosity about the coin studded tree: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wish_Tree. Next time, look at the coins – if a lot are old ones, maybe they were hammered in whilst the trees were standing and that’s why the fallen were left there, with more coins being added since.

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Charles December 11, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Thanks John. I shall look closely when we go back in April. And ask at the Inn.

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Paul Steer December 10, 2012 at 8:34 pm

I walked this walk with Sue about 15 or so years ago, and the wonderful thing is that it seems unchanged judging by the photographs (which I have stroked with the mouse as suggested !) I remember the Punchbowl being steep sided, but it is difficult to represent that in a photograph…unless it’s yet another false memory.

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Charles December 11, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Really? Hey, thats a coincidence. Yes the Punchbowl is really steep and a very striking landform which I totally failed to capture with this pic.

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julia December 11, 2012 at 6:45 pm

lots of stroking – lots of soft mossy textures too – but it’s the pix I love. Trees with ferns are wondrous – any clue on the species? And the the stacked slate as the field boundary – great in a man made way – and final image needs a poem – someone?

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Charles December 11, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Yes, stroking my pics is obligatory. Pity I can’t do scratch n’ sniff. That would be fun. I’m pretty sure that was an Oak that was moss covered but its so damp by the river there that most trees have some moss on them.

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Lynds December 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Thoroughly enjoyed this walk-whilst sat by fire 😉 Lots of mouse stroking- I shushed the mouse objections with the promise of releasing into the mossy trees ! Great pictures as always ! The coin studded tree probably a wish tree, offerings to spirits, or a hoping for luck.

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Charles December 12, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Hi Lynds. Glad you have found the mouse fun. Thanks for nice words about the pics. Next weeks’ from Brecon Beacons is a smasher for winter light. That’s two votes for a Wish Tree. I’ll take a coin next time and add one of my own.

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Millie March 7, 2013 at 1:26 am

Yes, we needed the photo of the signpost! I have two photos of the same signpost taken in January 2013 in the snow. One in colour and one in black and white old style – both tell a story and evoke memories of that freezing, breezy day up on on Exmoor.

As a fellow walker and photographer, I love all the photos, blogs and quips.

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Copyright Charles Hawes (2012)