Over in neighbouring Somerset and embedded within Exmoor lies the local ambler’s hotspot Tarr Steps. It is a stone’s throw from North Devon that is too good to miss.
Why it’s on my list
Exmoor is a chocolate box of walks. Short walks, long walks, coastal walks, inland walks, easy walks, harder walks – it’s like picking whether you fancy a nibble of caramel or a Turkish delight. Tarr Steps was recommended by the in-laws, who recently enjoyed a walk to the steps followed by a commendable pub lunch. The pub lunch can be saved for another day and another blog, so on a sunny Sunday we headed off to Withypool to start the walk.
I have to be honest – I didn’t realise we weren’t in North Devon anymore until we were driving home and passed a sign that welcomed us back to Devon. As it turns out, about two thirds of Exmoor lies in Somerset! Regardless it was a great walk, and although I set out to write solely about North Devon, this walk is well worth crossing the border for.
Location: 36-minute drive from Barnstaple.
Parking: Free car park. If it’s full there is usually space to park on the road with lots of room for passing vehicles.
Length of walk: About 4.5 hours. 9.5 miles.
Type of walk: Circular. Moderate, with one challenging uphill. Riverside walk followed by moorland.
This walk is a fantastic way to spend a sunny morning or afternoon. The riverside walk is lovely, quiet and calm, and the view towards the end of the walk are magnificent. I’m very glad we saved our Thermos of tea for that viewpoint. I can imagine the riverside part getting a little muddy in poor weather, and we had a slight diversion to follow because of it, but what else to expect from nature? It was sunny when we visited, so the only surplus we had to contend with were the other visitors gathering around Tarr Steps, likewise appreciating the fine weather, cool river water and excellent pub.
The full route is available in Pathfinder Exmoor and the Quantocks, available here on Amazon. If you like circular walks, you’ll get a lot of use out of this book.
Starting from Withypool car park you walk along the main road for a little while. I say main, but it is a sleepy, secluded village so we only passed a couple of cars and people.
After turning off the road onto a footpath signposted to Tarr Steps, it is a simple case of following the river. It’s peaceful and calming, with life occasionally making itself known again. For us, this came in the form of two people galloping through a wide, open field on their horses. They trotted on into the woodland and we followed, with lots of bluebells to see on the way.
As we got closer to Tarr Steps there were more people, who had likely driven there and were exploring a little before lying down for a snooze in the sun. Tarr Steps itself was pretty as always. We visited one Christmas a fair few years ago and had a fantastic burger at the pub. Their burger relish will always be remembered as the best of my life.
We decided to move on from the gathering spot to head on up the hill towards Parsonage Farm, where we had our lunch. Carrying on past the two farms in the route, the second being Westwater Farm, we found ourselves heading on to the open moorland of Withypool Hill, where we saw cows, horses and tried in vain to find the Bronze Age circle mentioned in the route guide. It looks like the below apparently, so good luck finding it!
Image credit: Ethan Doyle White at English Wikipedia
Otherwise, heading on up to the top of the hill offers a worthy view for such a climb as we did before lunch. After sipping on a cup of tea and taking far more photographs than was necessary, we descended the hill into Withypool, where we were greeted by a sign and our car shortly after.
The view from atop Withypool Hill was my highlight. I like climbing to a summit, far-reaching views and the feeling of space and openness that moorland often gives – it’s easy to feel small in the vastness of the grass and sky that surround you, and it puts life’s problems into perspective.
Coming down from these lofty, philosophical heights, the views and aspect of Withypool Hill are both stunning and soothing, relaxing and refreshing. A great reward after a tough climb. Which leads me on to…
Not the best
To be fair there was only one tough climb, and the only reason I was not having the best time was because lunch was in the backpack and we hadn’t found just the right spot to have it yet (Tarr Steps being full with people sunbathing, walking, paddling and generally having a lovely time) so we had to walk up the steepest part of the hill with no discernible lunch spot in sight. It arrived not long after, but it was atop a grassy mound in between two fields full of sheep and some barbed wire!
If we did this walk again we would follow the plan of my in-laws – get up a bit earlier to start the walk and end with a well-deserved pub lunch at the Royal Oak. Just remember to still bring a flask of tea for when you get to the top of Withypool Hill.
On a sunny day you can expect it to be busy both in Withypool car park and at Tarr Steps. If this would bother you, get up a bit earlier and beat the rush. You may also make it in time for that pub lunch!