Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Tarr Steps and wet wheels

This is about a visit to Tarr Steps on Exmoor in late September, when it was still warm and sunny. The Steps are a 'clapper bridge', a West Country term for a crude bridge made of stone slabs on stone supports, laid across a river, in this case the River Barle. There are one or two famous clapper bridges on Dartmoor. This is Exmoor's prime example. They are pretty ancient.

The setting is highly picturesque, in a wooded valley, approachable by a steep, narrow, but tarred road in two directions. I arrived from the south-west, via Hawkridge. I was last here in May 1998, and took this shot then:

The little blue car you can see on the opposite side of the ford that runs alongside the clapper bridge is the Nissan Micra that I was driving at the time. Fiona (my Volvo XC60) is simply that car's eventual successor, via a Peugeot 306 and a Honda CR-V, all of them blue. Blue is my traditional colour for cars, just as white is my traditional colour for mobile phones. (Something whispered to me that you wanted to know this) The ford is normally quite shallow, and in theory one can drive a normal car across it. In practice, it's stony and therefore rather bumpy, and at all times a little deeper than it looks. I'll return to that in a moment!

Well, assuming one gets there at a 'quiet' time and actually manages to park - as I did on this September 2014 revisit - the first thing to do is clamber up onto the bridge and foot it across. Here's Fiona parked in a pole position close to the ford, and then some views of the bridge:

While I was still halfway across, sounds of revving diesel cars were heard, and then four Land Rovers shot into view, and drove across the river in great style...

...and then came back across the river again! How exciting! Every driver present craned to see. Every driver, myself included, considered the feasibility of doing the same thing. Most shook their heads wistfully, discarding the notion at once. The driver of this low-slung sports car clearly couldn't risk it:

But Fiona, now? Hmmm. She had quite a bit of ground clearance, and lots of power, and four-wheel drive, and good water seals. Built for icy gravel tracks in the far north of Sweden, and no doubt capable of crossing torrents and other hazards...

Even so, I decided not not try. I didn't want one of those river-stones clonking into Fiona's underside and making expensive dents. Nor in any case did I relish getting stuck, and having to beg for assistance from one of the Land Rover owners. Mind you, they'd probably enjoy demonstrating their winches.

Well, was I travelling show? No, I was not. So I faked it. I reversed Fiona into the river, intending to take a shot that would give the impression that I'd forded the River Barle with nary a water drop on Fiona's bonnet. It would fool everyone for at least five seconds! So, with curious eyes watching, I turned her around and backed her into the water...and then realised that I was going to get wet shoes (and a wet skirt!) for the sake of just that one shot. Oh...

Silly me! But I laughed it off. And hey, nobody else had the bottle to do the same.

My shoes dried out by teatime.

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