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Tarr Steps clapper bridge restored to former glory after Exmoor flood damage

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 26, 2013

  • Well-wishers cross the river at Tarr Steps, Exmoor, after the landmark – thought to be one of the oldest of its kind – was reopened. Picture: Martin Hesp

  • The Tarr Steps being rebuilt 60 years ago, when it took 50 sappers from the Royal Engineers two months put the landmark back together after flood damage

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One of the Westcountry’s best-known structures was reopened yesterday after having been almost completely destroyed by winter floods.

Exmoor’s ancient clapper bridge Tarr Steps was back in business after engineers spent just six days piecing together the multi-stoned bridge which is believed to be one of the region’s oldest river crossings.

The rebuild, which cost Somerset ratepayers under £10,000, was carried out by seven men – a far cry from the engineering job 60 years ago when it took 50 sappers from the Royal Engineers two months put Tarr Steps back together after flood damage.

But yesterday that historic rebuild was remembered as a crowd gathered to watch one of the 1952 Royal Engineers cut the ribbon and reopen the bridge.

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Before he did so, retired sapper Chris Cross told the Western Morning News about the 1952 rebuild: “We were stationed at Plymouth and we were brought in to put the bridge back together. There were 50 of us and it took us about two months, but we didn’t have the heavy lifting gear.”

As for the actual engineering work, Mr Cross said his team only had a single sheet of paper with a sketch on it.

“We just went by the shapes and sizes of the stones – that’s all we could do,” he said.

The recent rebuild has been altogether more technical, according to Kenny Higgins, principle contractor for Somerset-based Crestmoor Construction. He spoke about the problems his team faced over the past week: “The water level is nice and low today – it would have been good if it had been the same for us.

“We had to stop on one day. But we got the job done in six days with around about seven men. We also had a 13-ton excavator.

“The stones are not actually numbered, but there is a very detailed file at Somerset County Council and we worked closely with their team when putting it all back.”

The engineers also repaired and strengthened the steel “tree-catcher” a quarter of a mile upstream, which was snapped by huge amounts of bridge-smashing debris during December’s floods.

Judy Carless, of neighbouring Tarr Farm Inn, commented: “They’ve done a fantastic job – we came down to see the floods by car headlight the night it happened and we’ve never seen anything like it in the 19 years we’ve been here. The floodwater was about eight feet higher than we’ve ever seen before.”

Somerset county councillor for the Dulverton and Exmoor area, Frances Nicholson, added: “We are very pleased with the work that’s been done – the bridge almost looks better than before.

“And most people can’t believe the work cost just £10,000. I’ve asked people to guess how much the rebuild cost and some have said as much as £500,000.

“It is a fantastic structure – we have to repair it, legally – but Tarr Steps brings so much interest to the area we believe it is £10,000 very well spent.”

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