Work starts to fix bridge destroyed by a wall of water
ENGINEERS have begun the painstaking process of piecing together one of Britain's oldest bridges – after the 1,000-year-old structure was washed away by floods.
The ancient 180ft-long Tarr Steps clapper bridge, on the River Barle, near Dulverton, dates back over a millenium.
But the medieval crossing – made from 17 ancient stones – was washed away by a 10ft wall of flood water on December 22.
Engineers moved on to the site on Tuesday to begin the process of lifting the 2-tonne slabs out of the water with heavy lifting machinery.
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Each step had been numbered in the event the Grade I-listed structure was ever damaged, so the teams will carefully slot them back together over the coming days.
The bridge, which links the Exmoor communities of Withypool and Dulverton, was previously washed away in 1952 and had to be rebuilt by the Army.
Following further damage in 1982, two thick hawser cables were strung across the river to protect it – but both snapped during December's floods.
Contractors working for Somerset County Council are in charge of the latest rebuild which started last week.
Rob Wilson-North, conservation manager for the Exmoor National Park Authority, was there when the swollen Barle washed away the historic stones.
He said: "It was the speed of the water, and it was absolutely terrifying it was moving so fast. 'I've worked on Exmoor for 20 years and I've never seen it like that. For me, it was absolutely shocking."
Tarr Steps is one of Britain's best preserved examples of a clapper bridge, the name derived from the Latin "claperius", meaning a pile of stones.
"Tarr" is thought to have come from the Celtic word "tochar" for causeway. Some locals believe it dates back to around 1000BC, although experts have said that it's more likely to have been constructed in the Middle Ages.
According to legend, the Tarr Steps was build by the devil, who sunbathed on the giant stones and was so protective of his lounging spot he would kill anyone who tried to cross.
His victims supposedly include an intrepid cat that was ushered across by villagers who were eager to test the myth – and it duly disappeared in a puff of smoke.