(Tarr Steps to Exe Confluence)


WHERE IS IT?: The River Barle runs from northern Exmoor (Somerset) south to join the River Exe. It's pretty much drains the opposite side of the hill from the much harder River Lyn.

PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Tarr Steps (SS 867321) is an ancient stone footbridge beside a ford. There is no parking beside the river - use the large tourist car park up the hill. It is possible to finish at Marsh Bridge (SS 906289), but parking is pretty limited and there is still plenty of interest in the final 2 km to the usual egress at Dulverton (SS 912277). At Dulverton, use the public car park and not the limited parking by the river.


TIME NEEDED: 2 hours+.


BCW SW astonished paddlers in 2011 by agreeing to circulate (but not endorse) an old fashioned set of restrictions expecting paddlers to book ahead(!) to paddle the Barle, and to limit numbers to 30 paddlers a day. It had been thought that such one-sided and legally dubious access 'agreements' were a thing of the distant past. The BCU SW's Access chief subsequently resigned from his post. A few members from Exmoor Canoe Club did agree to these restrictions, leading to resignations within that club. It was extremely depressing to see that Exmoor National Park (who have no legal jurisdiction whatsoever over river navigation) put their name to these restrictions, cynically reversing their actual remit and purpose, in order to satisfy the legally dubious whims of a few landowners. For some reason Natural England also got involved, despite the fact that they also have no jurisdiction over river navigation whatsoever and despite their long-standing policy that paddling does not have an adverse impact on natural environments; 'English Nature and the BCU agree that there is unlikely to be any significant impact on or lasting disturbance to wildlife and the water environment from the passage of canoes'.

The good news is that the vast majority of paddlers simply ignored the arbitrary restrictions, and continued (as always) to enjoy their river heritage sensibly and without regulation, breaking no laws and basing their decision whether or not to paddle on common sense, current water levels and appropriate environmental sensitivity. We would encourage them to continue doing so.

More discussion of these attempted restrictions here -

WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: I have only paddled this in medium/ low levels when you can (just) duck under Tarr Steps and it is graded accordingly. I understand that the difficulty and danger increases somewhat in higher water.

GRADING: Grade 2. Again, apparently harder in high water.

MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Trees and weirs. There was a fatality on this river in very high water when an open canoe paddler had difficulties on a weir and also became entangled in tree roots/ branches.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The Barle is a great trip for those learning whitewater skills and at low/ medium levels offers pretty much continuous Grade 2 conditions.

You won't miss Tarr Steps; it's an ancient stone footbridge which gives little room for ducking underneath or may need portaging if the river is high. Below Tarr Steps are many small rapids; look out for a mini-playhole on river right not far below the bridge. In high water this section would presumably be fast and dangerous flowing through trees...but normally it's a great section for those wanting to get every breakout and surf every wave.

After four miles, look out for a disused Bridge...the river bends slightly to the right and a rock ledge on river left gives a playspot just above the bridge. In spring 1999 there was a tree awkwardly lodged across every single arch forming a bit of a hazard; don't assume it has moved in the meanwhile.

A mile below the bridge you will approach an ominous horizon line; you've reached Dulverton weir and may want to inspect if you're unsure. The river narrows below the weir and there are a series of waves and small stoppers which are fun to mess around on. You then reach Dulverton Bridge which is a possible egress (river left above the bridge) or, carry on down the less difficult lower section.

Easier water takes you to a very dodgy weir in a mile. I've run this in low water but iron spikes and wire loops stick out everywhere offering all sorts of unamusing ways to claim your refund, portage on river left. It's another two miles to where the Barle flows into the larger Exe, with only a very small weir halfway through this distance to wake you up (see comments below). Note that after joining the Exe, it's another mile to Exebridge, the takeout. Not long after the rivers meet, there is an enjoyable surf wave lurking on river right if you still have the energy.

OTHER NOTES: Needs respect in high water, a fatality occurred here in October 1998.

There are long sections of the Barle upstream of Tarr Steps; the river can be paddled from Simonsbath or from Withypool.

Also see Keith Meredith's account of a club trip on the Barle.

CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley.



Community Forum Comments on this Article
Re: River Barle - Tarr Steps to Exe Confluence -- jmmoxon
2020 Feb 16 10:49:43 AM
From facebook: New tree (in leaf and moderate size but needs to be avoided), river center about 50m below Tarr Steps just out of sight on Saturday 15th Feb.

It is likely to have moved with the 2m level this morning (Sunday).
Re: River Barle - Tarr Steps to Exe Confluence -- SailGraham
2018 Dec 03 08:54:37 AM
Just a stunning run last Sat from Tarr Steps. We were on the water at 1130 and took a 1-1.1m surge of water down to Dulverton.

That meant only a foot of space under Tarr Steps and the ford was impassable safely, even with the Landrover.

Only saw two or 3 rocks all day, and nothing too taxing in the way of trees, other than staying out of the way of easy-to-avoid strainers.

Plenty of playing available although the water was carrying a lot of silt.

Dulverton weir impassable with a tree across the main chute and we didn’t want to play dodge the iron stake.

A great day with my 10 year old as we tagged along looselywith another group. Axioms were the perfect weapon.
Re: River Barle - Tarr Steps to Exe Confluence -- andy g
2018 Oct 22 12:02:54 PM
Update on fallen trees from 20/21 October.

Tarrs Steps to Dulverton is clear until the last 200 metres , when the tree at the Dulverton caravan park (mentioned above) is still across the river. After some work by two groups at Saturday pm and possible another on Sunday to remove branches at head height, it is passable river right (at the levels 45 to 50 cms on the Brushford Gauge) There is a good eddy above and another just below, and the hazard is clearly visible form upstream , so it should not cause problems at these low/medium levels. At high levels and very low levels it could still be an issue. River leaders should take care with mixed ability groups.

Dulverton to Exebridge

There are two trees down shortly before the Exe confluence. Both are easily passable river left at low or medium levels.

Andy G

Meridian CC
Re: River Barle - Tarr Steps to Exe Confluence -- David May
2018 Oct 15 01:07:51 PM
Tree fallen right across the Barle by the caravan park at Dulverton. Not passable at 0.77 on Saturday 13th October
Re: River Barle - Tarr Steps to Exe Confluence -- jmmoxon
2018 Mar 12 06:01:53 PM
Trees now gone from Marsh Bridge.
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