GUIDE TO THE RIVER BARLE
(Tarr Steps to Exe Confluence)
NAME OF RIVER: Barle.
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.
APPROX LENGTH: 7 miles.
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 - http://www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=81948
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.
Also see Keith Meredith's account of a club trip on the Barle.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley.