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Engineers to rebuild iconic 1,000-year-old Exmoor bridge swept away by river

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 07, 2013

  • Martin Hesp and his lurcher, Monty, on what remains of Tarr Steps, the ancient Exmoor bridge, washed away by winter storms and floods. Massive trees snapped the steel hawsers designed to protect the bridge Picture: Nancy Hesp

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Engineers have been called into to help plan a painstaking reconstruction project which will see one of the Westcountry's most historic bridges restored.

Engineering teams from Somerset County Council have been out on Exmoor's River Barle looking for parts of the ancient Tarr Steps clapper bridge, which was destroyed in recent floods.

A spokesman for the authority – which regards the 180ft-long bridge as part of the county highway network – says contractors have now been engaged to help repair the ancient monument and they are making special preparations for heavy machinery which will be used to retrieve the bridge's massive stone slabs.

"One important thing the contractors have to do is to convert their equipment to biodegradable fuel, which is required when you work in such an environmentally sensitive place," said a council spokesman.

"A team of our engineers has gone out to look at the scene, but the river is still swollen so it's difficult to say exactly where the stone slabs are. They've also had to speak to the Environment Agency and get approval to begin work – and that has now been given the go-ahead.

"What the engineers are looking for is a window of opportunity – the machinery has to be ready and the river level has to go down," added the spokesman.

"But the council's engineers do have the experience and knowledge to get the job done, so there is no talk about bringing in the Army."

Military sappers have been brought in on previous occasions when the bridge was smashed by floods.

Placing the stone slabs back in the positions they may have held for between 1,000 and 3,000 years (no one is certain exactly how old Tarr Steps is) has been made easier since each was numbered and logged on a master-plan.

"Water levels are now beginning to drop and many of the stone slabs are becoming visible," commented Dan James, sustainable economy officer at Exmoor National Park, adding that his main concern was now the reopening of the local footpath network.

"Tarr Steps is definitely one of Exmoor's honey-pot walking areas and many of the paths here have been damaged by the recent floods," he told the WMN. "A landslip has cut the most popular riverside walk in one place – and another bridge has been washed away at Horsham Ford upstream.

"For residents and visitors alike, the path network is an important part of enjoying Exmoor and we are keen to get things back to normal as soon as possible. If anyone would like to support us they can send a donation, however large or small, in the form of a cheque payable to 'Exmoor National Park (CareMoor)' and send to us at Exmoor House, Dulverton, Somerset, TA22 9HL.

"We hope to make online donations possible very shortly.

"Businesses can participate too, either through a one-off donation, or helping to raise funds from their customers through a variety of different methods," added Mr James.

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