Project Description

Ancient stone bridges

Clapper bridges consist of one or more large slabs of rock resting on the banks of streams or on stone piers in rivers.

Although they do exist in other upland regions of the UK, they are most commonly found on Dartmoor and Exmoor in the south-west of England. The steep valleys and fast-flowing waters of these areas made streams difficult to cross and some form of safer crossing, other than fording, was required on well-used routes. Clapper bridges are difficult to date and are usually thought to be medieval in date although there are prehistoric claims for some.

Tarr Steps is a 55m-long clapper bridge over the River Barle on Exmoor. The width of the river is such that stone piers are required to support the seventeen slabs that make up the bridge. This still leaves it vulnerable to flash floods and the bridge has been washed away and rebuilt many times, the latest being in 2017.

A much simpler single-span clapper bridge (photo 2) over the North Teign river is one of many on Dartmoor, most of which appear to be associated with the regular routes used by medieval farmers and tinners.

A limestone clapper bridge, also thought to be medieval, crosses the river Lathkill in Derbyshire (photo 3).

Further information

Tarr Steps (Exmoor National Park)

Location of clapper bridges on Dartmoor (Dartefacts)