In the lonely moors of Devon and in other upland areas of the United Kingdom, the ancient people had built stone bridges by placing large flat slabs of stones over piles of stones, without mortar or cement, to cross narrow streams. These bridges are called clapper bridges. The name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “cleaca” which means “bridging the stepping stones”, suggesting that the first clapper bridges might have been stone slabs laid across the top of existing stepping stones. Most clapper bridges were built during the medieval times, although some of them age much much more.
One of the most famous clapper bridge is Tarr Steps, located in the Exmoor National Park, in Somerset, across the River Barle. It is also the longest clapper bridge in Britain with 17 spans and measuring 55 meters in length.The bridge lies very low in the water, less than a meter over the river’s normal water level. Over the last century, the river has silted so much that during flood it often flows over the stones. Several times in recent years, the slabs of stones, which weigh up to two tons each, have been washed up to 50 meters downstream. The bridge was repaired each time.
The age of Tarr Steps is unknown with several theories claiming that it dates from the Bronze Age, but others put them around 1400 AD. According to local legend, the Devil himself built it so that he could sunbath on. A more elaborate story says that the Devil never fully completed building the bridge, because his apron strings broke and he dropped the stones he was carrying. The Devil then denounced destruction on the first creature to venture across, so the villagers sent a cat across. The poor creature was torn to pieces. The parson then crossed the bridge without harm, and traded insults with the Devil.
The Tar Steps has been a tourist attraction for at least two hundred years.
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This feature originally appeared in Amusing Planet.