“Bull’s Eye – A stone set in the bank of a leat having a hole drilled to release water from the leat into a branch channel. It can be stopped at will with a turf.”, Hemery, 1983. p.28.
Along many of the Dartmoor leats sit a variety of Bullseye Stones which as Hemery noted above are a simple way of controlling water flow. In basic terms you have the main leat off which smaller branch leats take water to nearby farms and houses. Obviously with something as big as a leat the easiest and cheapest way of managing the water flow was to obstruct it with a huge, holed slab of granite. Then when water was needed it was allowed to flow into the branch leat, when not the hole was simply plugged up thus allowing the water to flow on down the main leat. An old moor-term for the Bullseye was the ‘inch hole’ which does not take a lot savvy to realise why when one sees the size of the holes.
Probably the best place to see a series of Bullseye Stones is along the Grimstone and Sortridge leat. This leat has been the main supply of water for some 35 farms and houses for about 700 years. According to the Dartmoor National Park Authority is the only one that today supplements drinking water to nearby residents. This fact is highlighted in no uncertain terms by a signpost standing by the Windy Post cross. As can be seen below people are requested not to do unspeakable things or interfere with the water supply no matter how temping it may seem.
Although there seems to water, water everywhere on Dartmoor at times there have been problems supplying it for domestic and farm use. A prime example being the farms to the west of Sampford Spiney whose residents in the late 1800s deemed their supplies as inadequate. So one of them reached an agreement with the owners of the Sortridge Consols mine to extract some of the water from their leat. Accordingly between 1873 and 1880 John Hearn of Oakley Farm made use of his grandfather’s agreement and along with his neighbours built several leat branches to their properties. Each of these branch leats were taken off the main leat by means of Bullseye Stones. So starting at the Windy Post the first one fed down to Pew Tor Cottage and on into Sampford Spiney. The second in line is the branch that runs off to Moortown and Moortown Farm, the third to Furze Cottage and Langstone, the forth to Oakley Cottage and Farm, the fifth to By The Down and finally the sixth one to Reddicliffe Farm, Hemery, 1991. pp. 40 – 41. – all marked on the map above. There was one big problem with this cascading water supply insomuch as in times of drought those last in line could find themselves without water. The one most effected was that at the end of the line so to speak, namely the Sortridge Consols mine. Unfortunately should they run dry it could have meant that production came to a halt as the water supplied a lot of their power. The other headaches caused by the Bullseyes was the possibility of being blocked up by debris carried down the leat or in some cases mischievous children.
Of all these Bullseye Stones the most famous has to be that which can be found beside the old Windy Post cross, above is a photograph and short video showing the water flow. In 2013 £5,800 was spent from the Dartmoor Sustainability Development Fund in repairs to the Windy Post Bullseye Stone such is its importance although the total cots of the project was £8,000.
By no means are the Bullseye Stones mentioned above the only such examples on Dartmoor and many more can be found along the various leat channels, all once taking water to dwellings and farms.
For those of a certain age you may remember a popular catch phrase of Jim Bowen on hi Bullseye show ; “you can’t beat a bit of bully.” In this context you can’t beat a nice gentle stroll along the Grimstone and Sortridge leat to find a ‘bit of bully‘ or six bullies to be exact.
Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor. London: Robert Hale Ltd.
Hemery, E. 1991. Walking the Dartmoor Waterways. Newton Abbot: Peninsula Press.