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Not so still waters: becks, dumbles and leats

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Merlin has always been fascinated by flowing water. There is something magical and poetic about a narrow stream winding between wooded banks on a summer’s afternoon. minor water courses have a variety of names, often local.

For instance, a beck is a local name for a small river or stream in the North of England, particularly in Yorkshire. In Leeds, for example, the Holbeck Urban Village regeneration area is named after the Hol Beck which runs, for much of its way in culverts, through the city of Leeds.

In the Midlands we find becks, and also dumbles. A dumble is a small stream which crosses land that is predominantly clay. The stream wears away the clay to create a small, steep-sided ravine, perhaps only about 3–5m deep, but often muddy. Merlin recalls slipping into a dumble on at least one occasion when out walking his dog.

One form of water course that Merlin had not come across until recently is the leat, which is basically a man-made water channel. Leats are fairly common in the West Country, where water has been diverted  over the centuries from moors, such as Dartmoor, for domestic use.

One of the earliest such schemes in that area was the construction of Drake’s Leat, which was completed in 1585. Water from the River Meavy was diverted into the leat and carried some 17 miles to Plymouth, where, in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, there was a severe shortage of fresh water.

The name Drake’s Leat comes from a local legend that on the day that the leat was first put into operation, Sir Francis Drake rode his horse at a gallop along the course of the leat and kept pace with the advancing water as it headed towards the town of Plymouth.

Whether true or not, it remains a fact that the leat was in use for many years, supplying fresh water to the good people of Plymouth.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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