The flow of precious water through the countryside is the driving force of Marcel Pagnol's classic stories of Provence, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. When a water source is blocked in the arid hills, the subsequent tragedy and revenge exposes all life's follies, foibles and divisions. Here on our land, we have also had issues with water, but in this case, as we are not farming, the problem has been too much of a good thing.
On the path opposite the main buildings is an old stone fountain and trough, fed by a spring that rises higher up on the hill. Once it must have been used as a drinking bowl for horses and other animals, and a kind of all-purpose tap for the farm. It has been disconnected for as long as we have been here, but the spring bubbles up behind it and spills across the path. In the winter months and whenever it rains hard, it becomes a steady flow and then a stream down the ruelle between two buildings. To the other side, it threatens to wash away a drive we have constructed, and we have already lost one badly-positioned new fosse septique.
There are three wells, too. The highest is up on the scrubby hillside amid rows of large dog-rose bushes (planted, so our legend goes, by a previous owner who wanted to discourage the grazing of sheep by a neighbouring farmer). It looks very like a well that might grace Pagnol's landscape: a mound of stones topped by a rusty iron lid.
Inside, it is a long drop down - much further than the water level. Apparently, there is a brick tunnel that arrives from even further up the hill, obviously some kind of water culvert rather than for adventuring, but even so, quite exciting!
This well seems to have been built on the site of spring, and a pipe takes the water down towards the fountain. But obviously, it's not being well enough controlled, so for the past few weeks, work has been under way to divert this water from the source. Here's the old pipe, found after much exploration with a digger and cut so we can see what's going on. It is running, even if it's no more than a dribble these warm, sunny days.
Now the clever bit, using a neat green solution. The old - well, new really, it was only in the ground for a few months before it was overwhelmed by a flood - septic tank has been repaired and sunk into the ground and will be used to collect the spring water before it gets too close to the buildings. When the tank is covered over again by turf and connected up, the water can now be stored and used to water the garden.
Which should leave the ground in front of the house much less damp and rutted with the vestiges of impromptu water courses. Although there's one more piece of evidence, along with the enormous plane trees that must have been fed somehow underground, that lack of water has never been a problem for this old farm: the stone cistern under those trees. At some time it was built to store the overflow, and must have stood as a proud statement of how well blessed the hamlet was for valuable Provencal water.