Monday, 12 May 2008

Stone Masons Need Not Apply

My project for this year - clear out all the rubble and debris from the chemin that passes between our house/barn and garden. For decades, its level has been gradually rising and becoming difficult to walk along. Half way round our garden, the chemin has actually collapsed and it is therefore impassable beyond this point. Great for us since it means no one can actually use it - except us to reach our pool!

Behind our garden, uphill, is a villa. And just beyond that (again further uphill) is one of the many natural springs found in the village. When the spring 'flows' does it flow!!! It is like a roaring flood!

The old original houses in the village, like ours, were built specifically to cope with, and not be affected by, these springs when they are in full flood. Our house and barn are built on the solid rock of the mountain, and are above the ground level. When the spring floods, we are like an island - just call me Noah if you like!

Our house has no damp at all even then. They knew what they were doing those olden-day builders.....

The problem is that new builds are often unthinkingly built across these water courses - they have no concept in the dry season of what will actually appear when the rains fall on the mountains behind.

The old spring will not be thwarted. It flows whatever - it just goes over, around or (more commonly) takes with it, anything in its way.

During our first winter here we watched in amazement as the lawn of our right hand neighbour's garden was totally washed away when this very same spring flooded. The new villa behind us had quickly put down a long mound of cement to prevent their villa being flooded, so the waters just diverted into the neighbour's garden the other side .... with disastrous results.

Meanwhile we sat on our island and thanked God that we had bought an old stone ruin instead.

Many 'incomers' get caught out like this round here when they buy 'new builds'. Water, water everywhere is one of the main problems in our small region of Herault. Not a common issue in the South of France, I can assure you!

A Dutchman bought some land in the village probably 15 years ago now, and since we moved here, built two gorgeous villas on it. Unfortunately, a new villa had also been built further up the hill and diverted one of these natural springs - one that actually flows ALL YEAR ROUND.

The water flows down the hill and straight into the Dutchman's cellar - he has to have three pumps working all year round.

A lesson for all non-local buyers.......take note of local maps. That spidery blue doodle on the cadestre (that the Immobilier will frequently dismiss as an old spring that dried up centuries ago) often appears as raging torrent in winter!!

Anyway, getting back to our chemin. The spring has flowed down this route for time immemorial, and so has brought a lot of the debris with it - and continues to do so whenever it manages to get back to it's original course.

So I (we!) have decided to try and clear it down to the proper level. Wish us luck! I started today, but got diverted. I decided that my Banksia Rose needed planting first and, in order to do this, I wanted to build a low stone wall around that corner of the house. The photo is terrible because it was so so sunny (are you jealous?). Stone?! We have tonnes of it! It just, well, weights a tonne and is therefore difficult to carry any distance.

Our other neighbour built this stone wall to stop the previous owner's dogs from invading his garden. It is now dangerous since it is collapsing. Our dog does not step over a twig on the path, so there is no likelihood of Xena jumping over the ruin to get next door. I therefore decided to nick these stones.....

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