It has become a regular occurrence for a couple of men from the water board to turn up, mutter about a leak and ask if we know where the mains pipe bringing the water to our two houses is. We’ve always told them that sorry, we don’t know, but have indicated the rough locations of the bits of pipe we do know about. Twice in the past, after an initial visit with a metal detector and a spade, the water men have appeared with a mini digger and dug large holes, once for a leak we knew nothing about and the second time for one that we definitely did, so we’d seen bits of water pipe now and again.

Our reseau d’eau – water supply – got new owners two years ago, SIAEP, and what very limited information the previous set had about our mysterious water pipes didn’t get passed on. SIAEP have been drifting on and off our property, twice last week alone. We answered the usual questions, and they inspected our compteurs (water meters), again. They’d last seen them in November when they’d taken the readings. Both our meters are inconveniently located and it involves a bit of furniture removing to gain access to them. And whenever the water board decide to call, for a variety of reasons we’re always behind with the housework that day. I just have to hope they’ve seen far worse in some of the houses they visit.

Anyway, we were coming back from doing the rounds of the lakes on Monday morning, and through the thick fog picked out the flashing orange lights of a tractor.

“It’s coming down our drive,” exclaimed Chris.

I was sceptical. I couldn’t think who might be visiting us in a tractor on a cold January morning. Edouard, the farmer who makes our hay, only appears from mid-May onwards to check how the grass is growing (and generally it’s either too quickly, too slowly, too unevenly or too thickly – he’s a hard man to please) and once the hay is baled and he’s taken his share in late June or July, we don’t see him again until the next spring.

“Nah, it’s on the road,” I told him.

Owing to local hedgerows being inexplicably hacked back so much recently, we can now glimpse traffic going by in the winter time, when leaf cover is minimal. When I say traffic, I mean the two or three vehicles, generally tractors, that rumble by each day. It’s very quiet round here.

However, as we drew closer we saw that it really was coming down our drive, and what’s more it was towing a mini-digger! What the heck? Then behind it a SIAEP vehicle hove into view. The vehicles assembled in front of the houses. By now we’d reached them, and the water guys explained that over the weekend they’d contacted the person we’d bought the farm from, M Pasquet. He’d been able to enlighten them somewhat as to the whereabouts of the missing, leaky pipe. He reckoned it ran under one of the two upper lakes (we have three altogether, the third and largest being at the bottom of the hill that stretches away from the houses) and then joined up with the drive to run alongside it up to the houses. This didn’t narrow its location down that much, considering the area of land involved is a good few hectares.

However, they had their digger so they dug.

Soggy Ground

At first it appeared to be totally randomly, but then they stopped to think and worked out that the pipe must be somewhere between two sets of valves they knew about: one up by a deserted neighbouring house on the road, and the other by our house. They started digging round the old oak tree, and after removing most of its roots, dug slightly further away from it and bingo, the first pipe sighting. This gave them a better idea of where to dig on the other side of the lake.

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By now it was lunchtime and so all activity ceased for one hour in the case of the digger-operator, who’s a self-employed man they’ve contracted in, and two hours in the case of the employed water men. (The same happened the next day, when the digger man also turned up and got to work an hour before the others!) During the afternoon several massive trenches appeared. We also got the news that we’d be without water for the rest of the day, and probably overnight as well. We’d already filled a few receptacles with water as they’d said they’d be having to turn the water on and off during proceedings, but hadn’t expected a waterless night, not when we’d been having no problems with our water supply up to this point. It had been working perfectly well until they came to fix it!

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Next day, which was yesterday, there was a lot more digging as new pipe was laid around the lake and the leaking section under it capped off. We got our water back at teatime, not a moment too soon as the washing up was piling up and our bottled supply was running low.

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Today the digger guy will be finishing off. He filled in the trenches yesterday, but only roughly so as to leave our drive passable in the meantime. There’s mud everywhere and deep tyre and caterpillar track ruts in the verges. That should all be smoothed out by this evening, and we’ve been promised some stones for the drive to fill the new holes that have appeared in it due to the turning and toing and froing of the heavy machinery. So things won’t look too disastrous. We’ll sprinkle quick-growing grass seed over all the bare muddy patches and hope that we get a mild February so that all the brown will turn green as quickly as possible.

Soggy Ground Not at all the start to the week we planned, but one thing we’ve learned over our years here is to expect the unexpected!