Everybody in Vanzay has a well, it seems. You see them in gardens, by gates and it’s clear that at one time, everyone pumped or collected their water from the abundant water table below. However, we didn’t seem to have one, although there is a long non-functioning hand pump just outside La Petite Maison. This was the clue to the location of the well.
We got an email from Richard and Fiona, who we bought the house from. They were coming back from a holiday in Royan and asked if they could they stay in La Grange, on their way back to the mountains. Of course, it would be nice to see them.
They were going to stay for one night and when they pitched up said they’d invited some of their old friends around, would we like to meet them over a drink. The son and daughter, of one of the old ladies who lives here came ‘round. It was fascinating, we learnt more about the history of the property, and that La Petite Maison was first mentioned on a document they’d found in the archives at Poitiers, listed as a newly-built property in 1660
It was still a working farm, probably up into the late 1980’s, possibly later, and the charming stone lean-to where I keep gardening bits and pieces, and a stack of wood, was where they used to hang the animal carcasses after slaughter.
It was early May, and was already getting warm. We had a bit of a nightmare in the summers watering the vegetable patch, which involved stretching a hose as far as it could go, from a tap at the back of the house Water is metered here, so we were looking at installing a huge water tank we’d bought, and collect rainwater. Richard saw this and said why don’t you draw water from the well. Well, what well?!
The next morning, armed with crow bars and bits of wood, Richard and John lifted the lid on the well. The reason we hadn’t spotted it, it’s in the middle of the living room floor in La Petite Maison, and the house was built on top of the well. It was amazing, we shone a torch down a hole that is about a foot and a half in diameter, to see water glistening, the walls are made from rounded bricks in a perfect circle, it was incredibly cool. Amazing to think that this was built before the house, and that they knew where to dig down to tap into an underground river.
That was it, John was off, we had free water and just needed to get it up somehow. There is an old hand pump outside La Petite Maison but it’s broken, and charming as it is, something more modern was going to be needed.
Our plumber friend, Cliff came to have a look, and we measured the depth of the well – 35 feet. He could see the original lead piping had been damaged and would have to come out – I’m glad I didn’t see this bit, I just heard it from the kitchen… Cliff tied a rope to the top of the piping, John hung onto it, then Cliff sawed through it.
Huge shout from John, and fortunately Cliff managed to leap up and grab him, they hadn’t thought about how heavy the lead was and it almost dragged John down the well. I felt quick sick thinking about it afterwards, what a way to go… And how undignified!
A shiny, modern pump was fitted and it works like a dream. Cliff and his wife were at a brocante a few weeks later, we found them in one of the fields selling bits and pieces and John spotted an outdoor, portable shower. It was love at first sight, especially as the temperatures had been in the late 30s for weeks. We got home, very hot and sticky, John stripped to his trunks, set the shower up in the courtyard and stood under it. The water was warm as it had been in the hose pipe in the sun, then the well water kicked in! Absolutely freezing but just the ticket. Fortunately none of the villagers walked past the driveway as I’m not sure what the reaction would have been, I think it’s ok to pee in the open air, but a near naked shower might have prompted a letter from the maire.