…as an episode driven by both curiosity and need.
The necessity was obvious. We want a pond and as the people responsible for digging it, it’s up to the Friends to find the best spot – and fast – before the next phase of tree planting in December. I’m repeating myself, but we know now that fields 4 and 5 were very damp before land drains were put in 40 or so years ago to make the land farmable (is there such a word?). OK, so we could get a digger in to drive a trench right across the field to find the clay seam, but that would mean Insurance and Risk Assessments, as per the Woodland Trust’s rules, not to mention the disruption to the land and almost inevitably, money changing hands for the diesel at least. Even if we weren’t still waiting for the Bank to get its act together and actually give us the account we applied for months ago, it kind of goes against the grain to spend anything we don’t have to from our precious resources.
The curiosity got its nose in quite by chance. It turns out that a man I’ve been working with for well over a year, Richard, Somerset born and bred, is a water diviner along with his many other country talents – and it was too good an opportunity to miss. Fate, in fact. Two birds with one stone etc etc …and I wasn’t the only one to think so – everyone on the committee wanted to see him at work too.
So we set off across the dessicated tussocks in search of a water source, armed with nothing much except some sort of road pins for markers. It doesn’t look promising in the first picture, I’ll admit – and the ladies in the bovine maternity ward around us, clearly thought we were insane. They batted long eyelashes at us, raised eyebrows at each other and with one accord (in the mysterious way that cows have) without discussing it, took themselves off to another area of the field.
I was expecting Richard to be wielding a forked stick, cut from the hedgerow – it must have been something I saw on Blue Peter when I was a kid – but he produced a couple of pieces of what looked like wire coat hanger slotted loosely, at right angles, into plastic tubes that he held, …and that, apparently, was all there was to it. At the bottom of the field he found a straight line that we decided was the water supply running to the trough where fields 4 and 5 meet. We knew roughly where that had to be, but it was reassuring to have it confirmed and fascinating to see what happened to the rods when he was standing over the pipe and then turned away from it. The find didn’t help with pond location though, because the WT wants to remove piped supplies to avoid being liable for maintenance.
We tried the original area that Jon from the WT had drawn on the plan, because he found a variety of wild flower that grows on damp ground but we found …nothing. So we worked our way up to the top of the slope, which is where things started to happen. There’s a small hawthorn tree in the hedgerow towards the top corner and whenever Rich got near it the rods kept trying to pull him in there. If he walked away, they kept looking back longingly to where he’d just been. Eventually we dragged him – and them – beyond that spot to start checking the land from the top of the slope downwards, to where we were increasingly beginning to believe would be the ideal spot.
Rich kept up a steady pace throughout. He didn’t cheat by looking where he was going, or by listening to the (lots of good) advice he was getting, but simply quartered the ground, pacing quietly along, watching the rods and following where they seemed to lead. That’s not to say that they were moving constantly. For longish stretches they simply hung there, doing nothing – but that’s what makes the process as fascinating as it is. When they felt there was something to do, they sprung into action and what more could you ask?
Long story short – we think he found the series of land drains running straight down the slope from below the old hunt jump in the hedge (top right of the first picture). Standing looking down the slope, with the grass beaten down by the maternity crew, it seemed to us that there’s a slight, but definite natural indentation in the ground about half-way down field 4, towards the boundary hedge to field 2. I’m not saying it’s already deep enough for a pond, but that it seems a natural place to enhance. Not only that, but once the drain lines are cut, there should be a natural flow to fill the pond more quickly than simply hitting clay and waiting for the heavens to open.
Sceptics would probably say that water diving (or divining of any kind) is a load of old hooey, but those little pieces of wire don’t know that and they just got on with what they know best: pointing, in parallel, in the same direction when they got near a water source; pointing in opposite directions over a pipe and – though we didn’t see it because if there is one, it’s over the hedge at the top – whirling round and round when they find a spring. What I can say, having seen it in action, is that things are looking pre-tty promising.
All this happened at the end of July. There’s no excuse for taking so long to write it up, except Summer is such a great time for …well, outdoor-type things and by the time, since then, I’ve been ready to sit down at the computer in the evenings , something else has intervened – like sleep. The drought has broken in the meantime. The parched fields have greened up again and we’re back to the sort of weather we’re more used to: sunny bits interspersed with cloudy/rainy bits, warmth, humidity and the odd shiver. ‘They’ say we haven’t seen the last of the good weather yet, though, and personally I’ll take as much sunshine as I can get, for as long as it lasts. It’s bad enough that sunset has already crept forward to 8.26pm (tonight – I checked) without autumn setting in already.
PS I think my pictures are even worse than usual on this post, for which I apologise, but hopefully it’ll give Rose even more incentive to add her professional ones – particularly now she’s got a new computer!