Fools Gush In

It was summer 1991 in the Gers region of southwest France. I had invited myself to stay at a farm that had just been acquired by some friends of friends. It was a big undertaking for the new owners and any helping hand was warmly welcomed in return for bed and board. The house and barns stood next to a small refreshing lake in the middle of a shallow valley. It turned out to be a great holiday. A bit of work followed by a swim in the lake each day; and what’s more the isolated fields around the farm were an ideal opportunity to improve my burgeoning dowsing skills.


Yes, dowsing. For some unremembered reason, while at college in Devon I had become intrigued with this thing called dowsing. I read books on the subject and made my first attempts with homemade rods and pendulums. I must have spoken openly about my attempts because it wasn’t long before I was put in touch with, and subsequently visited, an ex-naval engineer and dowser. His stories of dowsing and the tales of his experiences in the navy were all fascinating. He had made his dowsing rod from the rigging wires of a Swordfish aircraft and I he wasn’t the only dowser in the military. I was surprised to hear that there was quite a tradition of dowsing amongst the military. A submariner friend of his would dowse for the positions of patrolling submarines, and then compare his results with the actual plotted position on the naval charts when he got to work.


So there I was a novice dowser on a hot afternoon in a field in France. With rod held not too firmly, not too loosely, I set about pacing my way up and down a sun-scorched pasture in an attempt to find, water? I was literally feeling my way about, still unsure of the signals that the rod gave me.

Was that me or was that the rod?

Let’s try again, same spot!

No movement this time!

It must have been me. Move on!

After some considerable time I was hot and sweaty and still hadn’t any concrete results. However I had noticed that in one particular area of the field the rod seemed to move with much more certainty, more force and more frequently than elsewhere. I concentrated on this area, and after several passes found myself in a soggy patch of ground. I looked down through the long grass to my feet. Not only was the ground soggy but I could actually see water trickling very gently down the slope. “It works!” I thought. I really had found water, a real spring!


As I stood there looking at my feet and feeling very chuffed with myself, a thousand ridiculous ideas and questions went through my head.

“Is the water pure? Potable? Should I dig a hole? How deep? Or do you just stick a pipe into the ground and put a tap on it? Has the water got medicinal qualities? Bottle it? Sell it?”. “Oh My God, the shrine at Lourdes is only down the road! I’m like Saint Bernadette. Wow! She must have been a dowser too!”


For the novice dowser that I was (and I still am) this was a wonderful manifestation of what I imagined dowsing would be. What an experience, to be able to physically see the connection between the very subjective signals of the rod and the tangible reality of the water. Other dowsers might have to wait years before actually seeing the water that they’re looking for. I couldn’t believe I had been so lucky.


With my nose to the ground I walked slowly up hill in search of the exact source, and after walking several meters I managed to pin-point where the water broke the surface. I bent down to get a closer look. I watched the water literally trickling out of the ground. There was no doubt, the spring was there and the water was flowing confidently; I could even hear a faint whooshing sound of the aquifer below.


At this point, as you can imagine, I should have taken a deep breath and thought about what I was about to undertake. Instead, the reckless youth that I was started easing away the muddy clods of earth with his bare hands. There was soon a 1 meter deep hole in front of me that was full of water, and the whooshing sound was even more pronounced. I continued unawares, as it was it so easy to remove the soaked earth from the hole. I was at the limit of my reach, and put my hand down once more through the muddy water and felt a large smooth immovable object. I moved my hand around it and recoiled as I felt as stabbing pain shoot through my hand.


It was then that the penny dropped. The small but very powerful jet of water leaking from the plastic pipe had nearly cut my finger off. Obviously I had no business being there and was clearly and literally out of my depth. The only thing to do was to put everything back as it was, but it was easier said than done, most of the earth I had removed was being washed away down the slope.


Needless to say my first attempts at filling in the hole were woeful; the jet was just too powerful and the earth was instantly washed away. However I slowly managed to turn the situation around, first a rock, then a stone, and more stones, then straw and mud. Eventually the hole had been filled in and something vaguely resembling the status quo allowed me put on my best air of innocence and gaunter nonchalantly down the slope for a well deserve icy beer.


I quickly cleaned up. I didn’t tell anyone about what I’d found for fear of awkward questions. Well, for one thing I presumed nothing would come of it; after all, the leak was already there before I’d started digging, and I had done a – bloody – good job to put everything back in the hole. No, nobody would notice!


The following day was as hot and sunny as the one before. Everyone at the farm went about their business. No visitors were expected, but mid-morning a man in blue overalls drove up in pickup. He was one the locals who worked for the council of the village on the other side of the hill.

“Bonjour!” he said, seriously.

“Vous avez de l’eau ici?”

“Erh. Yes, Erh Oui.” Said my host, as he turned to go to the kitchen to get a glass of water for the visiter.

“Non, non, non.” Said the man with much rolling of the eyes. He continued in his best pigeon English.

“Zhe village. No water… erh zince yesturday. 36° today!  Big problème!”


I can’t say I can remember the rest of the conversation. I could clearly see where it was going and what was coming. I and decided to make myself scare, that is while the workmen and mechanical diggers got to work to save the thirsty villagers. The French have saying “Filer à l’Anglaise” (“Steal away like the English”); yes apparently we have a reputation for it in France, which pre-dates Monty Pythons “Run away! Run away!” and long before Dunkirk. However I’m not so harsh on myself, it was a tactical retreat. I wouldn’t have been much help to them, and if they really knew the truth they would only have asked me to help them find more leaks with my newly found talent for dowsing. No, I was on holiday after all!