Wa­ter, Wa­ter Nowhere

A pri­vate wa­ter sup­ply can be a down­side of ru­ral liv­ing. Joyce Brock­le­bank re­veals how, when her source dwin­dles to a trickle, wash­ing salad leaves or clean­ing teeth un­der a flow­ing tap be­come heinous crimes

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month - By Joyce Brock­le­bank

This sum­mer’s un­usu­ally dry weather has been won­der­ful. Liv­ing in Cum­bria we are more used to co­pi­ous amounts of rain­fall, so wak­ing up day after day to sun­shine stream­ing through the bed­room win­dow has been a re­minder of how sum­mers used to be. But when the dry spell goes on and on I can see my hus­band, Ian, get­ting in­creas­ingly anx­ious and he be­gins to scour the weather fore­casts on­line and on tele­vi­sion for signs of low pres­sure com­ing in from the At­lantic. The par­tic­u­lar rea­son for this is, like many house­holds in ru­ral ar­eas, we have our own wa­ter sup­ply [the near­est mains pipe be­ing about a mile away] and run­ning out is to be avoided at all costs. Our at­ti­tude to­wards the wet stuff is, there­fore, very dif­fer­ent to that of our townie friends who are on the mains.

We live about half­way up a fell­side and so we get, via a neigh­bour’s fields, the run-off from the fell. It flows into a small stream, which is par­tially dammed, then, by a se­ries of fil­ters

Some might say that I can get rather ob­ses­sive about other peo­ple’s ca­sual dis­re­gard for the wet stuff. I have been known to dive across the kitchen to turn off the flow if some un­sus­pect­ing vis­i­tor hasn’t fully turned off the taps

hold­ing tanks and pipes, it grav­i­tates to a pump in the coal­house which forces it up to a 2,000ltr tank in the roof of the house. When the level in that tank drops be­low a cer­tain point, it au­to­mat­i­cally tops up. Back in the day when there were six of us liv­ing here, a full tank could last, with ex­treme care, for about four days. Nowa­days, with just the two of us in the house we can make it last nearly two weeks. Keep­ing live­stock also brings its chal­lenges; they all need ac­cess to clean wa­ter and the cat­tle, in par­tic­u­lar, drink a lot of the stuff. For about 15 years we kept Dex­ter cat­tle — just a cou­ple of cows whose prog­eny we reared for the freezer, but we felt like a change, so in the spring we bought three Gal­loway steers, who will ei­ther be sold as stores in the au­tumn or kept for an­other year or so to go for slaugh­ter. Our two Lleyn pet lambs, bought from a neigh­bour to keep the grand­chil­dren happy, also like a drink from the trough.

When we first moved to this small­hold­ing many moons ago, one of our fields was des­ig­nated a Car­a­van Club cer­tifi­cated lo­ca­tion. The first thing we had to warn vis­i­tors about was the need to be care­ful with the amount of wa­ter they used. They started off look­ing per­plexed. When we said that our wa­ter came from a stream in a neigh­bour’s field their looks changed to ones of hor­ror and amaze­ment. I ad­mit that I be­came a cur­tain-twitcher, keep­ing an ea­gle eye on them while they were fill­ing their plas­tic con­tain­ers from the tap in the yard.

Some might say that I can get rather ob­ses­sive about other peo­ple’s ca­sual dis­re­gard for the wet stuff. I have been known to dive across the kitchen to turn off the flow if some un­sus­pect­ing vis­i­tor hasn’t fully turned off the taps. Wash­ing salad leaves or clean­ing teeth un­der run­ning wa­ter are re­garded as heinous crimes. It is not their fault, bless ’em — it is just that they are used to an un­lim­ited sup­ply of clean wa­ter, never giv­ing a thought to how it ac­tu­ally gets to their taps in the first place.

I re­ally don’t know how we man­aged when our four now adult chil­dren were small. Now that they are all very much grown up and have flown the nest they glee­fully re­count to their own fam­i­lies sto­ries of their ‘de­prived child­hoods’ and how, when they were young and no rain was fore­cast for a cou­ple of weeks, they were ex­pected to have all-over washes with a damp cloth and were told in no un­cer­tain terms to only flush “when nec­es­sary’.

Per­haps it is for­tu­nate that we have never been gar­den­ers, as plants, like the rest of us, had to take their chances. Pic­tures on tele­vi­sion of town­ies get­ting hot un­der the col­lar be­cause a hosepipe ban meant that they couldn’t wa­ter their gar­dens or, hor­ror of hor­rors, wash their cars had me hurling cush­ions [and worse] at the screen.

There is noth­ing like liv­ing in a place for un­der­stand­ing the quirks and in­tri­ca­cies in­volved in the day-to-day run­ning of it, par­tic­u­larly when it has its own wa­ter sup­ply. Reg­u­larly check­ing the tanks in the fields, chang­ing the fil­ters and keep­ing one ear on the noise of the wa­ter pump go­ing on or off all be­come sec­ond na­ture.

I think it was dur­ing our first sum­mer here that we com­pletely ran out of wa­ter. We man­aged for a few days by im­port­ing con­tain­ers of the wet stuff from kind friends, but we re­alised that dras­tic mea­sures had to be taken. We re­sorted to us­ing a huge plas­tic bag ob­tained from the then Milk Mar­ket­ing Board to ferry a load of wa­ter on the back of my hus­band’s van. Un­for­tu­nately this didn’t go ac­cord­ing to plan and ended in dis­as­ter when the bag full of wa­ter got out of con­trol, rolled off the back of the van and down the hill. Of course, it was so heavy that we couldn’t do any­thing but watch it roll away and then empty the wa­ter out on to the parched ground. You can prob­a­bly imag­ine the an­guish and pro­lific use of swear words that caused.

You might think that we are in sev­enth heaven when news of rain-filled days are fore­cast. But you would be wrong. Heavy rain brings its own prob­lems. A down­pour can stir up silt and sed­i­ment in the stream which gets into the pipes and slows down the flow. We used to bor­row a pump so of­ten that in the end we de­cided to buy one of our own. When the flow slows down or stops al­to­gether my hus­band at­taches the pump to the pipe in the sec­ond hold­ing tank. He pumps wa­ter back up into the first tank where the sed­i­ment set­tles, then grav­ity does its job and the sys­tem fills with wa­ter again.

Over the years my hus­band, with the aid of our in­dis­pens­able lo­cal dig­ger man, has made var­i­ous im­prove­ments. He has put a big­ger tank in the field, re­placed yards of furred-up pip­ing and so on, all of which has made a huge dif­fer­ence to the ef­fi­ciency of the sys­tem. We have sur­vived the sum­mers since then with­out hav­ing to re­sort to more mega-sized plas­tic bags, thank good­ness.

An En­vi­ron­ment Agency man called a decade or so ago to ask if we wanted our wa­ter tested. Much to his amaze­ment I de­clined the in­vi­ta­tion, and we’ve never had our wa­ter tested since [we don’t legally have to as the wa­ter is for our sole use, the car­a­van­ners be­ing long gone], so we don’t know what bugs are present. But I reckon, by now, we will have built up im­mu­nity to any nas­ties that might be in it and, after all, ig­no­rance is bliss.

Liv­ing with a pri­vate wa­ter sup­ply wouldn’t suit ev­ery­one, but after all this time we are used to it. If we ever move to some­where on the mains with a me­ter life would be more pre­dictable, but surely rather dull by com­par­i­son?

With only Joyce and Ian liv­ing at their small­hold­ing, the tank of wa­ter in their roof can last two weeks

Ian Brock­le­bank’s skill sets have kept the wa­ter flow­ing over the years

Ian has made many im­prove­ments over the years

Joyce with her pet sheep, who con­sume their fair share of wa­ter

The Brock­le­banks’ farm is lo­cated half way up a fell­side in Cum­bria

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