The Day we went Dowsing - and Dug a Well
Dowsing runs in my family with both my parents being able to dowse - my maternal grandmother was the local ‘healer’ in our small Wiltshire village and made various healing creams, drinks, love potions and so on; she read the tea leaves too. She had a great love of Nature and was out in all weathers garnering fruits and flowers from the hedgerows (my Mum took her interest further and became a pharmacist!). But it was her hands that could work magic. However back to dowsing. A forked Hazel twig is my favourite, although Willow comes a close second; and Rowan, but just about anything will do, including bent metal coat hangers. I haven’t much use for it nowadays - but it’s still a great party trick and quite an ice breaker at summer barbecues as all the guests can have a go. The last time I put it to good use would have been during the drought of ‘76 when we had a very long dry summer - if I remember correctly with hosepipe bans all over the country. Everywhere was parched and Mums ducks and chickens were feeling the heat, literally. We set about to dig a well. But where to dig - aha - we carefully selected a couple of forked Hazel wands from the hedge and methodically paced the garden looking for water. My Sister and I both got a strong reaction with the Hazel rod almost jumping out of our hands at the same spot in the garden. So we dug ourselves a well ... but that’s a story on its own ....
We may all have the ability to Dowse but not always the knowhow; I do believe there is a life force within us, and in the natural world, and feel that our happiest moments are when they are in harmony.
A much quoted passage from the Story of My Heart by Richard Jefferies sums it up for me:
“I was utterly alone with the sun and the earth. Lying down on the grass, I spoke in my soul to the earth, the sun, the air, and the distant sea far beyond sight. I thought of the earth's firmness---I felt it bear me up; through the grassy couch there came an influence as if I could feel the great earth speaking to me. I thought of the wandering air---its pureness, which is its beauty; the air touched me and gave me something of itself. By all these I prayed; I felt an emotion of the soul beyond all definition”.
Se we dug a well ....
The house and garden lay in a wide clay valley in west wilts off the western edge of Salisbury Plain, fed by the chalk stream of the River Biss and its tributaries- Biss Brook only being 3 fields or so away.
The whole area is steeped in history and tradition - evidence of Roman occupation; a ruined house once second only to Longleat in size, moated farms, mills and manor houses. The fields next to the brook were traditionally managed as bedrock water meadows probably upto the early 1900s. The biggest mushrooms you ever saw used to grow here - the size of dinner plates - we called them Horse Mushrooms. And just a couple of fields away, a once in a lifetime experience: a field covered in mushrooms - a mushroom whiteout - I think it’s called. A 25 acre field absolutely covered in them. Wow.
Edward Thomas must have almost walked/cycled past our back door on his journey from London to Somerset in 1913 which he later wrote about in his book In ‘Pursuit of Spring’.
.... At first we were digging through rock hard clay after about a foot of topsoil. A Lesser Whitethroat scolded us from the hedge - with the promise of Sloe and Wild Plum and BlackBerry to come; and Tree Sparrow chattering from the old Willow beneath which we dug. And dig we did -3‘, 6’ - 9’ and still digging - we reinforced the sides with sawn off old 50 gallon oil drums as we went. But then water, just a trickle, if that, seeping in from one side - keep going we thought, and another couple of feet or so saw us break into a gravel bed (an aquifer) and the hole was rapidly filling with water - yippee .....
It took the rest of the afternoon and evening to fill but by the following morning sediment was beginning to settle out and a week later were able to get clear water in buckets. Over the next few years the well proved a reliable source of water for the garden and animals. We installed a pump to make watering the garden easier and Dad could happily grow his veg again and Mum look after her chickens and ducks. Later in the Autumn we used the clay - puddling it as a liner for a duckpond.