Le pays des puits: wells everywhere

“We’re not lost. I know where the path is,” I said. Many such words are uttered with great conviction and almost complete ignorance. It wasn’t entirely my fault. The route of this randonnée had changed, and it was no longer the same as the one in our book of walks.

In all our 23 years here, we had never been to Mouillac. It’s a long way off the road between Caylus and Puylaroque and isn’t really on the way to anywhere. But I decided that we must rectify this gap in our local knowledge – especially as we were promised plenty of examples of patrimoine (historic heritage) along the way.

We set off from home last Sunday under cloudless blue skies; a little late, since it was already rather warm. Fortunately, the parking places by the church in Mouillac are shaded by trees.

Tiny village

Blink and you’d miss Mouillac. The village itself is tiny: a 19th-century church, a Mairie of around the same vintage, which was probably the school in past times, and a couple of houses. The hamlets that make up this commune are larger.

Like so many such villages, Mouillac’s population dwindled during the late 19th century. In 1800 it had 468 inhabitants; the 2017 census listed 98. The low point was in 1975, when only 39 people lived there.

One of the reasons Mouillac once flourished is water. The area’s particular geological formations capture water not far beneath the surface. Access to a reliable source was of capital importance to people who lived off the land. In other places, they either had to make a daily trip to collect water or were forced to sink very deep wells to find it. One of our wells is 12 metres deep.

The church in Mouillac is built on a rise with an excellent view over the surrounding countryside. An orientation table identifies the landmarks.

From there, we set off full of optimism, since the route appeared to be well waymarked. Not far from the church stands a former windmill (moulin à vent), which was clearly converted into a pigeonnier at one point. This was a good place to site a windmill, which would have been exposed to the prevailing winds from the west.

Wells in abundance

Under an increasingly hot sun, we trudged along the road until we found the next set of waymarks leading down into the valley of the ruisseau de Mouillagol. The track descends steeply towards the stream, which must have carved out the valley over millions of years. The stream now appears to be dry, but maybe it flows in the winter or after heavy rain.

At the bottom, we came across a clearing, which may once have provided grazing for sheep, as evidenced by an ancient stone drinking trough.

Three wells exist in this spot, each in a different commune – Mouillac, Caylus and Puylaroque. Their existence is noted as far back as 1304. Today, one appears dry, another has some water in it and the third is full of squelchy mud.

Back up the valley along another, less steep, path, and my confidence in our route began to wane. We couldn’t find any further waymarks. By now we were feeling pretty hot, despite hats and water, so we decided to cut short and visit the hamlet of le Pech before making our way back to Mouillac.

At the entrance to this hamlet – where we didn’t see a soul despite evidence of occupation – three wells stand in a group. These are in addition to the two wells we passed on the way up to the hamlet – one ruined and one restored. I’ve never seen so many in one place, but they have always belonged to different owners, even today, apparently.

Water for animals and people

The local consuls supplied a public water source in each hamlet. The open wells, i.e. those without a roof, served for watering animals. Those with a roof of tiles or split stones (lauzes) provided drinking water for the inhabitants. Water was raised from the covered wells with a bucket and chain lowered from a cylinder of wood turned by a rudimentary handle. We found one in our well when we restored it.

Covered well for human consumption

And, something I didn’t know, people used covered wells to store perishable food during hot weather since they were the coolest places. This may explain why there’s a ledge around the inside of our wells. Bad luck if you dropped your week’s supply of meat down the well.

The way we thought led back to Mouillac is now closed, so we had to take a rather longer route to get there. This ran alongside la Lère Morte (the dead Lère), a river that once flowed more abundantly than it does now. Again, it had carved its way through the rocks to flow at the bottom of a steep-sided valley.

After a hot and dusty climb with no shade uphill to the church, we collapsed into the stone bench facing the landscape, released our feet from imprisonment and finished off our water, which by now was like bathwater.

If you do this walk in summer, a) set off in the early morning; b) make sure of the route; c) wear a hat and sunglasses; and d) take plenty of water. There was loads of it beneath our feet, none of it accessible.

You might also find these of interest:

Well, Well, Well: Finding Water in Bygone Days

French country life a century ago

French cultural heritage on our doorstep

Copyright © Life on La Lune 2020. All rights reserved.

12 comments

  1. Those clusters of wells are very interesting – I’ve never seen anything like it!! Here we often see wells in unlikely places, often up on hillsides. They aren’t all that deep either, so the geology must mean that the water can’t go far! I’d heard about people keeping their wine cool in wells (or beer) in the summer months….

    Like

    • Yes, it was a surprise to come across those three together. During the whole walk, we must have seen about 10 altogether, and there may have been more. You also see them on hillsides here sometimes, so presumably the water is captured by clay beneath the surface. These days, of course, we just turn on the tap without giving it much thought. In past times, every drop was precious.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Even today every drop is still precious – only we’ve come to see water as sometimes that’s in endless supply out of the tap, which is a fallacy! Especially in the midi!

        Like

        • We are too profligate with water generally. It’s only when it starts to be in short supply that one realises just how precious it is. Although we had a lot of rain over the winter, we’ve had barely a drop this month. Either it’s a famine or a feast!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. That sounded like a very hot walk. Re putting things in wells both ourselves and neighbour have wells outside our houses. Our previous owner told us we could pump the water out for watering the garden but we have not succeeded! Meanwhile our neighbour who only arrives for a few weeks each year is full of stories about the past, one of which was how her godmother (the previous owner) always kept the milk etc in the well to keep cool. Yours is the first reference I’ve come across about this habit!
    As for discovering places close to home, due to covid we have been looking for quiet places to walk and picnic and are discovering new corners of the Correze we haven’t known about in the last 30 years of holidaying and living in this village. It’s an ill wind….

    Like

    • Yes, it was rather hot, but we survived! We put a submersible pump into our 12 metre deep well a number of years ago and use it for watering. However, we have to be careful, because we have run it dry a couple of times through overuse. The débit (flow) is not very great, so we have learned to use it sparingly.
      We have also found new places to explore not very far from our own neighbourhood in the past few months. So there are a few gleams of upside in this dark situation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “There is nothing in life that cannot be solved by walking”
    Unfortunately my plans to walk the Camino Frances thus year have been shelved this year because of the pandemic but it is still there and when I finally make it,it will be all the sweeter.
    Vanessa,perhaps one of the few upsides of the pandemic is that more people have been able to appreciate their local surroundings.I know you always have and thank you for sharing it with us.
    Best wishes
    Stuart

    Like

    • I had to look up your quotation, Stuart, since I had heard it before. Apparently, it’s often attributed to St. Augustine, although others have appropriated it after him!
      Sorry to hear about the postponement of your walking plans. This is all too common a refrain this year. We know several people who have walked the Camino, either in one go or in stages. They all say that, physical endurance aside, it makes you reassess and realign your mental compass.
      Like you, I feel that one of the (few) upsides of Covid is that it has made us notice and appreciate more our local surroundings. Of course, we are incredibly lucky to live where we do, which is why I like to share it.
      I hope you and yours are keeping well.
      Vanessa

      Liked by 1 person

      • Vanessa,
        I also like two quotations from Alfred Wainwright
        -“I like to write about my walks and by doing so live them over again” and sound advice on life in general-“don’t forget,watch where you are putting your feet”

        Unfortunately trip to stay near Najac this year was also cancelled so I am sure we will get to meet sometime.
        Thank you for asking,all my family are well and sincerely hope yours are too.
        Best wishes
        Stuart

        Like

        • That’s something to look forward to once travelling is safe and practical again.
          Everyone in my family seems well, thank you.
          Vanessa

          Like

Got a comment? I'd love to hear your views.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.