I vividly remember my brother boring for water in the Maremma when he started to garden on the steep slopes of Scansano. He had gone to Tuscany to paint, but soon started to plant. The local supply, it quickly became evident, was simply not up to his needs. Then a friend visited with a hazel rod. It twitched. ‘There’s water down there all right’, he said. ‘A long way down. But I reckon it’s an underground stream.’
So Brian consulted a borehole engineer, swallowed hard when he saw the estimate, and went ahead. They calculated 60 metres. We were waiting for them that morning: a lorry loaded with 2-metre lengths of the drills (at so much per length). Their machine bored all morning, bringing up nothing but pale dust, the colour of the local roads. 50 metres. 60 – still pale dust. The family got into a huddle: how many more lengths (at so much per length) should we risk? Another two metres, more dust. Two more: was the dust just ever so slightly darker in colour? Two more and it turned brown, then suddenly Eureka! The hole was gurgling dirty brown water that quickly cleared to crystal. The garden water problem was solved. My brother only allowed himself a green lawn the size of, say, half a tennis court. The water was not squandered, it just made the establishment of any new plant less of a gamble.
The neighbours, though, heard the news and soon plotted the course of the underground stream. First one, then another, bored down into it. The water supply dwindled with each new borehole until the pioneer was left with not much more than a dribble.
And the relevance of this story? Our son-in-law in the New Forest is investigating boreholes. The water garden we are making has spent the summer without the help of rain. The farmer on the land that used to top up the natural springs has dug new drains taking the water away in a different direction. And the Isle of Wight malevolently steers the rainclouds away to the south. A bore? It certainly is.