Water is the blood of the earth.  So in bringing a new farm to life it is necessary to find a subterranean artery and draw off a supply to the surface, where live the plants, the animals, and us.  Being a scientist I know all about seismic surveys, but dowsing, well that’s an arcane art and therefore worthy of closer inspection. For our search, my money’s on the dowser!

After a few walks holding his dowsing spring (an arch of spring steel) extended in front of him, Sr Antonio suggested drilling the first hole very near to the house.  We arranged a date for drilling the borehole.

Several weeks later, bright and early, we had just breakfasted on the patio in the sun, when a lorry towing a chunky yellow trailer appeared over the hill between us and the village. It hesitated a minute before winding its way along the road and arriving at our farmhouse. The wide lorry carried drilling tubes and the trailer was a solid engine packed into a steel casing, a powerful compressor as tall as a man.

Out jumped Sr Antonio, smiles and handshakes, who said there was a corner in the village which was too sharp for the drill lorry.  It had to turn round and find another route and would be here soon, don’t worry. No surprise there, the single-track cobbled streets with sharp turns are not suitable for heavy machinery.  He walked the proposed drilling site with his dowsing spring to confirm where the hole should be in order to strike the underground stream which would yield our drinking water.

A large blue drilling lorry arrived – how ever did he get here? – and the drill was deployed. An air line was connected to the top of the drilling rig which was carefully levelled.  The impressively solid yellow machine was started and the peaceful quiet ambience of birdsong was obliterated by the roar of the compressor.

Rotation… and the drilling head bit into hard-packed soil. As it quickly sank to the rock below, the dull rumbling of its passage into the ground changed to a more pervasive “Brrrr” underfoot and the rattling of the impacts at the top of the rig took on a hard-edged metallic hammering rather like a supersized overpowered pneumatic drill, which is essentially what it is.

Early in the afternoon at forty metres depth there was some water in the powder which was blasted up through the hole by the huge compressor. The borehole yielded more water at 75 metres down. Great! Not what I’d expected, though.

I had visualised seeing water gurgling up around the drill, winching the pipes up, and a fountain of water showering around. No, nothing like! There was no water coming out at all.  The workmen stopped at six o’clock, just leaving it all as it was.  They returned early the next day.  All the water that had accumulated overnight was blown out of the hole and it was re-cleared an hour later. Disappointment, “muito fraca”. Only enough for homestead use (70 litres an hour) even with storage.

Sr Antonio walked the land with his dowsing spring and suggested drilling in the olive orchard, so the entire convoy was moved.

This second borehole was dry even over a hundred metres down.  All the land is on granite, a hard rock, so drilling is slow and expensive. Each hole takes two days to set up, bore, find out how fast the water is being produced (the caudal ),then to de-rig the drill. We now decided to line the first well as the water is of excellent purity.

Lastly they started drilling a borehole on the lowest part of our quinta and I had to return to the villa, leaving the “Captagems, aguas subterraneas” men to do their best. A day later Sr Antonio phoned to say they had struck water, estimated at 700 litres an hour and would continue to drill to 110 metres for a further source. We decided that this borehole should also be lined to enable us to irrigate crops and fill the three charcas (storage ponds) on our farm. Do we have a pump so we can start using the water? No, because we have no electricity yet.