Now I know that most folks in Allendale are on mains water. But some of us out in the valleys have our own water supply, and this capacity has both good and bad features.
- Good: our water is very clean, tested, and a delight to drink (no chlorine, which is great for sourdough leavens, for example)
- Good: we pay no rates (but we have to pay upkeep and maintenance on the water system, including pumps and filters)
- Bad: the installation cost for our water system was on the order of £7500 a decade ago, on top of the drilling cost nearly thirty years ago of some £3000.
- Bad: Northumberland County Council insists on risk-assessing our private water supply (at £375 every five years, including water testing; not an insignificant matter)
- Bad: if anything fails on the water system, either we fix it ourselves, or we pay a large service fee (typically £150 and any further costs to repair the system, eg £600 for a new pump).
- Bad: there’s no other way to get good fresh water, consistently, up here on the high fells
In fact, the reason for this entry today is that our water system failed on Monday, as our transfer pump (after water from the deep, 130 foot well that taps into a major underground waterway reaches the first settling tank, solubilised iron and manganese precipitates out slowly over 30 hours, and then the remaining, clearer water is transfer-pumped into a second tank which is our fresh water reservoir that goes for final filtration before reaching the house in a pristine, very pure state) . . . our transfer pump gave up the ghost except for 30 second spurts of desultory activity, and so we had to develop a quick work-around. Fortunately, we have a reserve submersible pump for just such an emergency, and we were soon supplied with water to the house again.
But just being without a convenient tap for our water can be a bit of a shock to the system, though it reminds us how much of the rest of the world lives, without that luxury. And we have so many access points for water! Just in one normal household: 2 toilets; 1 shower; 1 bath; two hand basins; 1 kitchen sink; 1 washing machine; 1 dishwasher; 6 outdoor garden taps; and, of course, the float valve for the loft reservoir. On-off water with the flick of a tap or a switch . . . it’s amazing, and we do take it for granted, right up until the point when it’s not there.
Even mains water access can have its challenges — I remember two separate leaks on the water line from the road to the Bowls Pavilion: i. a few years before the skate park financing was secured, some boys attempted to build quasi-ramps for their BMX machines by digging out holes in the park, unfortunately breaking into the water line — a leak quickly mended as they informed someone in charge immediately; ii. more seriously, a leak developed between the meter and the alkathene pipe underground beyond the entrance tarmac, ie right underneath the paving, suddenly costing the Bowls folks some £75 in water rates a quarter — fortunately, rather than digging up the paving, the work-around for that leak was to place the Bowls supply on the hall’s water system, and to eliminate their individual meter entirely, saving money all around!
On our extended holiday last year, we camped in a site in Portugal that had been ravaged by fire the year before — the effect on the water supply was dramatic, and everybody was still on bottled water as the municipality couldn’t cope. Just in case of taking on campsite water that had been over-treated with chlorine or borine, and especially so we could bake our own delicious sourdough loaves in the van, we carried a small supply of our own wonderful water with us wherever we went!
But I also remember a Ceilidh for Water Aid, some years ago in the hall, which sent, together with networked ceilidhs around the country, thousands of pounds towards fresh water supplies in needy places. That felt good, to participate in such an effort, even though I knew we lived a life of more luxury in fresh water terms than the folks we hoped to help could ever imagine.
Water is, I guess, the great leveller, and we are truly fortunate, here in Northumberland, to have some of the best fresh water in the world. Just with that blessing alone, apart from anything else we might imagine that colours our lives here, we live like royalty, out in the deep country, and probably it’s good to recognise that every once in a while.