Struggling with a Fosse Septique

Still on the subject of pipes, John Foster embarks on a very serious expedition in his back garden in Creuse

Having purchased our house in Creuse in November 2007, we looked at our French house with mixed feelings. We had a new exciting vocabulary – plan cadastral, ramoneur... – every new building term had us typing text into Google translate’ with results such as watertightness, airtight pipes smoke!’ French words seemed so magical compared to their English equivalent: robinet, canalisation, chauffage � bois and the remarkable fosse septique.

Suddenly we were being educated in the other end of the toilet process. If this contraption had been named septic tank’ from the start, I think we’d have run a mile. Fosse septique sounded like a court dance or an asteroid belt. After a few weeks, a sense of perspective emerged when I realised that somewhere in our soccer pitch-sized garden a mini-submarine was buried! Furthermore, I had fears that the whole of our garden may be harbouring a submerged reservoir of unpleasantness.

Finding buried treasure Processes that were previously of minimal interest were now the core of research. What washing powder? Do I use bleach? What is bacteria? There was, however, one overriding question. Where does it all go?

Our garden at this early stage resembled a wasteland. In there somewhere was a buried treasure. We had inherited a receipt showing the fosse. This was akin to a 9th-century map of the world as far as accuracy was concerned. Our Irish vendeur demonstrated his knowledge of its whereabouts by taking two huge strides diagonally from the garage and stating “it’s somewhere here!”

I used conventional and unconventional methods to find the secrets buried in our garden. Metal detector, I thought, presuming this strategy would find metal bits on my buried fosse. After half an hour scanning the garden in great sweeping arcs, not a beep was to be heard.

Plan B. Look on Google Earth to find evidence of our fosse from an aerial view (I was deadly serious!).

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Plan double B. Dig and hope for the best. After a day digging like a dog in search of a lost bone, I studied where the ventilation pipe and the pipe from the house should potententially meet. This was consistent with the two strides’ theory submitted by the vendeur. After an hour digging, I found the lid of what looked like a buried submarine (the captain of which would emerge to congratulate me on finding the fosse).

What’s the point? You may well ask. Well, now I have a marker inscribed with the words fosse septique’ proudly heralding where the discovery was made. Any future maintenance will be possible, having made this all-important find.

The next job would be to find the soakaway, a tree of pipes branching away from the fosse. I needed to map this out as I had plans to put a terrace or patio immediately at the back of the house. This would involve more digging and perhaps a bit more knowledge from my previous hunt...