The disappearing lake at the Chateau de Bourneau

The disappearing lake at the Chateau de Bourneau

Erin Choa reveals the mysterious truth behind the disappearing lake in the château grounds…

One wintry morning at Château de Bourneau, a friend staying with us in La Chambre de Madame met us at the breakfast table with a look of astonishment. He had already left the château earlier that morning to look at the garden awash in wintry drizzle but had returned rapidly and somewhat perplexed. A dampness clung to the air after a night of raging storms and I asked what was bothering him while we indulged in buttery croissants and steaming tea in front of the kitchen fire.

“It was the strangest thing, I am absolutely certain that I saw a lake from my bedroom window early this morning in the copse and yet now there’s nothing there. Not even a puddle. I suppose I must have dreamed it.” And then he added with a sideways smile: “Or have I just time-travelled?”

Photo: Erin Choa

He is not the first of our friends and relatives to have had this experience: winter in La Chambre de Madame often produces this effect. The view from the north window sweeps out across the moat and towards a hidden bosquet where cuckoos call in spring and deer sleep in the summer, skirted by weeping willow, wild lilies and a tangle of scrambling dog roses.

Once upon a time, it was indeed a lake, drained in the early 20th century and then left abandoned to nature. We have postcards from the 1900s that shows the lake, photographed across its mirrored surface towards the château, and where a bench once provided a lovely vista for quiet reflection.

Nowadays, though, it is just a tiny wooded dimple in the landscape. All that is left is the remains of a lichen- climbed stone wall and the older skirting trees. Most of the year it’s just a hollow of verdant overgrowth, curtained by draping willows and a confusion of twisted brambles that provide a home to all kinds of wildlife. Sleeping deer spend the night there, hidden in the thicket, and then gallop back towards our woods past the kitchen window each morning.

Photo: Erin Choa

However, if it rains hard, the lake re-emerges as if called back from the past; this vast body of water seems to appear out of nowhere before it rapidly vanishes, draining into the moat by a secret underground  channel. It is always surprising that such a huge volume of water can simply vanish in hours leaving no trace of puddles, so it is understandably surprising and spectral for those who don’t know about our unusual water feature.

We often wonder if we should reinstate it as a permanent lake but there is something so intriguing about an ephemeral lake that only visits us occasionally. There is always the question of why it was drained in the first place; sometimes past decisions were made for a good reason.

This winter, weeks of torrential rain and storms mean that we will enjoy this visit from the past for a little longer than usual but its stay is still fleeting and it shall vanish once again, ready to spook our next guests!

Photo: Erin Choa

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London-born hospital doctor Erin Choa is the 6th châtelaine of Château de Bourneau, where she lives with her French fiancé Jean-Baptiste and bossy cat HRH Oscar. Read her regular column in French Property News magazine and follow her as she blogs about their château-life on Instagram @theintrepidchatelaine

Lead photo credit : Abandoned to nature, Photo: Erin Choa

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