Six years ago, as we started to look forward to our second summer in Normandy, I posted a query on a Normandy internet forum, asking if anyone could advise me where DH could make use of his newly-acquired kayak. I had a couple of general replies and a very friendly one from an English woman, who with her American husband had just bought a summer cabin on the north shore of the Lac de Vezins, about 15 miles south of us. Not only did she assure me that it would be fine to use the kayak there, but she also invited us to visit them to take advantage of the jetty which belongs to their cabin.
Fast forward a couple of months to a Sunday in July, when DH and I set off in the very small campervan to meet J and M for the first time. We arrived for after-lunch coffee and struck up an instant rapport with them, which resulted in us spending a long and very enjoyable afternoon there with much conversation and a lovely trip out on the lake in their boat.
This was the start of a very rewarding friendship and hardly a summer has gone by since without us getting together at least once, mostly at their cabin overlooking the lake. We’ve taken our children and grandchildren there, with meals on the deck looking down the hill to the water and leisurely trips on the lake in J’s boat. The two older grandsons had their first lesson in fishing from the ever-patient J, while DH revelled in trying out his kayak in beautiful surroundings, usually managing to get rather wet in the process.
All very idyllic you would think and in many ways it has been. Yet year after year we’ve taken huge pleasure in this glorious spot with the sad knowledge in the back of our minds that it is scheduled to disappear forever, probably by the end of this year.
For the lake is not a natural lake but a reservoir, created by the double damming of the river Selune, first during WW1 and then at end of the 1920s, to supply water for a hydro-electric scheme. The river valley is narrow and winding, giving a lake almost 12 miles (19km) long and nearly 100 feet deep by the dam.
|After the lake was emptied for dam maintenance in April1993|
Because the hydro-electric scheme is so small by modern standards and because the Selune was formerly one of the premier salmon rivers of France, the powers-that-be have taken the decision that the dams are to be demolished and the river re-established in its bed, in the hope that almost 100 years after the first dam was built, the salmon will somehow find their way back to their former spawning-grounds.
No matter that almost 800 jobs, mainly in the holiday and leisure industries, will be lost when the lake with all its water activities disappears. No matter that the experts still don’t know how to handle the nearly 2 million cubic metres of accumulated sediment with its load of pesticide and heavy metal pollution. The dams will come down.
Downstream from the lake lies the World Heritage site of Le Mont-Saint-Michel in its unique bay and no-one there, least of all the shell-fisheries, wants yet more pollution. The towns downstream, protected from the risk of flooding for the past 100 years, are also not looking forward to the river Selune running freely again. It will take a good number of years, and probably far more money than is on offer, for the valley to be regenerated fully, which is why the many local people opposed to this decision have still not given up their desperate fight to have it reversed.
There are no prizes for guessing which side DH and I are on. The lake as it stands is a huge asset, even if it never generates another kilowatt. In this poor area, with little employment, tourism is vital, and the lake with its sailing, kayaking, swimming and coarse fishing is very attractive to visitors. It’s also the only body of water of any size in South Manche and sits beautifully in the landscape.
A week ago we sat on the deck in front of the cabin having lunch with J and some of his family (M being back in the UK on grandmother duty) and looking out over the water for what may well be the last time. On our way home we stopped at the viewpoint overlooking the lake, where protest banners demonstrate so clearly the anger of the local inhabitants at this decision that affects them so strongly, yet which was made far away in Paris.
Will there still be a Lac de Vezins when we return next summer or only a wasteland of mud and bare rock? We don’t know and can only cross our fingers and hope…
|The lake-bed after emptying in April 1993|
Photos of the dam and the emptied lake via Wikipedia Manche