Winter frost 364

A sequence of frosty photographs that move progressively to the long view.   We have a lot of ivy at Chatillon ( we have a lot of old walls …). This can cause problems between neighbours – and I’m mostly the romantic neighbour who causes the problems in my bit of the village. I’m not too hot at hacking it back. It’s a wonderful bee plant late in the season and in winter (especially at Christmas) it is simply magical. I like holly a lot too …


Winter frost 076

Moving back. My neighbour Jeanette’s delightful little orchard terraces. She was a very keen gardener until she passed away in 2014. Her grandchildren come back and mow the grass/open the shutters sometimes (the last occasion on Christmas day 2015). They clearly loved her very, very much. But I’m always hopeful that it’s Jeanette opening the shutters –  and that she’ll wave and call over to me again.

Winter frost 094

Raise your eyes up even further above our Long Border and Jeanette’s orchards and you can see the massive old house of Jan Monchablon, sunlit to the right of the picture. Try the link if you didn’t read my post last Sunday.

But what’s all this about SPANC? It’s the acronym for the government office responsible for the inspection and (forced) modernisation of ‘assainissement non-collectif’ in France – private sewage systems to you and I. I’m fairly sure that they are not aware of the laughter and relief from tension their name affords English-speakers when they get their ‘côntroles’ through from the local office of the département. Anything to lift us temporarily out of the merde! Although, hang on … is that a threat?

Yes – this is a fosse septique update, but this time I’ll spare you the gruesome pictures and illustrate with a few winter pretties.

Winter frost 323

One of my great joys – planted by the previous owner/gardener – the lime hedge on stilts.

Winter frost 250

There are Brits out there who will want to suggest the micro-stations d’épuration as a solution to our problems in Châtillon (these are sewage systems not requiring a huge area of land for filtration, very suitable systems for confined spaces). British expats have fought hard to have these systems (originating in other parts of Europe) recognised in France.

It was not an easy battle and hats off to them. The rest of us are grateful for that battle. But at Châtillon we are not quite at the stage where each of the 100 plus householders are forced to install a system that is bound to cost upwards of 10,000€ (and the rest) per house.

This is still a public problem (although micro-systems are available that would serve a whole village … well worth investigating ). I would hope that we keep this a public, rather than a private issue, for as long as possible. When I lived in the middle of a field in Ireland I knew that my septic tank was my own problem. But …

We live in the centre of a village – the issue here is that our mayor, rather than spending any money on a collective system, has opted (as far as I am aware – and I would be delighted to be proved wrong) to let everyone sort out their own problems.

This is a village where almost 90% of the population are pensioners or second-home owners. With very little money to spare. And actually, in fairness to the mayor, the commune (village) is as impoverished as its inhabitants.

Winter frost 278

Just the other side of the ‘hedge on stilts’ is one of our two long lavender hedges in the garden (the other is up in the Mirror Garden)

Add to that the problem that many people do not have any suitable land for installing large bits of kit, filtration systems, etc., in any case (supposing the necessary cash were available). The old Renaissance village falls quite sharply in terraces to either side of the ridge on which it is perched.

Fortunately I have made progress in contacting neighbours and a nearby village association in the same département (administrative region) as myself. Many inhabitants in the other village also lack the land (and cash) to sort out individual fosse and filtration systems. Both my Châtillon neighbours and the neighbouring association have made excellent suggestions.

The village association has taken the judgements of the latest ‘côntrole’ in their own village to a tribunal and the 4-yearly inspections are suspended (very important, because if one is found ‘wanting’ at one inspection, by the time the next rolls around one can be fined if the demanded improvements have not been made).

The inspections have been suspended because the matter is ‘in dispute’. So some breathing space for their village hero and his supporters, currently investigating how to install and fund a communal system.

Winter frost 052

Looking down on the frosty garden from the balcony

I will be drawing the attention of both the mayor and SPANC (ha!) to our own case in this coming week. Particularly to the fact our house was sold to us in 2011 with a fosse septique that was passed as ‘ok’ – yes, it’s there in black and white in our own contract of sale.

Now, if the fosse had not been ok (by my understanding) it would have been up to the seller to sort out the problem or to reduce the price to the buyer. But it says, in the contract, that we are ‘ok’. So – a trip to the mairie and a letter to SPANC in Épinal asking to see the results of the previous fosse report made in 2011.

I could say ‘buyer beware’ in France, but I won’t. The legislation is being tightened up so much. We were, unfortunately, on the ‘cusp’. The documentation necessary when selling a house is now much, much clearer. In addition to ‘côntroles’ for electricity, energy efficiency and noxious materials (such as asbestos), there should, in future, be a multiple-page report on the condition of the fosse supplied to any buyer (just like the one that bombed through my letterbox in December 2015).

This information is probably of limited interest/value to many who read my blog – it is, after all, supposed to be a gardening blog? But blogs are as fascinating for their beautiful images and pertinent, informative content as for the personal challenges that their bloggers face. N’est-ce pas?

Anyway – ‘nough said.  This remains a fascinating and challenging place to live. I didn’t come here because I was wealthy and privileged. I came because I had very little dosh – and still wanted an interesting life. And by George …!

No more fosse updates until I have something more positive to report. Next time I’m going to  begin my walk round the village, introducing you to the little jewel that is Châtillon. I’m starting with my own house, the watchkeeper’s house …


Front door of the Maison du Guetteur at Christmas

new 058

Other end of the Maison du Guetteur, with a tempting glimpse of the drop to the beautiful valley behind …

And I’ll take a more in-depth look at the second-best view in Chatillon (after the one from our balcony).


If I look out of my bedroom window, I see the Ancien Hôpital and some of the most beautiful steps I’ve ever had the privilege to contemplate on a daily basis.

new 060

Come back to Châtillon soon?


21 thoughts on “SPANC!

  1. Meta van der Stelt

    What a beautifull pictures. About the fosse sceptique: We have the same problem. For the moment it is only obliged when you sell the house. Hoping for a comune solution.

    1. Cathy Post author

      No Meta – it is not when you sell the house. You will/could be inspected every 4 years and told that you have to upgrade within the next 4 years. We will talk about this problem on Tuesday. It is a big problem and lots of people do not understand.

  2. Amy

    Oh, I hope a solution can be found with a minimum of trouble though I suppose that’s already unlikely. Too bad these little always appear in the ointment of living in lovely places – or anywhere, I imagine! Thanks for the beautiful tour (I also thoroughly enjoyed your lavoir and lavender post…)!

  3. Paula Clements

    A great post Cathy x

    On Saturday, 23 January 2016, “Garden Dreaming at Châtillon” wrote:

    > Cathy posted: ” But what’s all this about SPANC? It’s the acronym for > the government office responsible for the inspection and (forced) > modernisation of ‘assainissement non-collectif’ in France – private sewage > systems to you and I. I’m fairly sure that the” >

  4. Island Threads

    Cathy I love your pleached limes, the photo with the frost on and sun behind is magical, I imagine in summer when the leaves are out and with the little hedge below it is like looking through leafy windows on to the valley,
    I didn’t realise it affected so many people, 100+ individual filtration systems is ludicrous, far better to do something communally, I’m glad the ‘ball has started to roll’ and action is taking place, the mayor is supposed to ‘look out’ for his village, so he should be taking the initiative to apply to central funding and not leave it to the individual villagers, I imagine he may be voted out at next elections,
    I think rules have been changing across European countries and other part of the world due to levels of pollution restrictions to be met by I think 2020, over here now there are much tighter rules when selling property, another thing that put me off the idea of moving, it is called a sellers pack and the seller has to have the survey done, energy efficiency report and you have to list all work you have had carried out on the property while you have owned it, thankfully being a virgo I keep everything and have a folder of all the work I’ve had done to this house,
    nice photos of your house but what takes my eye most are the lovely lace curtains in your window, antique lace? Frances

    1. Cathy Post author

      Oh Frances – so much to reply to. We don’t really know what’s going on here. I am in the process of trying to discover if we have been ‘done over’ in the purchase of this house. It is such a complex issue. We have a lazy mayor who opted (in a poor commune) for the kind of individual system that everyone (sort of) already had in place. It would be hard to understand in the UK unless you live where you live, on an island, or are a farmer where I come from (Perthshire). A whole village (with houses right up against each other, wall to wall, and no land?) on individual septic tanks! In some cases, no sanitation at all. Their toilets go into a hole in the ground – I actually have a friend whose toilet is arranged like this in another village. This was probably a big issue in Victorian Britain. Except that the British Victorian authorities were better organised and more intelligent than our mayor. I will be ‘persona non grata’ here very soon’!
      Re the lace – this is a French style (common in modern apartments in France, not just in old houses). The shape of these windows is ‘normal’ throughout France and you can easily buy ‘lace’ that stops anyone looking in (‘panneaux’, they are called). In our case, I like this particular design, washed them a year ago. Then they shrunk. I have looked everywhere and cannot find replacements that I like as much!

  5. bittster

    Good luck. Have you started to give any thought to a mayorship? This issue might be something outside the realm of what the current mayor had in mind.
    Love this as a gardening blog, but if I want to read just about plants there are already plenty of books I can grab. Thanks for sharing so much more.

    1. Cathy Post author

      We are second-class citizens here, but when I go down to the mairie on Thursday to talk about our fosse issues, I’m also going to be taking them my form to apply for my vote in the next local and European elections (we have no right to vote in national elections, in spite of being taxpayers in France since 2009). We will certainly lose on the fosse issue, but I am going to join the consumer’s association combatting this stuff in France at the moment. These parts of rural France are very, very poor and the issue is so complex. I’ve actually had an email from a French friend in the next village (with a public sewage system, installed in 2015) who expresses his support and disgust at our mayor’s laziness. Thanks so very much for your comment …

  6. Chloris

    I saw your title Spanc! and thought it was the imperative at first and I was thinking: ‘ But I don’ t know how to spanc.’
    Your home and village are so beautiful Cathy. I would gladly poo in a bucket to live in such a beautiful place and to get to speak French every day.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Unfortunately if you lived here, Liz, you would not be allowed to poo in a bucket! Sorry. But you would be forced to pay a lot of money or fined for having innocently bought the existing ‘arrangements’. But you are so right about the experience – it’s the only thing sometimes that keeps me going. I adore the French language, and am fortunate to be forced to speak it every day. It is not so much of a dream, however, when you are beginning to confront and disagree with people (the mayor) that you imagined might be on your side. And using technical language in French (we are talking fosse septique/Euro regulations) is being plunged into ‘the merde’ on a daily basis. I do not despair – France is giving me so many things (I never wanted to live here!) that I would not have learnt elsewhere. Obviously it was my destiny to live where I never imagined I would live …

  7. Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

    We have the same problem on the little island in Maine where we spend summers and other people live full time. We all had smal chlorinator systems which the Maine Department of Environmental Protection deemed inadequate and needing very expensive upgrades. Those who could put in a leach field did, but our house is on a tiny piece of shorelineon a rock base, no room for digging. We now have a giant exposed tank in our side yard with a very expensive pumping system—it’s awful. And every time it rains hard the nearby city is allowed to release 25% of their sewage directly into the ocean because they don’t have the capacity to hold it.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Carolyn – thanks so much for commenting, since your experience is so close to what is happening here. I will be posting more later …

  8. Pat Webster

    I’m reading your blog for the first time but will be returning regularly. Spanc — love it! The photos on this post are stunning, and the banner picture is quite beautiful. I look forward to reading more in the weeks to come.


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