The Swiss solution to irrigating semi-arid land that defies gravity

Hiker on the Bisse du Rho trail in Switzerland

Credit, Karen Desjardins/Getty Images

Adjacent to a rock wall, a series of weathered wooden canals led our trekking group over cliffs at an altitude of 1,200 m.

Only thanks to the handrails and safety nets in place were we able to traverse the 6 km long trail — known as the Torrent Neuf.

The 15th-century farmers and winemakers of the Rhône Valley who dared to build these overhanging irrigation canals had nothing but a spade, pickaxe and frayed ropes.

It was dangerous work that cost lives — but it saved a small region of Switzerland from near drought.