Africa, Books, Canoe & Kayak, Food, Free State, Vrystaat, Travel Africa

Swinburne, the Lost Valley and Nesshurst

First we went to Swinburne, to Jenny (Mapp) and Steve Cleverley’s Hound and Hare on the far bank of the Wilge River, across the old 1884 sandstone toll bridge where we had launched a canoe journey many years before; There we watched a bunch of large blokes with odd-shaped balls shove each other around, playing ‘If someone gives you the ball, give it to the other blokes.’ Lovely to see Jenny’s smile again – I hadn’t seen her for ages.

We were almost outnumbered by the Welsh contingent there (that being Steve himself, being noisy), but we managed to see him off and send his team to play for bronze against that tongue-pulling outfit that play a bit of rugby in black outfits.

More importantly – and fittingly for our Hysterically-Minded gang – the result sets up a 2019 re-enactment of the Anglo-Boer War. Let’s hope the Poms play fair this time.

– Hound and Hare pub in Swinburne – good grub, cold beer –

After a lovely lunch of roasted hound or hare we fell in line under Field Marshall Lello RSVP’s orders and listened to our knowledgeable local guide Leon Strachan in the hall kindly made available to us by Steve the Welsh rarebit. Leon told us the true story of the pioneer de Heer family, led by patriarch Pieter de Heer.

– Peering down into the valley – Piet de Heer watches us – Tintwa mountain on the horizon –

Then we drove to the farm Keerom on the edge of the Lost Valley on the Drakensberg escarpment; the border of the Free State and KwaZulu Natal. The story Leon told was of a family that lived a good, self-supported, independent life, sent their kids to school, used local services such as post office, shops and lawyers; sold their goods in the towns of Swinburne and Harrismith; married locally (and NOT incestuously!).

Just like many normal families, some of their children and grandchildren spread all over (one great-grandson becoming a neurosurgeon) and some remained – the farm is still owned by their descendants. People who didn’t understand them, nor know them, nor bother to get to know them, wrote inaccurate stories about them which must have caused the family a lot of heartache over many decades.

What a spectacular valley. It had burnt recently, but already flowers were popping up in the grassland.

Heather and Elize spotted a Solifuge scurrying about. They must have disturbed him, as Sun Spiders often hide by day and hunt by night.

– Lost Valley Sun Spider – or Solifuge – inset: wikipedia pic of a related species –

Next we drove off to Nesshurst, Leon’s farm where he grows cattle and msobo, to look at his etchings. Well, his fossils. He has 150 million year old Lystrosaurus fossils on his farm and some in his museum, along with a Cape Cart he bought when he was in matric back in 1971! He has restored it beautifully. A catalogue of his ‘stuff’ would take pages, but I saw farm implements, military paraphenalia, miniature trains, hand-made red combines made by his childhood Zulu playmate; riems and the stones that brei and stretch them; yob-yob-ting cream separators; a Harrismith Mountain Race badge; photos of old British and Boer generals and leaders; a spectacular photo of Platberg and the concentration camp where women and children were sent to die by the invading British forces; a lovely collage made by Biebie de Vos of Harrismith Town Square, old prominent buildings and older prominent citizens, including my great-granpa, ‘Oupa’ Stewart Bain, owner of the Royal Hotel and mayor of the town; Also a Spilsbury and a Putterill. And Harrismith se Hoer School rugby jerseys.

– Nesshurst collage –

We then repaired to The Green Lantern roadside inn in the village of Van Reenen for drinks and a lovely dinner. I had a delicious mutton curry which actually had some heat; I didn’t have to call for extra chillies – maybe as Van Reenen is in KZN, not in the Vrystaat.

Tomorrow we would head off west to climb Platberg the easy way: 4X4 vehicles driving up Flat Rock Pass (or Donkey Pass).

~~~oo0oo~~~

Leon grows cattle and msobo – and he also writes books! Nine so far. Four on the mense of Harrismith; One on the Harrismith Commando; One on the Anglo-Boer War concentrating on the area around Harrismith; one on his Grandad who was a Son of England; and more.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Africa, Family & Kids, Free State, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

The Goatitudes 4. Bear Witness

The old man gets The Witness delivered to his gate daily. He has fetched it at the gate at around 5am for decades. His 96yr-old legs started protesting against this chore so he recently roped in the kid next door. For R20 a month the kid now hangs the packet it comes in on the back door.

The paper – as The Natal Witness – was first printed in 1846 and it has been going continuously ever since. Today the old man tells me has read it for 91 years, since he was five. His Dad used to sit on his ‘captain’s chair’ holding it spread out in front of him and Dad used to creep under the paper, lean against Oupa’s boep and ask ‘Wat’s daai? En Wat’s Daai? En Daai?’, pointing at pictures and words.

When he moved to Harrismith he subscribed to it through the local bookstore.

Ah, but now he remembers: After a few years the lady there said The Witness was stopping delivery. The schlep of delivering a single copy to the station late at night, hot off the press, for it to be railed from Pietermaritzburg to Harrismith was just not worth it. So no longer would The Natal Witness fly along the rail, past Chievely, Estcourt and Weenen where the Boer War was fought and Churchill was captured, die blerrie rooinek. Through Ladysmith which was besieged and relieved; Nor up the Drakensberg mountains over rail bridges my Great-Grandfather built, through van Reenen, through Swinburne, over the sandstone bridge over the Wilge River to Harrismith station; up to Havenga se boekwinkel, fresh for delivery to Pieter Gerhardus Swanepoel, formerly of Pietermaritzburg, The Natal Witness’ home town. No.

So he subscribed to The Star, which came from Johannesburg, but now he got it one day late. So his reading of The Witness, which he continued once he got back to PMB some twenty years ago, was not continuous.

Still, it FEELS as though he has read it for 91 years.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~