Coming across this porcelain wash basin and jug in the Prince Albert museum jogged my memory back to when I was about ten years old, visiting my Great Aunt Mary in Colesberg.

Even then it was like walking through a living museum for every bedroom was equipped not only with such basins and jugs, but there was a porcelain potty discreetly tucked under every bed! I swore blind that I could feel the ghosts around me and the creaking wooden floorboards during the night convinced me I was not far from wrong. How I wish I could own one of these now!

My Great-Granny Joan Donald lived in that house until she died at the age of almost 101. Her daughter, Mary, continued living there until her death in her eighties, after which some artifacts from her home ended up in the Colesberg museum where I saw them many years later.

Their family name lives on, for that house has been renovated completely and is now run as Donalds Guest House – looking very different from when I first visited it and yet still strangely familiar.



This is a Scotch-cart parked outside the museum in Calitzdorp. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information relating to it inside, although it clearly forms part of the history of transport in this country. Interestingly enough, according to the online dictionaries I have consulted, the name Scotch-cart is of South African origin (only one referred to it being of English origin). As you can see from the photograph, it is a light, strongly built, springless two-wheeled tip cart with a detachable back, which would have been drawn by horses or oxen. These carts were typically used for transporting small loads of, say, gravel, wood, or manure and were popular with farmers. The name may have a connection with the design being thought to have originated in Scotland.

Here is an excerpt from my father’s memoirs in which he recalls such a cart in Wales, where he spent his formative years:

I remember once there was a two-wheeled scotch-cart going along the little track next to the beach on the other side, it was accompanied by a man and a dog. I could hear the rumble of the cart, the sudden spit as the wheel split a small pebble with its iron shod tyre as well as the spoken commands of the man to the horse. It was as though I was standing next to them. W.D. Curror: A Brief History of the Currors.


Today we honour the humble sparrow – these ubiquitous birds that are so often dismissed or taken for granted. The Cape Sparrow is near-endemic to South Africa. Here is one in the Addo Elephant National Park:

The Southern Grey-headed Sparrow is fairly common in our garden – at least one pair visits the feeders on an off throughout the year – and House Sparrows are commonly found looking for food in the car-park of our local shopping mall.

This lovely poem comes from a delightful book entitled Flights of Imagination: an illustrated anthology of bird poetry compiled by Mike Mockler.


One cannot drive all the way to Calitzdorp or to Oudtshoorn and not drive over the Swartberg Pass on the R368 to Prince Albert!

Approaching the Swartberg from Oudtshoorn.

This narrow, rough, and spectacular dirt road pass is worth every single bump and curve all the way up to its 1 568m summit and down the other side. One climbs 1 000 metres in 12 kilometres, making it a steep pass indeed. It is out-of-this-world beautiful, interesting and a part of our living history.

Some of the exposed rocks

This 27km slow-going pass is very impressive – such a grand feat of engineering pre-dating the development of modern earth-moving equipment. What I find amazing is that the pass was built with the use of pickaxes, spades, sledgehammers, crowbars, wheelbarrows and gunpowder. Boulders were split by heating them with fire and then dousing them with cold water. Rocks were broken into smaller pieces with sledgehammers and then carefully dressed by the convicts.

A wheelbarrow used during the construction of the Swartberg Pass

The final cost of building the pass, including a few kilometres of access roads, was ₤14 500, which excludes the value of the convict labour.

Dry-stone walls

Once you have traversed this pass you will not be surprised to find that this is the epitome of gravel road passes for many South Africans and tourists alike: the allure of the Swartberg Pass is such that you simply have to drive over it at least once in your life. It was proclaimed a national monument in 1988; is a part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and is considered in some circles as Thomas Bain’s best accomplishment of road building. He constructed this pass with the help of some 250 convict labourers from 1883 to 1886.

Date carved into the rock

I found the dry-packed stone walls, which range in height from ½ metre to 13 metres, particularly impressive. You do not notice them while driving on the road itself, until you look up or below and realise that what you have been driving on is being shored up by these walls which have been built up stone by stone!

Dry-stone wall

As mentioned in my posts about both Uniondale Poort and Meirings Poort, one cannot help being in awe of the dazzling display of contorted sandstone. The Swartberg is ranked among the best exposed folded mountain ranges in the world and clearly depict an upheaval of rock frozen in time.

Folded rocks

Bain constructed underground tunnels to disperse flood waters – the openings of these can be clearly seen if you take the trouble to look closely at some of the tall dry-walls on the bends.

Drainage tunnel entrance

One has to negotiate a series of hairpin bends along the pass, which ensure that one drives slowly and carefully.

Hairpin bend

Take time to drink in the wonderful geology close at hand.

Striking geological features

View the spectacular scenery stretching out below.

Scenery far below

If you can take your eyes off the road for a minute, you may even spot the odd bright flower or two:



It was some time before my father was able to get a generator to provide electricity to our farmhouse when we were very young. Even then, the power was used strictly from when it was too dark to see indoors and switched off when my parents retired for the night – far too early for me, especially during my university holidays when I read late into the night by candle light!

My memories of the warm atmosphere created by oil lamps, and the Tilley lamps – sometimes even hurricane lamps – were brought to the fore by the sight of this oil lamp perched on the edge of a desk in the tiny museum at Calitzdorp.

How wonderful it would have been to have some of these during the many months of Eskom power outages! The lovely glow of lamplight in the farmhouse all those years ago seems like yesterday: no cell phones, televisions or iPads, only the soft light that brought the family together to read, play cards, or to write … conversations were quieter, communication was interesting and we grew to be unafraid of the dark.

I remember having to purchase new wicks, the task of keeping them neatly trimmed for a steady light … such warmth emanated from these lamps compared to the ice cold efficiency – and convenience – of LED lamps!


There was an intriguing sign outside the Calitzdorp post office:

It was so odd that I halted for a closer look:

This is what the sign announced:

Why would the post office be closed for that length of time?

It turned out that the sign did not actually relate to the closure of the post office, but to the small hair salon tucked behind the arch in the same building. The hairdresser found it amusing that so many people would pop in to ask why the post office would be closing!

I hope she gained a few more clients as a result.


Calitzdorp lies in the lee of the Swartberg range. I am always curious to know how the names of towns come about and so am interested to know that Calitzdorp is situated on the site of the original farm, Buffelsvlei (Buffalo Valley), granted to J.J. and M.C. Calitz in 1831. Our visit was fleeting as the next stage of our journey awaited. We nonetheless had a good look at Queens Street, well-known for its Edwardian, Victorian, and Karoo-style buildings. The wooden shutters, casement windows, sash windows, loft staircases and bullnose porch awnings reflect a time when architecture took into account the weather – cool verandas meant a cool interior during the heat of summer and the shutters block out the warm air. It is such a pity that most modern houses in this country no longer have verandas – they are regarded as expensive ‘add-ons’. Apart from the delightful architecture, I was struck by this open invitation to browse relics of bygone days – alas, there was no time to indulge on this visit!

The beautifully constructed sandstone Dutch Reformed Church is impressive. Originally built in 1857, it was declared a national monument in 1991.

Its clock keeps accurate time too – not a common expectation anymore!

Bougainvilleas abound. This multi-coloured hedge …

Almost matched a load of grapes …

Piled on a trailer.

Vineyards are so close that they seem to form an integral part of the town.

We didn’t even scratch the surface of the attractions this small town has to offer – which means a return visit is a must.