A PATH TO NOWHERE

This is our garden path to nowhere. Nowhere, because during this lockdown period we cannot go out for walks and so the gate remains shut.

We can glimpse an empty world beyond the gate – no pedestrians, no dogs and hardly any vehicles pass by anymore. It is a beautifully shady place to be when the day becomes unpleasantly hot. If I stand still for a while and look up I might see Cape White-eyes flitting through the canopy of trees; I saw a Black-backed Puffback there recently; a pair of Knysna Turacos might jump across from one branch to another if I am lucky; and yesterday I was alerted to several Black-eyed Bulbuls arguing with each other in the crown of the Cape Chestnut tree – the leaves of which are in the foreground.

Looking out of the gate, I might see vehicles passing along the road into town – a surprising number of them given the current restrictions on movement. There is evidence of neglect: see how tall the grass has grown on the verge.

Not even the Urban Herd has been around to graze in the grassy area below our street. The path extending from our garden steps suffers from equal neglect with grass growing between the stones and the Tecoma capensis threatening to take over. The darker leaves come from a Bougainvillea that crept through from our neighbour’s garden a few years ago and needs to be trimmed again before it too lays claim to the space no longer used. If I am not careful, and if the lockdown is extended even further, the vegetation will be akin to the hedge that grew around the castle whilst Sleeping Beauty slept for a hundred years!

I don’t live in a castle, but if you peep through the gate and up the path you catch a glimpse of my home.

The lawn has not been mowed and grass is claiming its space between the stones here too. Home is where the heart is: this is my haven and the garden around it my heaven. It is here that I find peace while watching the birds; exercise by pruning and weeding; joy in watching geckos; an outlet for my creativity as I scribble in the shade of the trees or try to photograph butterflies and bees.

Yes, at the moment this is a path to nowhere. The lockdown is making us more aware of what lies withing: a cornucopia of love, adventure, discovery and peace.

IMPOSING GARDEN GATE

This rather imposing garden gate caught my eye recently.

A paper sign reads along the lines of: Please use the gate next door. This gate does not work. Then I wonder, has the stone work shifted? The wooden gate has swollen? The shrubs next to the path have become overgrown?

WAR MEMORIAL: FORT BEAUFORT

The town of Fort Beaufort, in the Eastern Cape, was established as a military post by Lt Col H.M Scott of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1822. It was named in honour of the 5th Duke of Beaufort, father of Lord Charles Somerset, then Governor of the Cape, and is situated at the confluence of the Kat and Brak Rivers. The War Memorial there takes the form of the Cross of Sacrifice, a simple yet effective memorial to those from the area who died during the First and Second World Wars.

Surprisingly, the bronze plaques and cross on this memorial are still in place – so many memorials and graves all over the country have been plundered by unscrupulous scrap metal thieves!

The Cross of Sacrifice was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield for the then Imperial War Graves Commission. It is mounted on octagonal base and takes the form of an elongated Latin cross on which a stylized bronze long-sword, point down, is fastened to the front. This form of memorial has been used in Commonwealth war cemeteries all over the world.

The surrounding area is fenced and, despite the drought, is reasonably well-kept. There is an unlocked entrance gate.

This has an interesting detail in the top corners, showing the ravages of time and benign neglect.

WAGON WHEELS

It is significant that the first governor of the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck, noted in his diary on the 4th August 1652 that he had sent men out to make a road “for the wagon to transport wood” for it reminds us that there were no roads at the time, nor would there be any for the next 150 years. Dr. Malcolm Mitchell points out in an article published in the January/February 2014 issue of Civil Engineering that “the ox wagons of the time merely follow[ed] the footpaths and game trails over the mountains.” The two passes I have already highlighted, Uniondale Poort and Meirings Poort, are examples of this.

Wagon transport has been integral to the early development of South Africa. Not only did the early settlers move their families as well as their goods into the untamed country by ox-wagon, but wagons were the most effective means of conducting trade for many years until the system of railways and roads was opened up. It is thus not surprising to find remnants of old wagons dotted about the country.

Several examples are still preserved in museums.

The part of wagons found most commonly are the wheels – they are symbolic of adventure, overcoming apparently insurmountable obstacles, and are visual reminders of our past history. Wagon wheels – and the stylised form of them – formed the theme of our self-catering accommodation in Calitzdorp.

De Wawielhuis (The wagon wheel house) lived up to its name, with the specially designed gates:

Wagon wheels in the garden:

There is something ‘romantic’ in the sense of having an idealised view of the past wrapped up in wagon wheels. Given that De Wawielhuis offered comfortable accommodation after a long journey  – and the hospitality we received there was delightful – the name is an apt one!