We set off under a leaden sky in a temperature of 11°C for another trip to Bathurst (see also NOT A DROP TO DRINK), driving along the rough, winding tarred road that seemed to narrow in places because of the waist high brown grass growing right to the edge.
Bathurst was described by a local as a “unique amalgam of an English village and a South African dorp”. Funnily enough, one can still find Bathurst on older globes of the world – possibly because Sir Rufane Donkin chose the area with an eye to it becoming an administrative centre for the region.
It never did, yet has played an important role in the history of this part of the Eastern Cape. Several national monuments in the village attest to this. Among them are the St. John’s Anglican Settler Church, the Methodist Church, the primary school, the Pig and Whistle Inn, the Toposcope, the Powder Magazine, and Bradshaw’s Mill.
A group of us were being hosted by Historic Bathurst and gathered first in St. John’s Church to hear a more official account of its history and to look at both the building and its various commemorative plaques in a more leisurely fashion. The church warden mentioned the diminishing congregation despite the strong family connections in the area, evident in the gravestones within the church cemetery.
As mentioned in a previous blog, this church sheltered about 600 women and children for six days during the 6th Frontier War, while the men and cattle took their chances outside. The church was not yet complete then, so there were no pews to take up space, for example.
It was completed in 1887 and so one can imagine the crush of 300 fugitives seeking shelter there for nine months during the 7th Frontier War!
As the weather was inclement, we made our way to Bradshaw’s Mill while there was still some sunshine. This interesting structure was originally used as a wool mill – said to be the start of the wool industry in South Africa – and later as a grinding mill.
The nearby mill pond is an attractive introduction to the technology of bygone years. Even though the internal mechanism is missing, it is wondrous to see the enormous wooden wheel turning thanks to water power!
Having enjoyed a tea break at the Pig and Whistle Inn and a light lunch at The Ploughman, attached to the Agricultural Museum, we left the rest of the party to go in search of two fortified farm houses in the area.
Our quest took us on a maze of unmarked dirt roads that veined the countryside. We dodged potholes and drove through shallow muddy drifts, finding our way by instinct and by stopping a couple of vehicles – scarce on a Saturday afternoon.
The first was Barville Park, where the farmer directed us to the house not far from his home and said we were welcome to photograph it. He did not mention the enormous bull I would have to skedaddle from very quickly after opening the gate! Helmeted guineafowl scattered upon our arrival only to regroup behind us.
While the loopholes have been glazed, they remain a visible image of what conditions must have been like for those early settlers during the Frontier Wars.
By the time we had taken a few wrong turns, back-tracked and at last found Lombard’s Post, the weather was closing in rapidly and light rain had begun to fall.
Mission accomplished, we nosed home along the Southwell road that would eventually wind up the side of the mountain to Stone’s Hill. It was in the fading light at the end of the day that we were stopped in our tracks by a small herd of Sable Antelope – the cherry on top of a long adventurous outing!