BACK TO BATHURST

BACK TO BATHURST

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.

millpond

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!

Bradshawsmill

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.

road

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.

barvillepark

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!

sable

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NOT A DROP TO DRINK

NOT A DROP TO DRINK

Day Six of us having no water in our town. That, combined with the first cheerfully sunny day for a while, encouraged us to take a drive out to some sites of historical interest in the area.

The first stop along the road towards Fort Beaufort was the Governor’s Kop signal tower (see 21 March 2014). Given our lack of water at home, it was pleasing to see evidence of ground water in several small farm dams en route, spray irrigation and even a working windmill or two.

windmill

The wild pomegranate (Burchellia bubalina) are coming into bloom, as are the coral trees – both Erythrina caffra and Erythrina lysistemon, providing bright splashes of colour in the veld that is slowly shaking off its winter mantle.

We turned off the tar onto a dirt road leading into the Coombs Valley in search of the well-known Clay Pits, where Xhosas traditionally used to collect yellow and red ochre with which to decorate themselves. The directions we had been given proved to be inaccurate. While I was photographing an old sneeze wood fence post, a passing farmer stopped to offer assistance. The Clay Pits happened to be on his farm another 4km away! How serendipitous that was.

fence post

They were not far from the farm house and so we walked through the veld to see them. I am not sure what I had expected, but it was not a heap of yellow and reddish stones next to a deep hollow, now overgrown with trees and shrubs as no-one seeks ochre here anymore.

claypits

Next, we drove through the beautiful Coombs Valley along a rough dirt road cutting through game farms before turning into the equally beautiful Trappes Valley leading towards Bathurst. Apart from the ubiquitous Vervet Monkeys, we saw herds of Black Wildebeest, Blesbuck and Impala.

Large swathes of indigenous bush hug the hillsides with flocks of Cape Glossy Starlings, Speckled Mousebirds and Crowned Hornbills flitting in between.

crowned hornbill

The dense cover of vegetation rouses admiration for the 1820 Settlers and others who were dumped in this (what to them must have been) inhospitable terrain with no amenities and expected to make a living for themselves.

It is disturbing, however, to note the infiltration of exotics such as wattle, eucalyptus, conifers and even palm trees – some possibly planted by those early inhabitants – along the road and water courses.

The Kowie museum in Port Alfred is housed in a beautiful dressed stone building that once was the station for the railway between Port Alfred and Grahamstown. This was officially opened on 1st October 1884 and remained in private hands until the government took it over in 1913.

Kowie Museum

All that remains of the original fort in Port Alfred is a low stone wall, now incorporated as the boundary wall of a private home in Hards Street.

stone wall

We stopped at the historical Pig and Whistle Inn in Bathurst for a late lunch. This is said to be the oldest pub in South Africa, having been in operation since 1832.

pig and whistle inn

There is a leisurely aspect to life in the countryside. The warm hospitality we’d received from the farmers in the morning had given us a taste of it. Instead of ‘popping into’ the historic St. John’s Anglican Church in Bathurst, known for sheltering women and children during the Sixth and Seventh Frontier Wars, we met the assistant verger who gave us a detailed tour of the church along with background stories of local interest and who pointed out the grave of the man who originally built the Pig and Whistle.

bell at St Johns Church

Leaving much later than intended, we wound our way further up the road to Battery Hill, where only the Powder Magazine remains of the original fort. This commands a superb view across the valley to the ocean at Port Alfred on the one side and across the Coombs Valley to Governor’s Kop on the other.

powder magazine

On our way back, we stopped briefly at the Bathurst Methodist Church, which also sheltered women and children during the Seventh Frontier War.

Our last stop was the Toposcope, sadly so vandalised now that few of the direction plaques are of any use. By now we were being blown about by the blast of the cold front that had been edging closer for most of the day. The strong wind brought with it curtains of haze and mizzle that blotted out the landscape in its wake and flattened the grass around the Toposcope. The sky clouded over completely and the temperature dropped to 8°C.

Bathurst toposcope

It was clearly time to drive through the rain and to head for home – where not a drop of water came out of the taps!