GRAHAMSTOWN REMEMBRANCE DAY 2018

The day began before 6 a.m. while the morning mist still hugged the hills around Grahamstown and the sun was struggling to break through the cloud cover.

This was when a group of four pipers and two drummers gathered at the 1820 Settlers’ Monument that overlooks the town to join in a world-wide commemoration of the signing of the armistice a hundred years ago.

The annual Remembrance Day Parade took place in Church Square later that morning:

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ANTIQUE BRICK

The area surrounding Grahamstown is rich in clay deposits and so it was no surprise to find a thriving pottery industry when we arrived here.  It employed a number of people – much needed in this small town – and produced ceramics under the brand name Drostdy Ware. Sadly, the Grahamstown Pottery closed many years ago. Even then trucks carrying enormous bags of kaolin used to grind their way up the hill en route to Gauteng, where it is used both for the ceramic industry and as a composite in the manufacture of paper. At one time this area produced over half of the kaolin required for these industries.

A relic of a past industry that provided local employment is this clay brick – photographed in Port Alfred, although some of the older homes in Grahamstown still sport these on garden paths or verandas. It points to a time when the area was more self-sufficient because there were no alternatives.

This is a nod to the past:

HERITAGE SITES IN GRAHAMSTOWN: BOTANICAL GARDENS

The Botanical Gardens in Grahamstown are situated on land granted to the Albany Botanical Gardens by the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir George Cathcart, with the transfer of Erf 3282 being passed on 19th October 1853. More land was allocated to the project a year later and the gardens have expanded since then.

An avenue of oak trees runs through the centre of the gardens – clearly these are replacements of the original trees. This was the oldest plantation of oaks in or near Grahamstown at the time. This avenue historically formed an important carriageway from Lucas Avenue to Mountain Drive.

The gardens, affectionately known as ‘Bots’, but now officially called Makana Botanical Gardens, are adjacent to the beautiful campus of Rhodes University. Owing to the neglect of the gardens over a number of years, a rehabilitation and redevelopment programme was initiated by SANBI between 2004 and 2006. The Makana District (formerly Albany) granted Rhodes University a 99 year lease on the understanding that the gardens would be maintained by that institution during that time.

For some time afterwards the gardens were a joy to walk through with a variety of indigenous flowers blooming at different times of the year and an interesting array of paved paths winding up towards the top of Gunfire Hill. The paths are still there but an air of genteel neglect is pervasive.

Given the prolonged drought, it is perhaps understandable that the lily ponds have been drained. One of these lily ponds was created to commemorate Captain Fordyce (who died in the Amatolas in 1851 in the War of Mlanjeni). Only the hardiest of flowers are blooming in the overgrown and neglected garden beds. One being Felicia aethiopica.

The other is a Sour Fig.

A number of mature trees have survived both drought and neglect – there is a lovely grove of Erythrina caffra.

The very tall Bunya Pine Tree (Araucaria bidwillii) near the entrance has a sign warning visitors to be careful of falling pine cones. Read the sign and you will understand why!

This and other exotic trees hark back to an era when the gardens showcased plants from all over the world.

A military cemetery, dating from 1819 to 1822, lies within the grounds of the botanical gardens – overgrown with grass and weeds. A seedling white ironwood is growing right next to one of the head stones.

Apart from one, the remaining headstones can no longer be read because of weathering and the growth of lichen on them. The earliest grave is that of Captain R. Gethin, who died in the Battle of Grahamstown in 1819.

These botanical gardens, once part of the Drostdy Estate, are the second oldest in South Africa and bear the status of a Provincial Heritage Site. They were officially proclaimed a National Monument in July 1984.

Interesting background reading about the history of this area can be found at:

https://www.sahra.org.za/sahris/sites/default/files/remoteserver/sahrisdepot/scannedfiles/Part%202%20Vol3%20%209-2-003-2.pdf

 

A COMMUNITY PULLS TOGETHER

A strong Berg wind has blown today, shaking trees, creating eddies of dry leaves on the ground – and fanning a veld fire, funnelling the thick smoke down into the valley to smother our town.

The smoke grew thicker as the wind strengthened and the fire spread across the hills, threatening the hospital, a retirement centre and other buildings. A local school evacuated their scholars when the fire came too close.

It does not take long for a fire to eat its way through tinder dry grass and drought-stricken vegetation when there is a strong wind to egg it on. In no time at all the flames crossed the disused railway line and the smoke billowed upward.

The extent of the fire and the smoke attracted dozens of onlookers – we haven’t experienced such a veld fire so close at hand for a season or so.

Even though all the municipal fire trucks had been fully deployed they couldn’t fill the gaps. This is where the community pulled together. The university bowser came to assist.

Other assistance came from schools, the army base, a neighbouring municipality and even a nearby game reserve.

So much water has been used to fight a blaze when there is already so little to spare.

JUNE 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

This month has been cold and very windy at times. What remains of the lawn is covered with the dried up leaves from the Cape Chestnut and the many Pompon (Dias cotonifolia) trees. The sun rising later and remaining lower above the horizon for longer has meant that the front garden remains in full shade until well past mid-morning. Generally, this means that the birds seek the highest branches to perch on while the sun warms them up and only come down to inspect the seed I have put out much later. This has caused me to change my routine too: I only provide seed at mid-morning, when I take a break for a cup of tea and also try to find warmth in the weak sunlight.

Here a Village Weaver perches on the hanging feeder:

Although there is no fruit in the garden, there must be something to eat for a flock of at least a hundred Redwinged Starlings wheel about the suburb daily, flying from one garden to the next and filling the air with their mellifluous sounds. A flock of a similar size of Laughing Doves gather in the Erythrina caffra in the back garden almost as soon as the rays of the sun reach its uppermost branches. They gradually work their way towards the front garden, fluttering from one tree to another until one or two finally pluck up the courage to settle down to test the crushed mealie seeds sprinkled on the patches of lawn beaten hard and bare by their myriad feet. I can almost tell the time they will arrive: fifteen to twenty minutes after I have sat down.

A pair of Blackeyed Bulbuls usually arrive mid-morning to investigate what is on offer – cut apples are a favourite. Their cheerful calls from within the yellowing foliage of the Pompon trees are always welcome. With most of the aloes having finished blooming, the nectar feeder has become more popular again, attracting the Amethyst Sunbird, Forktailed Drongos, Cape Weavers, and Blackheaded Orioles among others.

My June bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African harrier Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Blackbacked Puffback
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Eurasian Hobby
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Southern Black Tit
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

A DRIVE OUT

It is such a beautifully sunny day that we drove along the Bathurst road this morning and returned via the Belmont Valley road. Here is a very different view of Grahamstown from the one from our side of town. The CBD is on the left and Makana’s Kop is on the right.

The narrow tar road that wends its way along the Rietberg Mountains exposes layers of underlying rock in places, showing evidence of the stresses involved in shaping our landscape.

For most of the way there are no clear shoulders, instead the grass verges grow right to the edge of the tar. During summer, the grass is generally taller than this.

Here the road is about to wind down the very steep Blaauwkrantz Pass.

The reason for our drive was to look at some of the many beautiful aloes that are still in bloom in the veld.

The dirt road that winds through the Belmont Valley passes productive farmland, much of it under drip irrigation. Near the end of our drive along this road, we had to stop and wait for this to move aside for us.