As one drives from Grahamstown towards Fort Beaufort on the R67, one passes over the Ecca Pass, which takes its name from the Ecca River, a tributary of the Great Fish River. The pass has considerable geological, historical and botanical value, with several interesting things of note. One is that the road over the pass is one of several military roads originally built by Andrew Geddes Bain in the 1800s. This was known as the Queen’s Road.
Another is that Bain became so interested in the rocks uncovered during the construction of the road that he worked out the stratigraphy of what we now know as the Karoo System and named the rock type at the foot of the pass the ‘Ecca Group’. This comprises approximately 250-million-year-old sedimentary blue shales and mudstones. Most exciting is that he found several fossil reptiles. Yet another interesting aspect of this area is that it is one of the few protected areas of the Albany thicket, which is a dense, spiny shrub land abundant in succulents. Among these are some very prickly euphorbias, such as this one, which might be Euphorbia heptagona (Bokmelkbos).
The Ecca Nature Reserve was proclaimed in 1985. Although trails were initially laid out and marked, these are now difficult to locate. Sadly, the bronze plaque on a cairn at the top of the Ecca Pass that was erected in 1964 by the Historical Monuments Commission in honour of Andrew Geddes Bain has since been removed by vandals. That aside, it is easy to see that one of the main plants in the Ecca Nature Reserve is Spekboom (Portulacaria afra).
Interesting flowering plants to see there include aloes.
The Strelitzia reginae (Crane flower) look particularly beautiful seen in their natural habitat.
Much lower, on the ground, one might see the very attractive flowers of the Common Gazania (Gazania krebsiana) peeping through the vegetation.
Post script: As not everyone reads the comments when coming across an older post, I am including a list of Bain’s construction works that I posted in one of the comments below. He was responsible for the following:
- Ouberg/Oudeberg Pass near Graaff-Reinet 1832
- Van Ryneveld Pass near Graaff-Reinet 1830s
- Ecca Pass from Grahamstown to Fort Beaufort (The Queen’s Road) 1837
- Michell’s Pass near Ceres through the Skurweberg, following the course of the Breede River 1846–48
- Bain’s Kloof Pass near Wellington 1848–52
- Gydo Pass due north of Ceres up the Skurweberg
- Houw Hoek Pass from Elgin to Botrivier
- Katberg Pass near Fort Beaufort 1860–64
Manning John 2009 Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa. Struik Nature.
Smith Gideon F, Crouch Neil R, Figueiredo Estrela 2017 Field Guide to Succulents in Southern Africa. Struik Nature.
Van Wyk Braam and van Wyk Piet 2013 Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. Struik Nature.
The list of Bain’s construction projects comes from Wikipedia.