In July this year I decided to go to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown
As I did not want to drive there and back I devised what I considered to be a cunning plan…I would fly to Port Elizabeth and drive back to Johannesburg. It was such a cunning plan that I was sure that this had never been thought of before. But, I was wrong and the full plane and busy roads were to prove that.
Plan B…instead of driving straight back to Jhb, I would break the trip at several towns along the way.
With Willie Nelson’s ‘On the road again’ playing in my head, it was off on the 1st leg of the journey.P.E to Grahamstown. [131km]The only memorable part of this leg was driving past a motel that our family had had a meal at when I was a child.
Grahamstown has not changed that much since my student days, however with the festival on, stallholders and festival goers had taken over the streets.
I saw the play that I had come all the way to see, had something to eat and I was off to Cradock.
The R350 from Grahamstown to Cradock must be the worst signposted road in South Africa.
One ‘CRADOCK’ road sign outside Grahamstown and NOTHING for the next 175kms.
Once I reached the N10, I found another sign and I could breathe a sigh of relief. Hence the reason for me getting a GPS. This will further reduce stress on my next trip.
This road however has the highest police presence in the country. Not to catch motorists, but to apprehend poachers that use the road for night -time hunting!
Cradock has changed very little since I lived and worked there in the 70’s.The hotel that I used to live in was still there. If it had been in a large town, it would probably have been torn down and replaced by a cluster development.
I spent the night at Annie’s Guest House, a delightful establishment in a quiet street off the main road.
The room that I stayed in had recently been refurbished and it had all the mod cons that a weary traveller needs. The bathroom only had a shower but the water was hot and that is all that mattered.
Dinner was delicious, as are most meals in this type of establishment.
I have to admit my motto on this trip was; “If in the Karoo, eat lamb”, and I did!
Mid-winter nightlife in Cradock is non-existent, so early to bed with a good book.
The following morning I had to scrape the ice off my car before sitting down to a full South African breakfast. Again, well prepared and served.
As my next port of call was self-catering, I stopped off at the local supermarket before I left.
To get a true taste of ‘small town SA’ pay a visit to the supermarket. It is most therapeutic. So on your next trip don’t use the shop at the filling station, try the local supermarket.
Going through Colesberg on my way to Gariep Dam [195km] I stopped to buy more lamb for supper.
I also visited the local scrap-yard that contains everything from an incubator to windmill parts and most things in between.
Spend some time there if you can, as it is a welcome distraction from the tedious driving on a flat and soulless highway.
I spent that night at Rose Cottage at Gariep Dam, and what pleasant surprise it turned out to be.
Rose Cottage has been converted into holiday accommodation from one of the cabins used by the workers who built the dam. I could not see the dam from Rose Cottage, however it was only a short drive away. There is a most poignant plaque on the dam wall in memory of workers who died building the dam and whose bodies are buried within the dam wall.
My room had no shower, but it did have a bath the size of a small plunge pool.
It also had a fridge and cooking facilities. I chose to make a braai for supper, as there is nothing better than the smell of meat cooking over an open fire. Especially if it is under the clear and star filled African sky.
Whatever was left from dinner I had for breakfast the following morning.
Now from here I could have driven on to Bloemfontein, but I did not fancy spending the night there.
So I ‘cheated’ and drove a mere 40kms down the road to Springfontein.
Another tiny town that holiday drivers bypass on their quest to get to and from the coast.
Tucked away off the N1 is Prior Grange Guest Farm.
This oasis boasts San Petroglyphs, a lookout post dating back to the Anglo-Boer war and it’s own cricket pitch.
I was told that the local side could stand in for the Proteas.In the off season, sheep graze on the pitch to keep it tidy.
Accommodation here consists of self-contained cottages. Although close to the main house they are spaced far enough apart to offer the occupants all the privacy they need.
All meals are served in the cottages and I had enough food to feed an entire cricket team, and still have some left over for the journey home.
Should you wish to meet the other guests there is a convivial, if somewhat eccentric, pub in which stories and drinks can be enjoyed.
As it is a working merino farm, I got to experience skills that cannot be found at a theme park.
I was really sad to say goodbye to the owners in the morning, and I would suggest spending 2 days there if you can, as there is lots to explore.
The last part of the journey was the final 470 kms back to Johannesburg.This part of the journey was unbroken and rather boring.
The closer I got to Johannesburg the worse the drivers began to behave. I am glad that I had broken my journey as it made the last part bearable.
I found all the establishments I stayed at on the Internet, and was not disappointed by any of them.
Bookings can be made as follows:
Annie’s Guest House, Cradock: Annelise or Pieter.082-881-5241
Rose Cottage, Gariep Dam: Robin van den Berg. 082-822-6847
Prior Grange Guest Farm, Springfontein: Blackie and Sheryl de Swart. 083-310-3284
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