Platberg the Free State’s own Table Mountain

The Platberg, the Free State’s own “Table Mountain”, overlooks the town of Harrismith. It literally means the flat-mountain; the 2377m high inselberg is a landmark & forms an imposing backdrop to the town.  It is an extension of the eastern foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. Its western slopes & the summit of the mountain are a nature reserve with a number of endemic/near-endemic alpine plants that are unique to the region. The reserve is also home to eland, black wildebeest, blesbok & mountain reedbuck.

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In October Harrismith welcomes outdoor sports enthusiasts to the town to participate in one of South Africa’s toughest running events: the Platberg Marathon also known as the Platberg Mountain Race. The history of the race is legendary. In 1922 local residents, incensed by a remark from a British Major who disparagingly referred to the Platberg as “that little hill of yours”, challenged a soldier to a race to the summit in less than one hour. Major Belcher accepted, won the challenge & challenge & to this day his floating trophy is awarded to the first person to reach the Platberg’s summit top in what has become a prestigious & grueling cross-country race and is known as the Platberg Mountain Marathon. This arguably is the ‘toughest in the world’ route as it climbs approximately 600m in 5 kilometers to the summit of Platberg (2377m) The race is the oldest in South Africa, older than the Comrades Marathon.

Platberg’s altitude ranges from 1900m to 2394m. The surface area covers approximately 3000ha. The slopes are steep with numerous vegetated gullies and boulder green slopes below vertical cliffs that are 20m to 45m high. Waterfalls cascade down the southern cliffs after rain. A permanent stream arising from the Gibson Dam on the undulating plateau flows off the escarpment and cascades as a waterfall.

From a distance, Platberg appears to have a distinct flat top. However, once on the summit the plateau is found to be undulating, with rolling grass-covered slopes.

Platberg was known “Mount D’Urban” till about 1850. The name then changed to   Taba’Nchu (Tafelberg) but the name Platberg stuck.

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An interesting fact is that the hagiographer who was sending from Platberg during the Anglo-Boer War could be read in Escourt.
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It towers about 2000 feet above the town with a dolerite cape and halfway up its slopes can be seen cave-sandstone beds, with their characteristic incipient caves.
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Above the Alexandra plantation is the only real cave, namely the Zeeland Cave as in the main picture of this collage.  On Spur is running out to the west and is known as Palm Grove see left bottom and a close-up next to it.  The Swiss cave in line with the Khyber Pass cuts aeons ago out of the solid rock by the stream which flows below it, or one might say, between the two halves is shown in the below pictures next to the Spur. The picture on the bottom right is  close-up.
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The picture at the top right is the round Turkey cave, set high in the cliff and entry requires a cool head and strong arms, but success gives a wonderful sense of achievement and a magnificent view of the mountains in that quarter. A close-up is shown under that. .
The Dining cave is a large over-hang with a monkey path running round a good part of it.  It is the recognized resting place before attempting the last part of the climb up the One Man Pass on the right top.
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It has wooded kloofs, filled with ferns and flowers, Agapanthus, Watsonias, Kniphofias, Leonotis, Selago, Phygelius and many others.

Woody patches of Leucosidea, Budleia, Kiggelaria, Polygala, Heteromorpha and Rhus shrubs, as well as the indigenous Mountain Bamboo Thamnocalamus tessellates, grow along the base of the cliffs. The shrub land vegetation is concentrated on the cool side of Platberg on sandstone of the Clarens Formation, in gullies, on screen slopes, mobile boulder beds, and on rocky ridges, Shrubs and trees also occur in a riparian habitat in the south-facing cleft, in which the only road ascends steeply to the summit. An occasional Yellow wood, a sad relic of the many that once flourished here, can be found.

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The Rhodesian Flame Lilly (Littonia Modesta) is a climbing perennial of up to 1 meter. It is found in tall grass on forest margin at 4800feet. It flowers in January and is very rare and is protected in KwaZulu-Natal. What makes this lily so exceptional is that it has also been found on the back slopes of Platberg.
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The waterfalls during the rainy season

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There are a number of passes running through the mountain.

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The most popular pass is called One Mans Pass, so called because from a distance an isolated column of rocks standing out against the skyline presents the appearance of a single person standing upright. Up this Pass lies the route for those taking part in the annual mountain race held each October.
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Zig-Zag Pass holds a romantic tale used to be told of a large rock, roughly four feet square, which could be seen at the foot of the Zig-Zag pass, a little towards the west. On it the words ‘Iris Isabelle” was deeply cut. The story ran that a newcomer in this country climbed up and down the Pass and them, wearied out, fell asleep in the shadow of the rock. As he slept he dreamed of the girl he left behind and on waking he carved her name in the rock. But the Isabelle Rock, as it was called is now no more seen. It was probably crushed for use when the mountain Drive was first made in about 1925.  The Zig Zag pass is visible just right of the Z-shaped rock formation and was utilized to descend from the mountain.

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The longest and the easiest is the Donkey Pass. It was previously known as the Flat Rock Pass which leads up to the huge Robert Gibson Dam, ear the eastern end of the mountain. In the past farmers would hire grazing on the summit and the story is told of a tremendous storm which burst on the summit and caused a herd of some thirty cattle to move before it. As still heavier sheets of rain fell the animals quickened their pace in an effort to escape. Moving blindly towards the edge of the cliff they fell to their death on the rocks 200 feet below. As the leaders felt the irresistible pressure of those behind them.
The Donkey pass which was constructed in the early 1900’s using donkeys – which is where it got its name from, consists of two concrete strips, with a radical 3 km ascent.   From the onset, due to its steepness, the Donkey Pass is only accessible via four-wheel drive vehicles & equipment. When you look back from the top, this pass beautifully frames the glittering Sterkfontein Dam & Drakensberg Mountains.
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Die  Khyber pass reminds of the sight of a gun. It was named after the Khyber pas in India.

The acting Governor, HF Wilson and his sister came to plant the first trees and suggested that the plantation should be called the Alexandra Forest after the Queen. The suggestion was adopted but the name was never in general use it was better known as the Government Forestry. On this occasion tea was served in the area set aside for the nursery and for many years afterwards townspeople were allowed to make fires there and have picnics and move freely about the whole area.

Seeds of the trees came from the Cape, Transvaal Europe and the United State of America, Australia and from Paris, France. 38 varieties were planted. Within 3 years the whole area had been divided into 12 acre blocks with wagon roads between, fences had been put up, pipes or drains laid down and a dam made. By 1920 a quarter of a million trees had been planted in the streets, the Park, the Golf course and the commonage, at the Old Homestead, to the Gymkhana and the polo clubs and to the SA Railways.

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In the early days picnics were very popular. Perhaps because houses were not very comfortable, and had few of the conveniences which today are considered essentials, the early inhabitants of the town found that one of their greatest pleasures was getting out-doors and going for picnics. Picnics were often arranged to the “Flat Rock” and people could climb to the Gibson Dam.   Akkerbos, near the base of Donkey Pass, is a grove of oak trees that provided a picnic site during a Royal Tour by the British monarchy, including Elizabeth II in 1947.

The Gibson Dam and the Water pans on Platberg

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An improvement by the British Military’s Royal Engineers helped to improve the supply of more water to the town. A dam on Platberg, built by the Royal Engineers, was named the Gibson Dam after Mr. Gibson, a member of the town board. The wall of the dam was subsequently raised three times thereby increasing its capacity to 540 million liters.  The main water reservoirs were constructed in 1904 on the highest point on King’s Hill. Water was pumped from the stream which flows through the then Botanic Gardens. From the reservoir it flowed downhill to the buildings on King’s Hill. The reservoir foundation stone is seen between the two reservoirs. 
The water supply of the town, which is always an important matter, was obtained from springs and surface water collected in the upland basins of the Platberg. The water flowed down the cliff through a deep Krantz and forms a clear mountain stream, which passed through bush and over basalt boulders to the town reservoirs.  The large dam The Platberg dam with a wall 200ft long 9ft high and capable of impounding 120 million gallons of water was built by the Royal Engineers and completed in 1904. An account of 386GBP was presented to the council of Harrismith.
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Hawkins and Von During Dams – The dam was built in 1899 and named after Captain Harlan Hawkins. He was also in command of “Harrismith Volunteer Light Horse” from 1914 to 1918.
In the last years of the century the Council once again took thought for the water supply of the town, and planned a storage dam. This dam is today known as the Von During Dam, after a very popular mayor in office long after its construction, but it was felt desirable for him to have a memorial of some sort.
Mr. Hawkins was responsible for making the dam, and pointed out to the Council that a second dam high up the stream could be built. His suggestion was adopted and the present Hawkins dam came into being

Blockhouse still stands guard over the Dams  Blokhuis Collage

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During 1963 water was brought to the town via water furrow. This changed in July 1877 when the the furrow were paved with sandstone.

Thanks to Biebie de Vos for his pictures of our beautiful mountain.

Thanks to Adam Truscott for the painting

Thanks to Dan Wessels for the beautiful fauna pictures.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

 

Story of a Free State Farm School

“History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illuminates reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and bring us tidings of antiquity” Cicero.

Evidence of history is all around us; the farms schools we attend and the stories told by the children’s family.

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We attended farm schools as children. Hennie attended the Kruispad school close to Reitz in the Free State and I attended Kameel school in the North West. When we learned about an old Farm School in our area it was time to pay a visit.

We arrived at the address and realized that we have taken many pictures over the last couple of years of this building, not knowing that we will one day learn more about it.

Situated on a farm on the banks of the Meul River it sure brings back a lot of memories. The need to start a school was realized in the late 1800’s and early years of the 1900’s. Originally the school was in an old building close to the farm house. The farm owner showed us around and first school was in a packed stone building. No motart between die stones. The walls was not built up and on the one side was a shed with fodder for the animals that brought the children to school.

For many years the Farm School and the teachers would educate the kids of the surrounding farms. The school and the children and the farms were integrated and they would walk or ride with a horse cart to school.

The teacher had living quarters attached to the school . The stove chimney is still visible and look at the wallpaper. Remember not everyone had to privilege of a any sort of vehicle – not even a teacher way back then. Normally teachers would stay in the house of the family on which farm the school is situated.

The teacher’s quarters attached to the school and a door that leads into the classrooms.

The children sitting in this school has long gone passed on but their descendants still live in the area and the education that their ancestors received in this little school still remains after they have forgotten what was learned in the school. The knowledge was passed on from generation to generation.

DSC_0095The entrance to the school. Thinking of all the little feet that step up the steps to attend school.

The Burgher Monument, Harrismith

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The Chevy pays a visit to the Burgher Monument

The Burgher monument was inaugurated on 8 November 1938.

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On Friday morning 1 March 1940, six months after the beginning of the Second World War, Harrismith awoke with the upsetting news that the Burgher Monument had been damaged: pieces of the kneeling burgher’s hat and rifle had been broken off. Angry people were already gathered around the Monument, more followed out of curiosity, wild threats were made and more than one fiery fist fight had to be stopped.

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Protesters on horseback

Although it could never be proved, persistent rumours had it that it was one of the two MacFadyen brothers who had got to the Monument with a piece of water pipe. They had been socialising in the Central Hotel on that Thursday evening before they were to depart to the front in North Africa the following morning. In die city hall, across the street from the hotel, a function was in full swing. Late that night they departed from the hotel, tipsy and upset with the Afrikaners’ apparent disapproval of the war in which they, as allies, were to place their lives at risk. Lively dance music from the city hall lured them to see what was going on. When they reached the Burgher Monument in front of the city hall, one brother froze, refusing to walk under the Boers’ granite arch. In the heat of the moment he grabbed a nearby piece of water pipe, and with his brother’s help, climbed onto the top of the arch. He aimed a massive blow at the burgher’s head, which he missed, but smashed off a piece of the wide-rimmed hat as well as the barrel of the mauser.

The leadership of the English-speaking community of Harrismith was most upset and immediately began collecting funds to repair the damage. Crankshaw Brothers, the original constructor of the Monument, repaired the barrel free of charge.

One would have thought that this would be the end of the matter. Not so! There was great disagreement about the fortune of the Monument between the followers of the two political parties of that time: The South African Party (SAP), the ruling party of General Jan Smuts, and the National Party (NP). While the SAP was quite satisfied that the Monument be repaired, the NP totally disagreed.

The neatly-repaired barrel was broken off again and hidden by members of the Ossewa Brandwag (OB), an organisation working in close co-operation with the NP. It was decided to make a political martyr of the statue: if would be left incomplete as a remembrance of injustice. The broken-off pieces of the statue were hidden, in great secrecy, in a loose sandstone brick in a wall on a farm in the district.

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The new marble plaque

A new marble plaque was made with an inscription in Afrikaans, stating that the Burgher Monument had been violated on the morning of 1 March 1940 by the enemies of the Boer nation. Its inauguration was accompanied by great ceremony and political fanfare. The guest speaker was Mr. JC van Rooy, chairman of the Afrikaner Broederbond. Advocate Blackie Swart, a future state president, was also a speaker at the ceremony.

As a compromise between the two Afrikaner camps, it was decided to place the Monument in the hands of the Voortrekker Commando of Harrismith. A document was compiled, signed and the necessary stamps applied in order to make it official.

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The broken-off pieces of the statue were put into safekeeping by the firm Cloete and Neveling Attorneys, where it remains to this day.

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The broken of barrel

I think we have the most interesting monument in the country! By far!

Thanks to Leon Strachan and Jeannie Wasserman Cook for the information.

For more information we suggest that you read Leon Strachan’s book

Krygers en Skietpiete

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

Grandfather of Aviation and a caravan

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John Weston was a South African aeronautical engineer, pioneer aviator, farmer and soldier. He travelled in a motor caravan that he designed and built himself with the help of his family.

Weston was born on 17 June 1873, in an ox wagon at Fort Marshall, South of Vryheid, Kwa-ZuluNatal.  He was married to Elizabeth Maria Jacoba Weston (nee Roux) a direct descendent of Adam Tas. The couple had three children, Anna, Kathleen and Max.

Known as the THE “GRANDFATHER OF AVIATION IN SOUTH AFRICA

John Weston, a civil engineer, began the construction of his own aeroplane in 1907 at Brandfort, in the Free State. This was the first South African built aeroplane. He lacked an engine with enough power so he dismantled the aircraft and shipped it to France. In France he fitted a Gnome rotary engine (50hp) and flew it successfully (in France) in 1910. On 16 June 1911 John made the first flight in Kimberley establishing a South African non-stop flight record of eight-and-a-half minutes in his Weston-Farman biplane.

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On his return to South Africa in 1933, Weston bought a farm in the Bergville district, near the Sterkfontein dam.

At the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918) Weston was appointed ground officer in charge of landing grounds in South West Africa and prepared an airfield with hangars and workshops at Walvisbay. For services rendered to the Greek Ministry of Marine he was made an honorary vice-admiral in the Royal Hellenic Navy.

In 1918, John Weston who is often glorified by the title of admiral, took his family on an amazing adventure in this motorhome. From about 1920 for 12 years, he and his family travelled with a motor caravan.

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 It doesn’t look like much, from the outside. And, if the truth be told, the interior is enough to give anyone claustrophobia. Yet, remarkably, this ingenious camper van once travelled the world − the ‘seven-by-fourteen-foot mansion’ ferrying the pioneering Weston family on the kinds of far-flung adventures many of us can only dream about. Even the girls are handy mechanics. The result has been a neat and compact arrangement of luggage, folding bed, ext, all of which can be removed from the chassis proper with the minimum trouble in 10 minutes.

The ‘Weston caravan’, as it’s called, is an extraordinary example of our forefathers’ tenacity and ingenuity, and can be found in the museum of the picturesque little town of Winterton, KwaZulu-Natal.

The ‘motorised caravan’ took him and his family on various journeys, including a 15-month Trans-African trip: an odyssey fraught with challenges and tribulations. They had run-ins with elephants, occasionally had to float their vehicle across rivers on logs, and on several occasions, ‘entire villages of more than a hundred natives’ had to dig them out of mud and thick sand, and pull them up river banks. And, in those days, there were no fuel stations dotted along the route; and there was no easy access to water or spares shops.

After fifteen months spent in caravanning from Cape Town to Londen. During the caravanning trip they had suffered misfortunes in the Southern Sudan when the rains broke later than usual. Weston broke a bone in his foot and the two daughters were laid up with injuries.

On the family’s caravan trip Weston used to fly the South African blue ensign from a long bamboo pole on the sides of his “South-Afrika” as he called the caravan conversion of his Commer truk, the following inscription was painted:

“Our mansion: seven by fourteen feet

Our field: the whole world

Our family: mankind”

 

On Friday night 21 July 1950 Weston and his wife (70) were in the dining-room of the family house of “Admiralty Estate” when they were attacked by three masked men. Mrs Weston regained unconscious three days late in the Harrismith hospital. John at the age of 78 on  24 July 1950 went on his last mission. It was his wish that his funeral should be quiet and simple. His body was cremated and no last word spoken.              Lily recovered from the attack although certain permanent injuries persisted until she passed away on 14th April 1967 at the age of  91.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

Kaalvoet Vrou Monument

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Oliviershoek Pass

Wanneer jy voor die monument staan besef jy dat die vrou klein van postuur is. Haar skouers is smal, byna asof sy koud kry in haar gegote gewaad. Sy is geklee in haar Voortrekkerkappie en lang rok. Onder haar rok steek haar fyn kaalvoete uit.

Haar regtervoet trap op ‘n klip. ‘n Mens verwag amper ‘n gebalde vuis of ‘n intimiderende gesig wat luidkeels uitroep, maar alles behalwe. Haar arms hang langs haar sye, verseker nie die lyftaal van ‘n veglustige aktivis nie. Sy het ‘n tipe kyk wat met jare se ondervinding kom. Liefdevol, wys, sag, geduldig en omdat die geskiedenis dit laat deurskemer, maar met ‘n goeie skoot vasberadenheid op.

Beeldhouer was Anton van Wouw

Die kaalvoet vrou is ‘n interessante hartseer storie van Susanna Catherina Smit. Susanna was die suster van Gert Maritz en die vrou van eerwaarde Erasmus Smit wat as die Voortrekkers se predikant opgetree het.

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Die groep vroue was deel van Piet Retief se trek wat besluit het om die groen land van Natal as weivelde te kies. Volgens oorlewering het van die Voortrekker-vroue met ‘n Britse kommissaris in ‘n woordewisseling betrokke geraak. Hulle het met hom gestry omdat hulle nie onder Britse gesag wou staan nie en gesê dat vryheid vir hulle meer werd was as hulle lewens. Dit is toe dat Susanna Smit die bekende woorde uiter, “Liewer kaalvoet terug oor die Drakensberge as om onder Britse beheer te staan.” Susanna is egter in die destydse Natal dood, wat beteken dat sy nooit kaalvoet terug oor die Drakensberge geloop het nie.

Tot ‘n volgende keer

Groetnis

Hennie & Sandra

Pecans are just an excuse

DSC_0325Driving over the Van Reenens pass on the N3 to Sandspruit Farm stall. An array of nuts and dried fruit awaits you. The staff always smiling tells about what is available.

Once the shopping was done and time for a turn around we decided to do a road trip through the Zandrivier Valley. We cross the old steel bridge making a dirt road our friend.

Love to share this recipe

Chocolate Pecan Nut Pie

Crust: use 250g. rich short crust

Filling:   125ml. cocoa power, 5ml vanilla essence, 300g can evaporated milk, 375ml caramel brown sugar, 3 extra large eggs, 60g butter melted, 250ml of pecan nuts.

  1. Crust: Prepare the pastry and roll it out to a thickness of 3mm on a lightly floured surface. Line a greased 24cm diameter loose-base baking pan.
  2. Cover airtight with clingfilm and chill for 1 hour. Pick the base, line with greaseproof paper and fill with dried beans. Bake blind in a preheated oven at 190oC for 10 min. Remove paper and beans and bake for a further 5 min until the pasty is golden brown. Reduce oven temperature to 180oC.
  3. Filling: Mix all the ingredients, except the pecan nuts, and spoon into the prepared crust. Arrange the nuts.
  4. Bake for about 55 min or until the filling is cooked and set. Leave to cool and serve luke warm or cold with cream or ice-cream on top.

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A low water bridge crossing the Sand River 
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A bald ibis in the river bed 
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Piolons and fodder bales 

 

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Beautiful animals grazing 
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St Joseph church with its twin bell towers. 

 

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Around the missionary the surrounding wall is stone packed.
Always a surprise when a sparkle of red

Thank you for spending time with us on our road trip.

You can read more about a trip via the Sand River Valley to Bluebank

Till next time

Hennie and Sandra