A day in the country (Part 3)

A snap decision was made as we approached the turnoff to Montagu, and I was once again on the familiar road across the plateau that takes me to star parties at Leeuwenboschfontein. Last time I was here, I was lucky enough to see a Black Harrier sitting next to the roadside on a fence post, and we kept our eyes peeled as we sped along this excellent road with very little other traffic. Again, I had to remind myself that it was dead of winter, very cold with snow all around and not the best time of year to go birding, and so we treated this section of the trip as a recce for future drives and to admire the fortitude of our farmers who plough and sow in all conditions to feed the nation.

As we descended Burger’s Pass into the lovely Koo Valley, a patchwork of green and brown stretched ahead, dotted with farm dams filled to the brim after the excellent rains and the orchards will soon be bursting into blossom with the promise of peaches, apricots and perhaps pears to come. I’m not an aficianado of fruit trees and have to rely on heavily laden branches to identify the species! Once again, the Cape Fold mountains surrounded us with twisted evidence of upheavals and I find that I tend to look out for particular formations as markers on these journeys. Despite it being only around 90km from the N1 to Montagu it takes a while to cover this scenic route, and one of the reasons, believe it or not, for this detour was to visit one of my favourite eating stops on a road trip, the Barn on 62. This charming restaurant with its tree-shaded courtyard, peach-pip ground cover and gracious hosts has never disappointed. Although it was already after 4pm and clearing up after the day was in progress (it is winter, after all) we were not hurried in any way and partook of the best baked cheesecake I have ever eaten. Truly worth the trip and they will see me again.

The stop-go between Montagu and Ashton is still in force after many years, but perhaps the end is almost in sight. Certainly it is no hardship to spend 10 minutes parked with windows open in Cogman’s Kloof, breathing in the scent of the thorn trees and listening to the barking of baboons in the kloof nearby. Only a tiny portion of the original old road through the kloof remains clinging to the edge of the cliff face with the low stone wall crumbling back to its original existence, barely wide enough for one car and definitely not able to carry to oversized vehicles of today. It’s hard not to yearn for the days of motoring on these roads in the little Morris Minor!

Having never driven through the Breede River valley in the late afternoon, it was marvellous to have the opportunity to see everything in a different light, the shadows and hills as breathtaking as ever. Again, the road was clear with almost no large trucks and it was pedal to the metal with barely a pause the entire distance through the valley and up Du Toit’s Kloof where long dark shadows loomed and reminded us that the day was almost done, as we entered the Huguenot Tunnel to return to the world on the other side.

The setting sun lay just above the hills as we exited the tunnel, a soft red ball tempered by dust and haze, creating a warm glow that cast its magic over Cape Town. Somehow only the mountains became visible, the buildings sprawling on either side of the N1 merging into the shadows and giving a sense of space and silence as the tyres swallowed up the distance and we approached a twilight sky. By the time we made the descent from Plattekloof for the final stretch into town, the lights were twinkling over the Peninsula, the sky a darkening indigo and an illusion of a warm summer’s evening sprang to mind. How long since we drove anywhere in the dark? Or spent a convivial evening under starlit skies at a favourite Waterfront restaurant? Will those days return? For now, they remain pleasant memories and a reminder that the earth will keep on turning and the sun will rise every day.

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