Country roads

Don’t you find that you always take the quickest route to your destination when going on a short road trip, but stretch out the return journey over backroads and byways? I certainly do – perhaps a reluctance to get back to the city, or maybe the reasoning that you can’t travel that far and see the same scenery on the way back.

The Western Cape offers so many opportunities to be awed by its natural beauty. From the convoluted, barren cliffs of the Cape fold mountains with dark ravines and gullies hinting at leopards lurking and a chance to see the majestic Verreaux’s Eagle soaring the high thermals, to the far-as-the-eye-can-see vineyards of the Breede River valley, each hill brings a fresh aspect to feast upon.

A few nights of stargazing up on the escarpment between Montagu and Touws River was a chance to escape the hum-drum and spend days in the cool shade of ancient willows surrounding frog-filled dams at Leeuwenboschfontein, renowned for its 4×4 adventure routes, but also accommodating those who love dark skies and silence that is so loud you can almost hear it. At just over 1000m above sea level, temperatures can be extreme, but in between it is comfortably bearable. These last few days were possibly the best you could experience, and the nights of stargazing under the light of the Milky Way were almost balmy.

Having recharged my batteries, I left early in the morning to take the long way home and headed down Burger’s Pass with its spectacular views down the Koo valley, where blossomed orchards lined the road on either side. Farm dams were mostly full and a good season for the fruit industry is anticipated after a winter with abundant rain and snow. Everywhere I could see the results of human endeavour, where dedicated farmers have nurtured orchards and vineyards to produce export quality fruit and provide employment in rural areas.

The verges were bejewelled with bright splashes of purple, orange and yellow vygies, giving way to rampant bougainvilleas so iconic of the Winelands as I drove through Montagu. A quick detour into the kloof of Baden was a bucket-list item – so many memorable early childhood holidays were spent on the farm where the hot springs were and I wanted to revisit it after nearly 60 years. Some things are best remembered as they were, and although I recognised the old double-storey farmhouse where coffee and tea were served twice a day on the stoep, and meals were served from 3-division dishes directly onto each plate, the farm has sadly become a residential resort without charm. I backtracked along the well-remembered gravel road, over the cattle gate, and back to reality, my precious memories safely stored where they belong.

(To be contd)

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