A Sunday Times advertisement has resulted in Taffy Shearing of Beaufort West receiving a phone call from Sarah Hay, granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill. Ms Hay is researching the history of her famous ancestor and was seeking information on his time in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War. Some time ago Taffy did considerable research on the war. She came across a story of a cheeky young Churchill trying to bribe a staunch Boer soldier. The Boers had captured Churchill, and Hendrik Spaarwater was ordered to take him to Pretoria. As the train steamed along young Winston casually asked Spaarwater what he would consider a fair price to let him escape. The honourable Boer was insulted. “If you try anything, I’ll shoot you dead on the spot,” was his brusque reply. As the train chugged on the two developed a great respect for each other and, at the end of the journey, Churchill handed Spaarwater a letter. In it he requested any British soldier to afford Spaarwater he same gentlemanly treatment as he, Churchill, had been afforded. Hendrik kept the letter and in time it became a family treasure. Sarah Hey liked the tale so much she intends including it in her book


Eskom is installing a new 400kw line through the Karoo. It will stretch from Droërivier outside Beaufort West to De Aar. To ensure that no historical items are damaged the organisation has appointed experts to inspect the ecology, archaeology and geology of area. One is archaeologist of David Morris, of the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, says that all experts agree that the Karoo is the best example of a pre-historic in the world and offers excellent research opportunities. He personally has conducted much research in the area and written many articles, some based in the vicinity of Droerivier substation. As it excavates to erect pylons Eskom has also donated many indigenous plants from the area to St Mathews School for their little garden alongside the N1.


Tourists often ask about the yellow layers sandwiched into the rock face alongside the N 1 on the route between Laingsburg and Matjiesfontein. Johan Loock, of the Free State University’s Department of Geology, explains: “These beds are composed of lava ash which was deposited on the bottom of a shallow sea after being blown all the way from the volcanoes in South America 250-million years ago. The layers, known as tuff beds, are in the Ecca formations, and occur all the way to the Eastern Cape along the southern edge of the Karoo Basin. Geologically, the Laingsburg area is considered to be an interesting one, and overseas researchers regularly visit there. On the northern entrance to town, just opposite the 80km an hour sign is a complete fossilised tree trunk. It can clearly be seen in the face of the cutting. Many tourists stop here to photograph the fossilised mudstone formations, but miss this tree, simply because they do not know where to look.”


Many who drive through the Great Karoo say the pointed rocks near Matjiesfontein resemble tombstones. “Quite right,” says Johan Loock, of the Department of Geology at the Free State University. “Farmers originally called these rocks “Bushman tombstones” and geologists now refer to the effect as ‘tombstone weathering’. The rocks consist of Dwyka tillite, which is mud, sand and rock sediment left behind millions of years ago on the ocean floor by melting glaciers. The glacial outwash hardened and subsequently folded during the Cape Fold period. The upward jutting appearance is the result of a near vertical cleavage which causes the rocks to weather into these pointed effects.”


In order to bring the Karoo and Garden Route closer together, Inter Cape Bus Company has established a new route. The service starts in Johannesburg and passes through Beaufort West to Oustshoorn and then on to George and Kynsna. Busses complete this route twice a week and on the way back to Gauteng pass either through Bloemfontein or Kimberley.


Three senior South African National Defence Force officers plan to cycle through the Karoo in September. This long ride from Pretoria to Cape Town is being organised by Brigadier Pieter van der Merwe, one of the cyclists. It forms part of a fund-raising project for St John’s Methodist church at Voortrekkerhoogte. The other cyclists will be Bob Reich and Bill van der Linde, with Johan Posthumus and Donnie Leite as the support team. The three will cycle along the Old Diamond Way, via Kimberley and Victoria West. They aim to get to know smaller places and will stay over at Three Sisters, Leeu Gamka and Matjiesfontein.


The 40km route from Prince Albert Road to Prince Albert is completed in a matter of minutes these days, However, there was a time when this was not so. In 1880 the route took five hours to complete. The route was a wandering gravel road and went from farm to farm. The dust was dreadful, but it was a worse drive in rainy weather. There were no low-level bridges and horses had to swim through the rivers. Prince Albert Road was established in 1879 when the railway line was laid to Beaufort West. Passengers alighted at this station to proceed to the Swartberg Mountain area. They had to travel further by coach. At there every farm accommodation was available, and, in time, two little hotels were established – one was at Botterkraal and the other at Danskraal. Both had liquor licences. One of the most terrifying places to pass was Ten Mile Heights (Tienmylhoogte). The road there was so steep that passengers had to alight from the coaches and walk to the top. Heavily loaded coaches had to be pushed up the incline – and there was no one else to do this but the passengers. Road users were very careful because the road at this spot was too narrow for two vehicles to pass. Traffic, however, was light and, anyway, the speed restriction in those days was five miles an hour.


When Mike Twigg of Avis Car Hire decided to take a trip through the Karoo, he packed his Round-Up file as a guide. The idea paid off. At Murraysburg he stayed at Five Roses Guest House, visited the birthplace of the Karoo rose and James Parker, a potter who makes trinket boxes encrusted with tiny china roses. Mike discovered a fascinating cactus garden and, at Skietkuil was taken to see black springbok. He drove from Victoria West to Melton Wold and Loxton in search of fossils an old diamond mine, petroglyths, corbelled houses, a Dutch windmill and a German castle and, with Round-up as his guide, found them all. Then, on through Molteno Pass to visit Beaufort West to see the Barnard collection in the museum, before visiting the Karoo National Park. He was full of praise for the friendliness and hospitality of Karoo people He stayed in guest houses, rooms, hotels and on farms. Finally he opted to spend a night in a hiker’s hut in the mountains on Tierberg and then enjoyed a scenic drive along the Swartberg to Meiringspoort en route home.


A group of Karoo story tellers recently met with journalists in Gamkaskloof, The Hell. The idea behind this was to introduce the isolated valley to the Press and to supply some programme material to Afrikaans Stereo. The project was sponsored by Nature Conservation. “It was ice cold and the night unbelievably dark, but perfect for a glass of red wine, a braai and a wealth of stories,” said Jans Rautenbach of De Rust, who went along with the Zoar and Amalienstein story tellers. “The atmosphere was unforgettable and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the evening. The locals had such fun that they have decided to establish a story telling group called Beck Praatjies. The journalists loved this trip and say they will definitely come for a follow up visit.


The Hell is not all that far from Knysna, but somehow it took the Sparks family 31 years to reach the little valley. “We read an article on Gamkaskloof in Panorama in 1964 and always wanted to visit,” said Arthur Sparks. “We just never seemed to make it until this year. And what a treat for the family. It was like a dream come true. RSC Director of Roads, Kobus Theron, and Die Burger’s travel writer, Braham van Zyl, met the Sparks family in Gamkaskloof. They were happily sightseeing armed with the Panoroma so carefully saved just for this visit.


Peet de Klerk of Murraysburg and his wife, Maryna, invite people to come and enjoy the Karoo on their farm, Swartbos. The farm house is setup for families. Food can be provided and service is also available. There are mountain bike routes, delightful walks along the banks of two rivers and a dam full of fish for anglers. It is also ideal for canoeing.


Winter in the Karoo seems to encourage the media people to visit. Photographers agree that at this time of year lighting is less harsh and there are superb cloud effects. James Barker, a TV cameraman, was recently fortunate enough to film a pair of black eagles hunting, dropping their prey and swooping down to catch it, before it hit the ground. A movie crew, script writer and director also visited the Beaufort West area to discuss a historical film and so did a local TV crew who were in search of a Karoo venue for a mini series. And Jacques Cousteau’s crew, who are in the country making a series on arid zones, also opted to visit.


Martie Lund of Elandsfontein is offering a special low-price holiday for teachers who would like to stay over in her self-catering cottages. The cost to them will be R35 a night to enjoy the Karoo. Martie says several teachers have visited here with school groups wanting to discover more about the area, but since they have been “on duty”, they have not had time themselves to explore. Many have said they would like to return, so now I am making that possible. They can bring their families along and turn their dreams into a reality. The farm has old “bushman” routes and wonderful picnic spots in the mountains where the scenery is breathtaking.


The old airport 10km north of Beaufort West has been converted into a guest house. Known as the Sand Castle Private Guest House and Restaurant, it has five double rooms with en-suite facilities. There is a comfortable bar in the old control tower which offers splendid views of the Karoo mountains. The a la carte restaurant serves dinner and full Karoo breakfasts complete with muffins, scones and pancakes. This venue, run by Gail and Georg Baumgartner, assisted by daughter, Natasha, and son, Xavier. It does not cater for children and dogs are not allowed.


The Karoo Cuisine courses recently held at several venues in the Central Karoo have been hailed as a great success. They were conducted by Greeff Heydenrych, author of the book Venison Made Easy, and funded by the Regional Tourism Organisation as part of its skills training programme. Greeff showed delegates how to obtain maximum usage from a springbok carcase. The various cuts were discussed in detail, as well as a variety of tasty dishes He discussed biltong cuts and biltong making and demonstrated how to debone a leg and rib. Steaks were removed, trimmed and served with several other taste treats, such as springbok bacon and eland brisket. Many a lady agreed he was just the man to have around the kitchen.


The first tanning course, part of the Regional Tourism Organisation’s job creation project, was recently held in Prince Albert. This four-day course was presented by Peter Schneekluth, a well-known man in the field of tanning. The delegates were informed about skinning procedures, how to salt a raw skin, various processes, as well as different tanning methods. Peter explained the chromium process which is used for game skins, and said that sheep skins were best tanned using a wattle vegetable process. Delegates were told how to process waste and fat and also shown how to make clothing items such as hats, waist coats and slippers.


A step further along the route of using Karoo products to help create jobs for inhabitants of the area has been taken at Rietfontein, a farm in the Murraysburg district. Here Erich Hochter of Parys conducted short course on making waist coats from tanned springbok skins. The project is being run under the guidance of Riana van der Ai and her husband, who are always on the lookout for ways of helping their farm labourers earn some extra money. Now enthusiastic people from town are also involved. All planning and cutting is down on the farm and workers then take the garments home to sew them by hand “These handmade garments are very popular among tourists,” she said.


The Mid-Cape Tourism Organisation, which was established to serve the interests of the Garden Route, Klein Karoo and Central Karoo, has been disbanded. It is being incorporated into the Western Cape Tourism Board. Delegates from each region have been nominated to serve on marketing, development and financial committees, as well as on the Board itself. A temporary co-ordinating committee has been set up to ensure that all regional projects undertaken by the Mid-Cape organisation have been completed, before it disbands.


The Western Cape Provincial Minister of Agriculture, Planning and Tourism, Mr Lampie Fick, will hold Open Days through the sub regions to discuss proposals and structures for the promotion of tourism Delegates from the Central Karoo are being invited to attend one of these Tourism Forums in the Auditorium and the Civic Centre in Oudtshoorn on August 10 from 10h00 to 13h00 The agenda will include discussions of the duties and functions of the minister and ministry, as well as the role of the provincial tourism organisations and promotional groups. The setting up of structures to ensure that tourism in the Western Cape Province is effectively managed and funded will be discussed. A light lunch will follow.