Way beyond Bedford – on the straight-as-an-arrow road en route to Cookhouse – you may come across a rusty sign pointing in the direction of Tarkastad. Should you decide to tackle this gravel road, you are in for an enormous treat.
Farm Life. Yoh, it’s such a lekker thing, especially when you get to do it with your family and reconnect to your roots. I grew up in the heart of the Eastern Cape’s Frontier Country, and those ysterklip koppies, yellow-blossomed sweet-thorns, undulating rooigras ridges and aloe ferox sentinels will never cease to kickstart a staccato rhythm deep down inside my ribcage.
For the first six years of my life, I free-ranged footloose and feral where the Kagga ranges tried to outflank those lofty Winterberg peaks. Then boarding school interfered, but at least I could escape that stifling prison on most weekends, returning to the kloofs and valleys of Silverbrook, our family farm, to foray from dawn to dusk. At the time, I was a bloodthirsty little son-of-a-boer, but strict rules made sure that whatever my catapult or windbuks hit, had to be eaten. I still think this is a damn fine rule.
The Marais family land continues to slumber on the back roads to Tarkastad, about 30km and four single lane bridges along the dusty track. However, now there is a security gate and a camera eyeballing you, because the handful of farmers still hanging in here have decided to create a conservancy.
Bedford itself has, in the last decade or so, emerged as a brightly polished little dorp with a tea garden, a grand coffee shop and even a gallery or two. Nowadays there is a garden festival which attracts visitors from far and wide, but I miss late Uncle Les’s Café where we would demolish huge milkshakes after church on Sundays (if we had behaved ourselves, of course).
There are dozens of things to do here, so check it out – www.bedford.co.za
Have iron horse; will travel. Without a doubt the Baviaans Conservancy is a pedal-paradise, with loads of 4×4 routes, dirt roads and gravel passes that can be tackled by bike. (Most of the routes can be travelled in a 4×4 vehicle, so you do not have to be an Ironman.)
Either way, take the road over Wienands Nek and pass Avondale, but take it easy because the bridges are narrow and the curves loose and sharp. Glen Lynden’s historic charge is lovingly maintained by the community and is definitely worth ten minutes of your time.
Wind your way past Lynedoch’s old manor house where guests such as the Prince of Wales and Churchill are said to have stayed over and crank over the hill above Silverbrook turnoff. Look out for a little monument (an upright obelisk-like tower) just before you reach Cameron’s Glen. It is here that the late Hendrik Bezuidenhout was shot by a soldier whilst sheltering in a cave near his home, and his death was the spark that ignited the 1815 Slagtersnek Rebellion – and subsequently the first Anglo-Boer War.
However nowadays everyone sits around the same fire, and it is especially the Pringles – most of Scottish descent – who contribute to many of the legendary Baviaans stories. Ernst and Anne Pringle have the largest private collection of bird eggs and butterflies in southern Africa, so it is worth making a detour to their farm, Huntly Glen.
Check out Eildon’s stone charge or visit Crusaders Safaris’ superb lodge, but know that you are really here to experience the mountains. All around you there are 360 degree dramas playing out against the horizon, with the Kagga and Winterberg ranges offering breath-taking views around every corner.
Things to Do
We haven’t been back to the Baviaans River Conservancy in quite a few years,so what a pleasure it was to see the kids once again experiencing this visceral space. Life is more real and connected here, with the locals living an earthy existence in symbiosis with the planet: meat does not originate from the supermarket; you grow much of what ends up on your plate; and early nights equate to dawn missions, which soon resets your Circadian rhythms.
Clambering up creaking CLIMAX wind pumps; farm dam swims with a water scorpion or three; wrestling old-skool farm gates; out-running an Ooskaap thunderstorm with the smell of cordite on the wind; the roil of a mud-water wall cascading down a riverbed that was dry an hour before; bottle-feeding nuzzling ‘hanslammer’ lambs; building fires without Blitz; and having a skaap-drol spitting competition high in the hills … this resets your soul and enables you to makes sense of a life more real, and many miles away from the fear-mongering ‘New Normal’ crowds.
The Great Canon – visit Skelmkloof and ask Francois Marais to demonstrate his gunpowder canon. You can also tackle their rugged 4×4 route by bike, but phone before you tackle this rough road – Tel: 087 350 1769.
Butterflies and eggs – Ernest Pringle is the editor of the world renowned Pennington’s Butterflies of Southern Africa and his knowledge is unparalleled when it comes to any flying insect. Aspiring entomologists can completely lose themselves here.
Make biltong – Andre Pringle is regarded as one of SA’s top professional hunters. With 800,000ha of hunting ground in the Baviaans River, Umkomaas Valley and Storm Mountains, he hunts in the most ethical manner possible. And, I have to confess, there is very little better than a piece of kudu biltong from the Baviaans River – www.crusadersafaris.com
Kudu Classic – come and run to your heart’s content here on the slopes of the Baviaans during Taryn and Jane Pringle’s annual Kudu Classic Trail Run. The Greater Kudu is a 50km mountain route suitable for the tough guys while the 20km Lesser Kudu is less strenuous – www.kuduclassic.co.za
Best time to visit – The best time to visit is Spring or Autumn as it can get extremely hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter.
FAST FACTS BLOCK
|GRADING:||Easy / Intermediate|
|DURATION:||An hour or a whole day – your choice|
|START POINT:||Crusader Lodge|
|GPS COORDS:||32°40’41.7”S; 26°05’15.0”E|
|TERRAIN:||4×4 routes, dirt roads and gravel passes|
|POST-RIDE BEER:||Bring your own – this is rugged country|
|MUST-DO EVENT:||None we know of|
|ACCOMMODATION:||A list of accommodation options in the area can be found at www.baviaans.co.za|
Bedford is exactly 202km from Port Elizabeth. Follow the N2 to Nanaga (best meat pies in the Eastern Cape!) then turn left onto the N10 to Cookhouse. Turn right 10km later onto the R63 and travel 20km to the ‘Gardens of Eden’.