Yesterday was a fabulous fresh sunny day after rain. We took a drive to the mountains. The Drakensberg Mountains that loom in the blue distance from our stoep. It’s about an hours drive – craggy red cliffs painted with Day-Glo green lichen loom ever clearer and brighter with each kilometre. Soon we are swinging into the canyon of the Blyde River gorge.
Named from the old trekking days – a family were camped by the Treur River and the menfolk went ahead to scout out the country and plan the next stage of the journey. They never returned, and finally the camp was packed up and the river named the Treur River – or river of Sadness. To cut a long story short, by the time they reached the Blyde River, they had found each other again and the river was named Blyde – or river of Happiness.
This was the Louis Trichardt trek – families on their way to Maputo – then called Lorenzo Marques. Legend has it that they camped at the head of the Drakensberg Mountains for sometime trying to find a route down to the lowveld below. Finally, they dismantled the ox carts and lowered them in pieces to be reassembled at the foot of the mountains. People and livestock were able to follow a narrow path. Astonishingly, they succeeded in this miraculous feat – and if you saw the mountain faces of sheer craggy grandeur, you would also be amazed! Sadly when they did reach Maputo, they all died of malaria. There is a monument to this trek in Maputo city which survived all the years of civil war there. Their route became a trade route between the coast and the interior – made famous in the book Jock of the Bushveld.
There is now a dam wall that has created a man made lake in the natural amphitheatre of the gorge. It is incredibly peaceful there and natural indigenous forest runs down to the lake shore all around. People who come to take in the view are awestruck and talk in lowered voices. Some sit in silent contemplation. It’s a little like going to church.
Having soaked in the stillness, we decide to go in search of lunch. Taking the back roads we meander past several Lodges whose gates look unenticing; scratch our memory books, but find those small eateries closed for New Year’s Day. We end up following long red farm roads – noting along the way that their rainfall is better than ours and their grasses long and green – to find ourselves at Leydsdorp.
Leydsdorp is a small remnant of a gold mining settlement – dating back to the gold rush days of Klondike, and Australia, and pre-dating the successful finds of the Witwatersrand where Johannesburg is situated. It followed a similar pattern to gold mining settlements everywhere at this time. Men who dug and panned for gold in them thar hills, drank copiously at the local watering hole – and thereby hangs many a tale!
However, fresh water has always been a problem and the miners moved on to richer finds, leaving a selection of small whitewashed buildings – one of which is the Leydsdorp hotel. Many of these buildings have since been refurbished and Leydsdorp seems to have been on the brink of rediscovery for sometime. It is an intriguing little place steeped in history and well worth the visit. Without the glitz of well trampled tourist attractions, it still has the air of history – a place in waiting, surrounded by scrubby bushveld and granite hills – off the beaten track.
We stopped at the hotel. Small dogs lay around the entrance watchfully and alerted the owners to the arrival of new customers. Inside the wooden doors, the original bar counter and mirrored bottle display keep mute testament to more than a hundred years of barroom talk. There are a couple of bullet holes in the ceiling and the remnants of a trophy head of a bushpig – shot to ribbons by over zealous drinkers, perpetuating the spirit of the wild wild west.
A small gaily coloured Brazilian Red rump parakeet struts up and down the bar counter chirping away. The management couple are friendly and welcoming and we settle in to chat, trying not to rubberneck the history and writings on the walls around us. It’s not a big room, but beyond is a bigger room with a red pool table, and some regulars are engrossed in a game.
This tiny ghost town settlement now boasts a restaurant, self catering accommodation in the old Kruger house, hotel rooms, swimming pool, and a location in the heart of lowveld game country. Our hosts are animal lovers and beyond the parakeet, is a squirrel in a sleeping box (it bites sometimes); numerous diminutive hounds, and somewhere a young bush pig. “All our animals live in harmony here” informs our genial host.
We order lunch. Some more people arrive and settle in to chat. I notice that as soon as our place mats are laid down, the parakeet starts to become more friendly – pottering about – always out of arms reach, but chirping away. Food arrives. The squirrel wakes up and through the door the puppies silently gather, and along comes The Pig.
A young bush pig ambles in – light glancing a golden sheen off his reddish coat. He snuffles about and then heads out the door again. Oh – we realise – he probably followed the waiter! Food successfully swallowed and the menagerie normalises again. Do I make it sound bad? It wasn’t at all – just extra-ordinary and entertaining.
Sadly I didn’t have a camera with me but I hope you get the picture from my words.
There is also a website for Leydsdorp.com and several for the Blyde River Canyon.
It was a great day out and so often we forget that people travel from all over the world to visit these weird and wonderful sights that are all within our reach. It was a good reminder.