Across Tradouw Pass to Barrydale (Part VI)

At the end of May, we spent a couple of days at the delightful Somerset Gift Getaway Farm, tucked away in a narrow little valley at the foothills of the Langeberge, just outside Swellendam.  This is Part VI of the story of our stay in that area. Here are the links to the other parts:

  1. Swellendam, here we come! (Part I)
  2. A river ramble to Baboon Kloof with a happy dog (Part II)
  3. Lunch in gaol, a berry liqueur tasting, and yawning horses (Part III)
  4. A challenging hike to waterfalls and rock pools in the mountains (Part IV)
  5. A new friend, a short canoe trip, and happy horses (Part V)
  6. Homeward bound via Cogmans Kloof Pass and Du Toits Kloof Pass (Part VII)


Goodbye to Somerset Gift Getaway Farm

It poured with rain the entire night, and a strong wind scattered leaves all over the roof. There was no sunrise to speak of (or to photograph), and we awoke to find the lawns waterlogged and squelching underfoot. Muddy puddles lined the farm road. Even the cows and the horses looked as though they’d been drenched.

Everything is wet

As soon as the rain eased, I chopped up an apple and walked down to see whether I could give a goodbye treat to Martin and Polo. I walked all the way down to the river, which seemed to be flowing slightly faster. When Martin saw me standing at the fence, he came closer and snuffled against my palm, tickling me with the fine hairs on his muzzle, as I slowly fed him the chunks of apple. Polo ambled over too, and so I said a melancholy goodbye to both of them.

Horses grazing on the meadow

Suddenly, the skies darkened and it started to rain again. I sprinted back to the cottage, and peeled off my damp clothes. Man, was it cold! We had a quick and wholesome breakfast of muesli and pawpaw, and then tidied up the kitchen and packed up all our stuff, eager to get going.

Dion came to say goodbye to us, and pointed out that there was snow at the top of the mountains! A-hah! That would explain the decidedly nippy air! We could even see the dusting of snow on the peaks above, as soon as the sun cleared away the clouds a little.

The sun breaks through the clouds for a few moments

As we drove off, we cast a final look back at our cosy Loerie Cottage.

Goodbye, Loerie Cottage!

The gravel road that took us back to the N2 was slippery and muddy, and we skidded a little on the slick clay surface as we made way for oncoming traffic. We turned left onto the N2, and stopped at the nearby BP service station to rinse off the caked mud from the bottom of the vehicle and the mud flaps. Rivulets of clay-brown mud ran across the tarmac.

A brief cruise through Suurbraak

We followed the signs to Suurbraak, which is a Mission Village that was established by the London Mission Society in 1812. In 1875, it was taken over by the Algemene Sending Kerk. The current name of the village, Zuurbraak or Suurbraak, is a reference to the “sour brake” or thickets of bracken ferns that grow in the wetlands. The first inhabitants of this area, the Quena, called the village Xairu (heavenly place or paradise).

“The isolation of Suurbraak is one of its charms and limits the financial resources of the people. Many still cook on wood stoves, using an abundance of alien vegetation that grows in this area. The people live close to the land using farming methods that belong to the past. The smaller farms are still ploughed using horse drawn ploughs. Agricultural work is often done manually. Many households own at least one cow and some horses. Horse and donkey drawn carts are often seen here on the streets.” (View Overberg Website)

The traditional skills of mat making, hide curing, blacksmithing, candle making and soap making have died out, primarily as a result of the isolation of the village and the lack of demand for this skills and the lack of economic opportunities in the area. However, they do still make furniture, using traditional methods of bodging (Wikipedia: Bodging), and transforming the alien vegetation in the area into chairs, tables, benches, garden furniture and other items. Visitors are offered guided tours of the village and the surrounding mountains, as well as horse riding and cart rides (Swellendam Tourism).

We cruised very slowly along the main thoroughfare. The village was larger than expected. Almost all the small houses lining the side of the main road appeared to have vegetable gardens, and horses and donkeys were standing in muddy paddocks. There was even a restaurant – the Old Wagon Wheel Restaurant, which served tea, coffee and light meals – but we were aiming for coffee in Barrydale on the far side of the Tradouw Pass, so we did not stop here. Suurbraak is definitely worth a visit next time around!

The sign at the top of Tradouw Pass

Traversing the Tradouw Pass

Shortly afterwards, we turned left onto the road to Barrydale, and found ourselves on the Tradouw Pass. A low stone wall formed a barrier along the left hand side of the road, with a sheer drop down to the river below, while stone retaining walls held up the side of the mountain above the road.

Supporting wall along the mountain-side of the pass

We pulled into the first viewing site, and climbed out of the car. It was very cold, and there was definitely a feeling of snow in the air. The rounded hills on either side were covered with a dense growth of fynbos. From here, the road ascended gradually in gentle curves. We stopped at another viewing site, just after passing a Drupkelder (some sort of cave) on the right, and snapped a few photos of the magnificent views.

Impressive views of the river valley from the viewing site

There were rock pools below.

Rock pools below

In the next picture, you may be able to see the remains of the old pass road, right down near the river. That stretch is apparently part of the Stonehaven Nature Reserve, whose entrance is close to the Barrydale end of the pass.

Is that part of the old road through the pass?

[The information below was extracted from the well-researched and very readable book, The Romance of Cape Mountain Passes by Graham Ross, Chapter 6: Plattekloof, Tradouw and Garcia’s Passes, pages 38-43, as well as from here and here]

The word ‘tradau’ or ‘tradouw’ apparently ‘the poort or way of the women’, derived from the Khoi words ‘tra’ or ‘taras’ (women) and ‘dau’ or ‘daos’ (poort or ‘the way through’). The farmers who were living in the Little Karoo just north of the Langeberge wanted to transport their produce to the towns to the south of the mountains, and down as far as Port Beaufort (Witsand) at the mouth of the Breede River. Parliament agreed to this proposal, and Thomas Bain was hired to survey the route along the Buffeljags River in 1867.

Two years later, construction began with a large workforce of 300 convicts (who had just completed the Robinson Pass between Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay), though this number decreased in subsequent years. In 1873, the pass – 14 km long and 315m high – was finally completed.

Soon afterwards, the community of farmers to the north of the mountains build a church, which marked the foundation of the town of Barrydale that grew around it; the town is named in honour of the Barry family, which was (is still) so powerful and well-known in this area.

The pass was upgraded and reconstructed in 1974, 100 years after its original completion: the roadway was widened, hairpin bends were removed, and the surface was tarred. The old dry-stone retaining walls were kept where possible, and the new reinforced-concrete walls were dressed with stone in order to make them look like the old walls. Aloes and indigenous trees and shrubs were planted to re-vegetate the areas, where the original fynbos had been cleared for construction. The pass was re-opened in 1980.

“The Tradouw Pass is renowned for its wild flowers in the spring, clusters of blazing red aloes in late autumn, breathtaking waterfalls in the winter and magnificent swimming pools in summer. As you drive along, enjoy this beautiful Pass and admire Sir Thomas Bain’s genius for carving a pass through such rugged terrain without the help of modern technology.” (Overberg website)

Welcome in Barrydale

Shortly afterwards, we found ourselves in Barrydale (see also Wikipedia: Barrydale and View Overberg website) with its interesting history. It lies on Route 62, which is one of the most popular tourism routes through the Cape.

“Barrydale is one of those beautiful little villages that beckon one to linger. It lies on the border between the Cape Overberg and the succulent Klein Karoo, which starts just north of the town. It is no surprise to learn that Barrydale’s history began when farmers moved into the valley to search for fertile arable land with water. The climate here is nigh on perfect for growing fruit trees, and apples, pears, oranges, apricots, figs, peaches and grape orchards lie scattered across the valley.

Any time of year in this valley is beautiful. Summer is ripe with fruit, autumn heralds in the protea season, and winter is a tapestry of colour as the surrounding Klein Karoo, renowned for its aloes, milkbush, concertina plant and succulents, breaks into flower.” (SA Venues website)

We stopped in at the Tourist Information office to ask whether they could recommend a quaint coffee shop in the village. A huge map of the village had been artistically painted on one of the walls, showing the names of the streets, and identifying places to visit, stay and eat. 🙂 An excellent idea! Pity I’d left my camera in the car.

The two cheerful ladies in charge of the office were an absolute delight! They enthusiastically shared some of their wealth of knowledge of their village and its surroundings, making suggestions and giving directions and making us feel as though we were VIP visitors.

Supreme snoesigheid at Die Koffiehuisie

And thus we quickly found ourselves parking in front of the most appropriately named “Die Koffiehuisie” (the little coffee house), with its unusual gate decorations, consisting of lots of old-fashioned enamel coffee mugs strung together.

Die Koffiehuisie in Barrydale

We were cheerfully welcomed by an Afrikaans-speaking oom and tannie (Afrikaans words meaning ‘uncle’ and ‘auntie’ that are used as a respectful form of address towards one’s elders), who ushered us onto their stoep. We arranged ourselves around the table at the far end of the partly enclosed stoep.

The stoep, where we find shelter from the spitting rain

We were the only visitors, so we had the entire place to ourselves. When I nosed around with my camera a little later, I realised that there were loads more seats and tables than I’d initially realised. If the day had been a little warmer and sunnier, we could’ve sat at the rustic wooden picnic table on the lawn outside.

One of the outdoor picnic tables

And isn’t this just the cutest? Sometimes I wish I were small again! 🙂

This one is definitely for the kids!

As I said, it was a rather chilly day, with that definite “there’s snow in the mountains somewhere nearby” nippiness in the air. As we settled in, our hosts reappeared with a pile of colourful blankets. For us.

“No way,” you gasp in astonishment?

“YES way!”

They handed each of us a knie-kombersie (i.e. a blanket for the knees), that was large enough to wrap around our entire bodies, never mind just the legs, and instructed us to tuck ourselves in warmly, because it was so cold.


Isn’t this just ultra-snoesig?!

It was just the most supremely snugly experience we had ever had in any restaurant of our lives. Snoesigheid deluxe (‘snoesigheid’ is an Afrikaans word that means something like cosiness, homeliness, snugliness, softness).

Naturally, we had to linger here for quite a while! Which was made even easier by the intermittent spattering of rain, and the warm kniekombersies.

They bustled around, bringing us menus. Look!

One of the breakfast dishes

We ordered and shared a plate of homemade flapjacks with cream and jam, a breakfast consisting of a small loaf of freshly baked bread with butter, jam and cheese, and a stack of flapjacks with bacon, egg and cheese (I think), accompanied by a generous pot of tea and an even more generous pot of moerkoffie, which is the traditional way in which coffee was prepared on the plaas (farm).

When we inspected the dark blue enamel pot on the table, it appeared that the coffee grounds were contained in a kind of netting or sieve, that hung down inside the pot, with the flavour seeping into the hot water. It was fairly strong but very tasty.

Delicious homemade flapjacks

The oom told us that they had only moved here very recently (was it two months or two years earlier?), and had fallen in love with their new home. They remarked that it had been a 100-year-old nagmaalhuisie (an Afrikaans word meaning ‘communion house’), which was a term I had never heard before, so I looked it up on the internet after our return home:

“In the early 1800’s as people moved out of Cape Town into the interior of South Africa there were no churches to attend. The farmers then used to gather in a village where a visiting preacher was preaching to attend his services and enjoy a communion service. As time passed services in certain villages became more regular and farmers built themselves houses in the village where they could stay while attending church services. These houses became known as “ Nagmaal houses” (Nagmaal being communion).” (Turtle SA newsletter)

Fascinating, isn’t it?

They had fixed up the house, both inside and out; they had consolidated or combined some of the smaller rooms, added a stoep, then gradually added a few playthings for the younger visitors. This beautiful carved wooden bench had been made by artisans in Suurbraak.

What a beautiful hand-carved bench!

When they had found a massive stash of all kinds of enamel things, just dumped next to the house, including cups and mugs and pots and pans, they started to clean these up to make rustic decorations, like this one.

The rustic decor

The friendly oom also told us about a walking trail that follows the water canal, which runs from a reservoir or dam in the mountains outside Barrydale. The dam supplies the drinking water to the village. He pointed out that, although little rain falls on the town itself, plenty of rain falls in the surrounding mountains, which act as the catchment area.

The two geese

When I asked about the pair of geese who had greeted us at the gate, he said that the geese warned them whenever there were baboons in the village. They have a vegetable patch on their plot, which is a handy supply of free food for the baboons; the only downside of having the geese, however, is that they too enjoy a free snack, and thus the vegetable patch needs a better fence to ward off the geese too!

I had read on the internet that there were troops of Chacma baboons living in the surrounding mountains, which are prime habitat for these baboons. Because they frequently sent down raiding parties into the village, it caused a great deal of conflict with the local residents. As a result, it was decided to train and employ baboon monitors who kept an eye on the resident troops of baboons (Baboon Matters website), as is the case in the Southern Peninsula. The organisation known as Baboon Matters works closely with the various baboon troops in the Southern Peninsula, and they even offer guided walks to locals who are keen to learn more about the baboons and their way of life.

In addition, a baboon sanctuary and rehabilitation project was established on a smallholding outside Barrydale, known as the Joshua Baboon Rehabilitation Project, with the help of Cape CROW (Cape Centre for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife). The farm is called The Manger, and it also has a large Labyrinth and a Peace Pagoda! And I was particularly interested to read about their use of interspecies communication, having just attended a weekend workshop with Anna Breytenbach, who teaches exactly that (see her website).

A quick squizz at the Magpie Gallery

Our final port of call in Barrydale was the Magpie Gallery, which is known for its handcrafted art made from recycled materials. The Magpie Arts Collective is made up of Scott Hart, Shane Petzer, Sean Daniel and Richard Panaino.

“Petzer says they have always used a lot of recycled and re-purposed materials in their work, but since moving to Barrydale and seeing the vast amounts of litter and pollution in the area, they’ve upped their recycling drive.

‘We now have a collection bin on our veranda and basically people in the village bring us all their recyclable bits. Tins, plastic, all that sort of thing. Once they’ve been cleaned, we use them to make up bespoke pieces, which we send all over the world. Those little doppies [bottle tops] in the chandeliers, those are literally pieces that have come off the streets of Barrydale.’” (Article on Media Club South Africa website)

The Magpie Gallery in Barrydale

Their most famous clients were Barack and Michelle Obama, who have two chandeliers hanging in their private residence at the White House:

“These chandeliers, one named the Princess and the other La Riche Ella, are both six-armed, Regency-inspired creations. Both have been produced from an assortment of recycled plastic trinkets and coloured plastic bottle lids, interwoven with glass beads and crystal drops, and illuminated by candles.” (Article on Design Indaba website)

In addition to focusing on recycling and environmental issues, the guys from the Magpie Gallery also teach children and adults how to create works of art and craft from reused and repurposed materials, thus helping them to generate an income. And given the health and social problems pervasive in the area, such as unemployment, TB, HIV/AIDS and alcoholism, they have become involved in various social responsibility projects.

Rooi Doppies is one of the team’s initiatives that gives support to non-governmental organisations in Barrydale. The name is Afrikaans slang for “red lids”, which are used to seal cheap bottles of wine sold in the district. Dop also means to be watchful, as in ek hou jou dop, which suits the project, as it means “I am watching over you”.

Through Rooi Doppies a soup kitchen has been set up to feed the poor, and assistance provided to an afterschool project called Net Vir Pret (an Afrikaans phrase meaning “just for fun”), which encourages children to do their own recycling drive.” (Article from Media Club South Africa website)

You can learn more about this initiative here.

And lastly, once a year, they build and decorate a huge eco-friendly Christmas Tree in the Town Centre, which then becomes the focal point of a serious party! 🙂

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