Lunch in gaol, a berry liqueur tasting, and yawning horses (Part III)

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 III 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. A challenging hike to waterfalls and rock pools in the mountains (Part IV)
  4. A new friend, a short canoe trip, and happy horses (Part V)
  5. Across Tradouw Pass to Barrydale (Part VI)
  6. Homeward bound via Cogmans Kloof Pass and Du Toits Kloof Pass (Part VII)


Lunch in Gaol

Back at Loerie Cottage, we decided that lunch in Swellendam would be just the thing. But where was a good place to eat? The best person to offer advice was a local.

We only knew one local, so we rang him.

Dion recommended a couple of places in central Swellendam, among them the Old Gaol Restaurant opposite The Big Church, as they served nice lunches. Three rumbling tummies confirmed that this sounded good, and thus we made our way into town.

Google Earth screen capture of our excursion to Swellendam

A short while later, after asking a very friendly estate agent for further directions, we parked in the large parking area in front of The Old Gaol Restaurant. Apparently, the restaurant had recently moved there (which is why the Garmin navigator had directed us to the wrong address).

The Old Gaol Restaurant

And yes, directly opposite stood The Big Church. It really was a Very Big Church.  My guidebook (the informative Garden Route Travels: Overberg and Little Karoo by Ursula Stevens) said:

“An unorthodox mixture of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Cape architectural elements lend the building distinction and magnificence. [Yes, it was definitely magnificent.] It was built in 1911 on the site of an earlier thatched church of 1802. The arched gateway in the front right hand corner of the property is all that remains of the original church. It is open to visitors and its breathtaking interior is well worth a visit.”

Oh no! I can’t believe we didn’t read this at the time! We could’ve gone inside!!

The impressive Dutch Reformed Church in Swellendam

We entered the restaurant and found ourselves a table. The waitress was very friendly and welcoming, and quickly took our order. It was a lovely, quaint restaurant. We sat back to enjoy our peaceful surroundings. Ahhh…. I turned on my camera and snapped away contentedly.

It is so nice and quaint inside the restaurant

Zooming in on the table setting, illuminated by a ray of sunlight.

All one needs: sugar pot, salt and pepper shakers, balsamic vinegar and olive oil

“Oh, look up! There’s an unusual chandelier.”

An unusual chandelier hangs from the ceiling

Suddenly, loud voices, excited laughter and tramping feet signalled the arrival of a tour group. A large and noisy tour group. They filled up the adjoining room and spilled over into ours.

They weren’t locals, and we couldn’t figure out what language they were speaking. It wasn’t German, Irish, Afrikaans, French, Italian or Spanish, because those we knew. Dutch, perhaps? Or from one of the Nordic countries?

We tried to eavesdrop surreptitiously, at which we failed abysmally. None of us would make a good spy!

Our wholesome and tasty lunch arrived in the midst of this cheerful chaos, and we tucked in hungrily. Chicken pie for Boetie and Sussie:

Chicken pie with mashed potatoes and a bit of greens

And traditional Roosterkoek (baked over hot coals – see recipe here) with grilled vegetables and salad for yours truly:

Roosterkoek with grilled veggies and salad


The Quest for Speakers

Afterwards, we took a constitutional, as the English say.

In other words, we went for a leisurely walk around central Swellendam. If I’d read the guidebook before our trip, as one probably should, I would’ve been able to wax lyrical to my comrades about the beautiful old architecture of this lovely town.

Instead, our walk became known as The Quest For A Pair Of Laptop Speakers.

A little digression, as I explain why We Simply Had To Buy Speakers:

Our trusty little laptop had as usual accompanied us on this trip – basically so that I could download photos at the end of every day, to make room on the camera’s storage card for more photos the next day. But we’d also taken along some DVDs for evening viewing. Anyhow, it turned out that our little laptop’s speakers were woefully inadequate. Even with them operating at full volume, we were straining our ears to follow the conversations on screen.

A carpet of autumn leaves

So that is why the locals of Swellendam saw us trudging up and down their streets, walking into suitable shops that might just be able to sell us a set of speakers. We knew exactly what we wanted: they had to be small, to plug in via USB, and to draw their charge from the laptop, rather than requiring a battery that would need to be replaced constantly.

After our foot slog unearthed a potential supplier, whose only available set however lacked the crucial USB cable, we climbed in the car and extended our range further down the street, pulling over whenever we found a shop that was even remotely associated with computers or electrical appliances.

The sales assistants in every single shop we went to were amazingly friendly. They listened to our request, thought deeply about what they had in stock, showed us whatever might be suitable, and if we weren’t entirely swept away with enthusiasm, they helpfully suggested at least one or two other places up or down the road that might be able to help us.

Perhaps it helped that we spoke both Afrikaans and English, but we were really impressed by their willingness to assist. And thus, at last, we found the perfect little set of speakers, at a good price to boot. (And they worked wonderfully!)

Oh, and we also bought a packet of ground coffee. Tanya had found a plunger for making filter coffee in the kitchen, but no coffee. And we hadn’t brought any either. And she realllllly wanted some freshly brewed coffee.

A liqueur tasting at Wildebraam Berry Estate

An acquaintance had told us about a berry farm that made liqueurs, just outside the town. Actually, I think there are two such berry farms, but we only visited the one: Wildebraam Berry Estate in the Hermitage Valley.

Welcome to Wildebraam Liqueurs

A largish group of visitors was just paying for their purchases and saying goodbye, when we walked into the shop. This was also the tasting room, with two large wooden tables and benches placed along the centre of the large room. The shelves were filled with colourful jars and bottles of jams, liqueurs, dessert syrups, chutneys, atchars, relishes, and pickles, many of them combined in handy little gift packs.

There were also prettily packaged liqueur chocolates (honey, peppermint, youngberry and nut flavours) for that special occasion, and glasses tightly packed with liqueured fruit, such as apricots in brandy syrup, prunes in youngberry liqueur, and pears in aniseed liqueur.

Clearly, they’ve been experimenting with all kinds of unusual and no doubt delicious combinations. I so wish I had taken photographs to show you, but I was feeling (uncharacteristically) shy with my camera. Ah well, you can always have a look at their website for some tantalising photographs of their products.

All I can show you is this photo of the blackberry bushes growing in the orchard in front of the main buildings. They looked very similar to the wild blackberries we’d seen in Ireland (see this post). There weren’t any berries visible yet, but there would be during the warm months of November and December. When the berries are ripe, you are allowed to pick them yourself. I suspect that this place is very, very popular around that time!

Blackberry fields forever… 🙂

We were made welcome by a very friendly young woman, who sat us down for a free-of-charge (!) tasting of a selection of liqueurs, chutneys and jams. She explained that they harvest only blackberries and youngberries at Wildebraam, and that they get all the other berries (strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and blueberries) from other farms in the area.

The liqueurs contain about 24% alcohol; they buy this from KWV, an acronym for the Koöperatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Bpk, an organisation founded in 1918 by wine growers in the Western Cape. The juice from the berries makes up the remainder of the liquid.

We tasted some of the liqueurs: Guava, Lemon, Youngberry, Peppermint (a bright luminous green), Aniseed & Fennel, Rooibos Tea (unusual!), Honey & Eucalyptus (a slightly medicinal but delicious taste), and Hazelnut & Caramel.

There was also a rather startling combination of Chocolate & Chilli. When you take a small sip, and hold it in your mouth, you just taste the sweet smoothness of chocolate; but as soon as you swallow it and it goes past your throat, the chilli kicks in. Wicked! 🙂

The friendly sales assistant also showed us a couple of jars of chutneys and relishes, but most of those were tinged with chillies or other spices that we tend to steer clear of, so we quickly moved on to the jams.

Now THOSE were the ones I was interested in: Blackberry, youngberry, strawberry, raspberry, gooseberry and blueberry. There was also a delicious Peach and Granadilla Jam (of which we brought home a jar), and two odd ‘jams’ that I wouldn’t personally have classified as jams, namely, a Tomato Jam, and a Sweet Pepper Jam. Nice with cheese, I should think!

Clutching a packet of delicious treasures, and already dreaming of fresh bread lathered with blackberry jam (oooh!), we contentedly emerged into the daylight.

Baboons among the cattle

We returned to Swellendam’s main road, and followed this out of town and back onto the N2. We soon reached the now-familiar turn-off to Sparrebosch, and slowly drove along the dirt track. Just as the road ascended a slight hill, we pulled over to the side to marvel at the view. Below us lay the Buffeljagsdam, the surface of the water glinting in the sunlight.

View of the Buffeljagsdam

And from here we could also see the Baboon Kloof, where we had picnicked earlier today.

That is the Baboon Kloof

Look, this is zoomed in:

We picnicked down there at the edge of the water

There we had sat at the edge of the water, to the left of those dark trees, just in front of the rocks.

As we gazed down on this beautiful scenery, a movement in one of the fields below caught my eye. There were cows grazing down there… but something else was moving through the grass too. Oh my gosh! It was a troop of baboons!

Baboons among the cows

With little ones!

Look, they even have little ones!

As we watched, they moved through the long grass, occasionally calling to each other, and disappeared in the riverine forest.

Making friends with Martin and Polo

Back home, I noticed that the two horses were grazing near the turn-off to our cottage. I grabbed two carrots from the fridge and walked down to see whether they might appreciate a little treat. And I was curious to see whether they might be more inclined to let me stroke them if I bribed them with a carrot. Hey, it was worth a shot.

What a tranquil little valley this was!

Earlier, while we had Dion on the phone, I had prompted Richard to ask about the dog and the horses.

“Oh, and what’s the dog’s name?” Richard asked.

“Which dog?”

“The big friendly one, he came with us on our hike.”

“Oh, that’s Polo. He’s not my dog, though. He belongs to the neighbouring farm, but he roams around a lot. Sometimes he’s gone for days.”

“And your horses? What are their names?”

“The one with the blaze on his face is Martin, and the bigger one is called Polo.”

“Really? The same as the dog?”

“Yes. It wasn’t deliberate. It just happened that way.”

How unusual.

Carrots in hand, I walked down to the paddock, and stood at the barbed wire fence for a while, watching them and speaking softly to them. They were both strongly built horses, with thick winter coats, obviously used to sleeping in the rough. The larger horse, Polo, lifted up his head and looked across. I broke a carrot in half, and held it out to him, temptingly.

He came closer, curious. He walked with a slow, peaceful, unhurried gait, and stopped in front of me. I continued to hold out my hand, speaking softly, introducing myself. He lowered his mouth towards my hand, inhaling and snorting calmly, getting my scent. Then he picked up the carrot from my palm with unexpected gentleness, and crunched it, savouring the taste.

This is Martin in the foreground, and Polo is at the back

I continued to hold out my hand so that he could inhale my scent, and he snuffled against my palm. And then, to my amazement, he yawned. His eyes glazed over, half-closed, as his mouth opened, yawning deeply. I’d completely forgotten that horses sometimes do that! It was so contagious that I started to yawn in sympathy. 🙂

As he took the other half of the carrot from my hand, I noticed that his face was covered with small dark scars, and that there seemed to be a couple of scars on his body too. Although his eyes were gentle, he only permitted the most fleeting of touches. He had scratches on his nose, from where he had rubbed it against the barbed wire fence. I offered to scratch his itching nose with my fingers instead; he accepted a very brief little scratch, before moving away.

Tanya came down with a few more carrots. While she fed these to Polo, I made friends with Martin, who was waiting a few metres away. I thought he was so beautiful, with his bright white blaze running all the way from his forehead down to his nostrils. He had the cutest ears, whose tips turned inwards just a little. Like Polo, he had scars on his body and neck. He was more anxious and fearful than his companion, though. But he was sufficiently curious to want a piece of carrot, so I held it out to him, and waited for him to approach.

He snuffled against my palm, inhaling and exhaling sharply, before he gently, with the lightest of butterfly touches, lifted the piece of carrot from my palm. He crunched it, gazing at me, watching my movements. I slowly reached out to touch him, but he swung his head to the side, eyeing me fearfully. OK, so he didn’t like being touched either.

I stayed near him, talking softly, and occasionally holding out another chunk of carrot, which he took oh-so-gently from my palm. It felt amazing. And then – like Polo – he yawned! Two or three times! I felt myself yawning with him, even though I hadn’t been feeling sleepy at all  – clearly, this was contagious!

I so badly wanted to groom them, and to give them a proper brush-down. They clearly had an itchy coat, as they frequently reached up with a hind leg to reach a tricky spot, or they swung their heads around as far as it would go to nibble somewhere along the belly, or they’d rub themselves against the fence. They even affectionately helped each other to scratch an itchy spot.

“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”

Later that day, when we ran into Dion, I asked him, “What’s with your horses? Why are they so skittish? Why don’t they like anyone to touch them?”

He explained that he had gotten them from a herd of wild horses living near Albertinia, and that both horses had been living wild in the mountains for a long time. He added that he had sent them to someone to ‘break them in’, but it hadn’t worked out at all, and so they basically lived free on his farm. They seemed quite happy with that!

We had a relaxing cup of coffee (using the packet of deliciously fragrant ground coffee we had bought in Swellendam!) on the stoep (an Afrikaans word meaning ‘veranda’), treating ourselves to a slice of cake. Yum.

Lazing about on the stoep

And then, as the light began to fade, it was time to make a fire in the large undercover fireplace, and to prepare the ingredients for a tasty braai, which is my favourite part of being on holiday: a handful of lamb chops and a bit of sausage, potatoes and butternut pre-boiled and then baked in the hot coals, toasted sandwiches, and a tossed salad. As we ate, we were serenaded by a concert of frogs in the dam below our cottage.

Ahhhh. Now that’s the life.

4 thoughts on “Lunch in gaol, a berry liqueur tasting, and yawning horses (Part III)

  1. This DOES sound like “the life”! Wow, what a full day. I especially loved your photo of the olive oil, salt & pepper at the restaurant. So beautiful with the light. You also strike me as a very kind loving curious person. I love how you went and interacted with the horses. How you were really present with them. How fascinating that they were wild horses.

    • Thank you, Kathy. 🙂 Yeh, spending time with the horses really was a highlight of our stay. When I was younger, I was mad about horses, and I’ve recently discovered that I still am!

  2. I’m loving reading about your holiday! I’ve been to Swellendam several times (my brother has lived there for a few years). We seldom eat out there, so I’m so pleased for the restaurant recommendation – I’m going to try it out on my next visit. And go see inside that church!

    • We usually just drive *past* Swellendam on our way somewhere else, so it was great to visit the town itself, even if just for an afternoon. The book by Ursula Stevens – “Garden Route Travels: Overberg & Little Karoo” – has some very informative pages about the historic old buildings you can find in Swellendam. Very picturesque. And the locals were just so friendly and helpful, we really felt quite welcome.

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