Weekend in Riversdale – Part 8: Through the Little Karoo to Ladismith and Barrydale

As we descended the curves of Garcia’s Pass that traverses the Langeberge, we emerged into the wide open spaces of the Little Karoo, with the mighty Swartberg mountain range appearing on the far northern horizon.

On the horizon, we can see the Towerkop (Bewitched Mountain) near Ladismith

According to the map, a couple of gravel roads branched off here, to Barrydale and Herbertsdale. However, as neither of us had been to Ladismith before, it felt like the ideal opportunity to do so now, so, instead of taking the gravel road shortcut to Barrydale towards the west, which did not look appealing at all,  we continued northwards along the R323, until we reached the T-junction with the R62.

This so-called Cape Route 62 is one of the best-known tourist routes in the Western and Eastern Cape; it will take you all the way from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, and offers a beautifully scenic alternative to the N2 (here is a link to a handy little map: http://www.route62.co.za/route62map.html)

We hit a T-junction - left to Barrydale and Montagu beyond, right to Ladismith - we go right

Pausing briefly at this T-junction for the first time in our lives, savouring the excitement of travelling a new road, we turned right… towards Ladismith, at the foot of an unusually shaped mountain peak that is known as the 2130 metre high Towerkop (in English, it is called the Bewitched Mountain). Legend has it that

“an angry witch, frustrated in her attempts to escape the loneliness of the Karoo, struck themountain with her wand, splitting it in two” (Ursula Stevens – Garden Route Travels: Overberg and Little Karoo – Route 62, page 117).

It was believed that the western half of this cleft was unclimbable; however, one day in 1885, a group of brave (foolish?) youths from Ladismith decided to attempt the climb. They only made it to the bottom of the cleft, when they realised that they were too exhausted to continue (having taken along neither food nor water, silly chaps!). One of the group, Gustav Nefdt, disappeared into the cleft…. and did not return… After a long time, he reappeared, claiming that he had successfully climbed to the top of the cleft – and that he had left one of his socks under a rock as proof!

The road seems to take us directly towards the famous Towerkop Mountain, its inaccessible peaks covered in a fine dusting of snow

When they made it back down to the town, the townsfolk refused to believe their story, and a group of adults – well equipped with all the necessary gear – promptly set out to prove them wrong. They didn’t make it up the cleft, and accused the youngsters of lying and cheating. Gustav, forced to defend his honour, used the same mysterious and invisible route as before to scale the cliff, and then lowered a string from the top to help another climber to reach the top of the cleft. (Story told in Ursula Stevens – Garden Route Travels: Overberg and Little Karoo – Route 62, page 117)

Isn’t that an amazing tale?

At long last, we reached Ladismith (spelt with an ‘i’ to differentiate it from the town of the same name in KwaZulu Natal – Ladysmith). I was entertaining us by reading out loud from Stevens’ excellent travel guide to the Garden Route. Thanks to her, we now knew a little more about the places we were visiting.

And suddenly - there is Ladismith!

Did you know, for instance, that Ladismith was named after Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon, the youthful Spanish wife of Sir Harry Smith, the governor of this little town that was established in 1851? It is quite a love story:

“The Governor, very much her senior, had set eyes on her at the sack of Bajadoz in 1812, during the Peninsular War (1808-14) caused by Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal and Spain and ending with the emperor’s abdication. The young beauty, she was only 14 years, totally bewitched him. They eloped and married two weeks later.” (Ursula Stevens – Garden Route Travels: Overberg and Little Karoo – Route 62, page 118)

Another interesting and amusing bit of trivia relates to the ‘Spanspek‘, which is the Afrikaans name for a Sweet Melon (also known as a cantaloupe):

“When you enjoy the Spanspek melon at breakfast, remember young and figure-conscious Juana Maria de los Dolores. Not wishing to join her husband’s breakfast of rich fried eggs and bacon, she would routinely ask to be served a sweet melon instead. This request prompted the kitchen staff to refer to the melon as ‘the Spaansche vrou se spek’ – the Spanish Lady’s bacon.” (Ursula Stevens – Garden Route Travels: Overberg and Little Karoo – Route 62, page 118)

I’m sure you’ll remember this little story the next time you slice up a sweet melon, cantaloupe or spanspek! 🙂

Beautiful tree-lined streets

We went for a leisurely drive around the pretty town with its tree-lined streets and lovely gardens, and stopped to admire the striking Nederduits Gereformeerde Church, also known as the Otto Hager Church:

“A well-known landmark in town is the Otto Hager Church – 1874 (National Monument 1976), the Neo-Gothic church which  Carl Otto Hager, German architect, designed and built.  He was one of the greatest exponents in South Africa of the Neo-Gothic style and was also responsible for the design of the pulpit, bell tower and wall around the church grounds. He designed and built at least 13 churches in South Africa, most of them being in the old Cape Colony.” (Ladismith Tourism Website)

The churches in the smaller towns are often truly magnificent and eye-catching buildings! This is the Otto Hager Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk in Ladismith

Following our unerring instinct (“Coffee shop, coffee shop, where’s the nearest coffee shop…”), we soon found ourselves parking outside a delightful little coffee shop with some rustic tables and chairs set out on a wooden deck, shaded by cheerful red umbrellas, and run by very friendly and helpful staff.

As it was a surprisingly brisk and cool wintery day (it was still early August, after all), it struck me as the ideal opportunity to splurge on a mug of hot chocolate, instead of my usual cuppa tea (after all, there was still some tea left in our thermos flask, which we’d be drinking all the way home…). Hubby, no doubt inspired by my sideways leap into the unexpected, went for a cup of coffee. 🙂

Well, he needed to stay awake for the long trip home.

Soaking up the winter sun, we have coffee, hot chocolate and a delicious scone on the patio

Alas, we could not stay here forever, as we were now rather a long distance from home, and thus we said goodbye to the very friendly staff at Andri’s Coffee Shop, and turned the nose of our car in a south-westerly direction towards Barrydale.

Along the way, we kept our eyes peeled for a very famous pitstop known as Ronnie’s Sex Shop.

?!

No, no, no, it’s not what you think.

No, really, it isn’t.

I promise.

A chap by the name of … erm … Ronnie who lived in a cottage on the R62, not far from Barrydale, was planning to open a farm stall to sell fresh produce, so he painted the name “Ronnie’s Shop” onto the wall of his cottage in large letters that would be clearly visible to people driving past. His friends – probably after a couple of beers – decided to spice things up a little by adding a naughty three-letter word next to his name. Realising that this might indeed capture the attention of passing motorists, Ronnie finished renovating the place, and turned it into a popular pub, tourist stop and pitstop for bikers.

This is the slightly blurred glimpse we got from the road, as we braked sharply to pull over…

We stop briefly at the famous Ronnie's Sex Shop

Not having been there before, we briefly looked around the small shop, which was packed with all kinds of touristy and gimmicky stuff bearing the name ‘Ronnie’s Sex Shop’, including t-shirts, caps, and hats, etc. Honestly, the place didn’t really appeal to us, and so we didn’t buy anything. Besides, I was on a mission to find some homemade jam, honey or even biltong from the area, none of which they stocked.

I’d been eyeing the spectacular displays of Namaqua Daisies growing in patches along the side of the road, but obviously hadn’t made my intentions sufficiently clear to The Designated Driver, as we sped past one brilliantly colourful patch after another. After the gazillionth missed photo opp, when it was clear that my telepathic communication skills were entirely non-functional that day, my frustration was reaching critical levels…

With a deep breath, I tackled the matter head-on. After all, I’d been repeatedly told, “You need to be more direct. SAY what you WANT.”

“Honey?”

“Um-hm?”

“I want to take some photos of the Namaqua Daisies on the roadside.”

“Oh….

“So can you stop the next time there is a nice patch?”

“Sure. Tell me when to stop.”

Wow.

That had been remarkably easy.

I should try that more often!

Namaqua daisies by the roadside - aren't they colourful?

Feeling sooo much better now that I had a few nice photos of Namaqua daisies stored on my camera, we cruised up and down a couple of inclines, until we saw the small town of Barrydale in the valley below, embraced by a ring of mountains. We had visited Barrydale last year (see blog post written about our getaway to Swellendam), and were very keen to pay a visit to our favourite quaint coffee shop, named, most appropriately, “Die Koffiehuisie”.

After driving up and down the dusty streets for a while, trying to remember in which side street it was hidden, we finally found it.

A Trip down Memory Lane: Die Koffiehuisie in Barrydale

“I wonder if it’s open,” I remarked, as we stopped outside the open gate. The fence and gate were now decorated with hundreds (possibly thousands) of enamel mugs and plates and stuff – during last year’s visit, the Oom had said that he had unearthed a huge pile of enamel crockery in the back garden. It certainly looked like he had dug it all up!

I went to speak to the friendly Tannie who came to the gate when she saw us. She explained that they had decided to close down the coffee shop.

Whaaat???

Noooo!!!!

I think she realised I was utterly devastated.

This was the place with the adorable knie-kombersies that I had told the whole world about on my blog.

Isn't this just ultra-snoesig?!

We thanked the friendly Tannie, and got back into the car.

“OK,” said hubby, brightly, sensing that I needed to be cheered up pronto. “How about we try to find some homemade jam and biltong, and then we have a picnic in the car, hm?”

“OK,” I mumbled.

I am sooo sorry, folks, but Die Koffiehuisie is No Longer.

We did, however, pick up some excellent homemade jams and some superlative ostrich biltong from the Route 62 Stop. This sustained us nicely on our trip home.

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5 thoughts on “Weekend in Riversdale – Part 8: Through the Little Karoo to Ladismith and Barrydale

  1. Beautiful post! Love the photo of the snow covered mountains behind Ladismith and the trivia you’ve included. Never knew that that’s where the word “Spanspek” came from.

    Every time I read one of these posts, I always am waiting to find out where you stopped for coffee/tea and what treat you had with it! 😉

    • Thanks, Lisa – I also enjoyed collecting that trivia, it makes it much more fun to go on trips like these if you can find out something new about a place or a time of history…

      As to stopping for coffee/tea with a snack – I think we have a lot in common! 🙂

  2. Pingback: An African Summer’s Day « stepping out of history

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