Clippety-cloppeting through historic Cape Town by Percheron-drawn Victorian Omnibus

Two white Percherons are harnessed to a carriage

Last Friday, we thought we’d surprise Lissi with a brief guided tour of historic Cape Town – not on foot, but in a horse-drawn carriage!

During my visits to the Castle of Good Hope, I had often seen two huge white horses drawing a large covered four-wheeler carriage, as well as some smaller carriages. I also remembered seeing these horses at last year’s Cape Town Military Tattoo, when 3 Medical Battalion Group re-enacted a historical drill (have a look here for some more pictures), which featured an original turn-of-the-last century horse-drawn ambulance wagon. This wagon had been manufactured between 1899 and 1911, so it was around 100 years old (!), and it had been used during the Anglo-Boer War and the First World War.

The Gardens offer welcome cool shade on a summer's day

Inquiries revealed that the Cape Town Carriage Company had their base at the Castle, and that they offered various kinds of tours. These included an Omnibus Tour during the holidays, Self-Drive Tours, and Wine-Tasting Tours throughout the year; they also hire out their carriages, horses and drivers for for events and movie shoots, and for special occasions (matric balls, birthdays, romantic trips, anniversaries, and weddings).

It sounded so magical, that we were excitedly looking forward to climbing onboard the large 16-seater wagon – a copy of a Victorian omnibus. It was a warm summer’s day, when we arrived at the Castle around midday. I distracted Lissi, so that Richard could secretly buy tickets for the so-called Omnibus Tour, and then we made our way inside the Castle.

Smokey (on left) and Light (on right)

The white horses that were pulling our Omnibus Carriage that day were two white Percherons, named Smokey and Light. Percherons are a heavy breed of draught horse, with a fully-grown gelding reaching the phenomenal weight of 1000 kg! (You certainly wouldn’t want one of those standing on your toes!) They were originally used in South Africa for farming, but when the use of motorised vehicles increased, they were phased out, and the majority in fact were slaughtered. Until the 1980s, Percherons were still used in the Knysna Forests to pull logs harvested from inaccessible areas; when the logging industry declined, these horses were sold off too, and many more were killed. Not many remain in the country today.

Smokey and Light are strong enough to pull the various carriages quite easily, and are (usually) reliable, safe and fairly unflappable in inner city traffic. Smokey, a stallion I believe, does have a bit of a fiery temperament, though, and occasionally nipped at his far more laid-back companion!

And now, all aboard the Omnibus Tour of Historic Cape Town!

Our delightful mode of transport!

Once all 10 or so of us had climbed aboard, our two friendly guides introduced themselves as John and Marlene. They were such a funny pair, telling anecdotes and cracking jokes, frequently switching back and forth between English and Afrikaans, that they had us in absolute stitches.

With the ringing of a rather LOUD little bell mounted at the front of the carriage, we announced our departure from the Castle. The gate-keepers scrambled to fling open the large wooden inner gates that are usually kept closed. Startled tourists jumped aside, pointing their cameras and video cameras at us, as the horses emerged from the dark oval of the huge entrance and trotted across the cobblestones into the bright daylight. We waited briefly for a gap in the traffic, before we joined Buitenkant Street.

We stop at this glass-fronted building for an interesting group-photo!

From here, our route took us into the peaceful and lush Company’s Garden, where we had a brief 10-15 minute stop near the South African Museum and the South African National Gallery. We returned to the Castle by zigzagging via Greenmarket Square, Adderley Street, and Buitenkant Street, ending our tour with an all-too-brief thunderous trot that swept us across the large front courtyard and to a halt in front of the ornate Kat balcony.

This had been such an entertaining tour of historic Cape Town! A huge thank you to our two guides!

And now, sit back and relax, and enjoy the slideshow!

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8 thoughts on “Clippety-cloppeting through historic Cape Town by Percheron-drawn Victorian Omnibus

    • Glad you enjoyed the tour, Truels. I love seeing all the beautiful old buildings in Cape Town; they aren’t nearly as old as those one finds in Europe, though, as our European-style house-building history only started here in the 17th century. Loving the summer! Happy New Year to you too!

    • I am beaming, Riekie… Glad you enjoyed ‘coming along’ on our horse-drawn carriage tour of historic Cape Town. I hope you’ll have an opportunity to try this! I think they only offer the tours in the holidays, though, so it’s best to phone first, before you drive all the way through to Cape Town.

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