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Here Comes Treble: A Village Called Rosendal

...As we bounced around in the traditional ten-seater, four-wheel-drive vehicle, the tension of city living evaporated. Vistas of mountains and valleys stretched our eyes. Rare black wildebeest, golden tails flying and glossy chestnut coats gleaming, galloped giddily in the company of white-faced blesbok and zebra. A large herd of springbok ran in long, leaping waves, a truly unforgettable sight, and then settled to graze....

No-one conveys more vividly than Isabel Bradley the scents and scenes in the African bush and remote townships.

To read more of Isabel's evocative words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/here_comes_treble/

The village of Rosendal in the Free State Province of South Africa was founded a hundred years ago, being officially declared a municipality in 1914. The farmers in the surrounding area needed a church and built a beautiful sandstone sanctuary, using the rock that lies strewn on hillsides and across the fields of the area. The village grew around the church on generous plots of land between wide gravel roads. Bitterly cold winters, warm summers and reliable rain-fall encouraged roses to thrive and every garden is filled with beautiful blooms, giving the town its name, ‘Rosendal’, or Rose Valley.

When Leon and I arrived in town for a weekend with our host, Chris, and mutual friend, Alice, three days of heavy rain was drizzling to an end. Chris told us about some of the fascinating people among the eighty individuals who live in Rosendal. It is rumoured that the dominee, or minister of the lovely church, enjoys wood-work and makes all the coffins required by the community. Apparently, his wife grows mushrooms in the sawdust from the coffin-making, and these delicacies are served at post-funeral gatherings. The dominee also enjoys falconry. In this country of wide valleys, numerous table-topped mountains with rock-strewn slopes and towering cliffs, it is easy to imagine man, horse, and falcon working together in perfect harmony. Another member of the community, a knife-maker of great skill, is also a wheel-right and is currently rebuilding a horse drawn carriage.

Later that afternoon, Chris took us on a tour of the little town. Only the main street is tarred, everywhere else his four-wheel-drive fought slippery wet clay. We paused at Turksvy Trading Post to look through the goods offered for sale. ‘Turksvy’, literally translated from Afrikaans, means ‘Turkish fig’, but is also the local term for prickly pear. What this uncomfortable fruit has to do with the contents of the store is anyone’s guess, but the collection of bilious-green crockery, ancient and rusty cutlery, shelves filled with sad books that no-one will ever read again, fifty-year-old babies’ prams, irons, ancient toys and garish kitchen cupboards, each with its own clock, was enough to keep us happily occupied for at least an hour. We returned to the house, where Alice cooked a meal and we listened to quartets until going to sleep.

Early next morning, Leon and I walked the wide, still-muddy streets, accompanied by two of the town’s dogs. The early light picked out the beautifully painted front of the ‘Plaaswinkel’ or farm store, the only source of household goods in town. At the next corner, a jumble of sign posts vied for prominence on an old wooden fence, pointing to Turksvy Trading, various guesthouses, ‘The Black Anvil – Handmade Knives’ and several art galleries and craft shops. The steeple and roof of the church glistened, silver in the honey-gold sunshine, and somewhere a bird called, imitating the double-ring of a telephone. Mud-puddles reflected the blue sky and splashed onto our shoes and jeans as the dogs romped, a little too boisterously. Cattle grazed in the fields, white tails flicking lazily, and the Witteberg Mountains rode the distant eastern horizon, feathery white clouds outlining peaks and valleys.

Later, we set out with Chris and Alice on a leisurely exploration of the district. Our first stop was at a private game farm, Moolmanshoek. The lovely farmhouse and lodge are at the end of a gravel road. As are most of the buildings in the area, they were of sandstone, their roofs corrugated iron, painted red. They nestled at the mouth of a horse-shoe shaped valley, facing four green mountain peaks: the Pyramid, the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx and Sikonyela’s Hat. We were welcomed and served tea and coffee on the wide farm-house veranda. As we sat enjoying the view, a young man in cowboy clothing approached and introduced himself. He was Wiesman Nel, son of the owners. Wiesman generously offered to take us for a game-drive through his paradise. (See www.moolmanshoek.co.za for details of this magical place).

As we bounced around in the traditional ten-seater, four-wheel-drive vehicle, the tension of city living evaporated. Vistas of mountains and valleys stretched our eyes. Rare black wildebeest, golden tails flying and glossy chestnut coats gleaming, galloped giddily in the company of white-faced blesbok and zebra. A large herd of springbok ran in long, leaping waves, a truly unforgettable sight, and then settled to graze. Younger individuals leapt off the ground, all four hoofs in the air, propelling themselves forward. This is known in Afrikaans as ‘pronking’, for which there is no English translation. Apparently, pronking is a survival technique which shows predators that these are the strongest of the herd, “So look elsewhere for your prey”. Huge white storks dotted the green fields and golden plains. Dams reflected the bluest of skies, where white clouds frothed and streamed. Water seeped, black, over golden rock-faces to join streams which tumbled down the mountain-sides and criss-crossed the plains.

“Look,” exclaimed Chris, pointing across the wide grassland, “feather dusters on feet!” A pair of ostrich strode in stately fashion through the high grass. As we approached, they spread their wings and ran from us, backward-kneed, rapidly growing smaller.

We paused on a sloping rock slab, where a mountain hut provides overnight accommodation for those enjoying either a two-day or three-day hike. It overlooks a clear, rock-lined stream and waterfall, and there are signs pointing around a bend in the track to a ‘waterfall shower – no soap please!’

At the end of the drive, we left Moolmanshoek with regret and drove up and down hills along a rutted gravel road to a country hotel, Nebos, which had recently been converted from a bed-and-breakfast. Vernon, manager and part owner with his artist-friend, Simon, welcomed us warmly to the ‘Valley of the Sleeping Earth Mother’. We ambled with them around the old farm-house which was set in a grove of twisted trees. The outer walls were of golden sandstone. Indoors, the floors were Canadian birch and an enormous and beautiful bay-windowed room was occupied only by a lovely but dreadfully out-of-tune piano. The guest accommodation was in chalets in the grounds.

We enjoyed a leisurely time on the shady veranda, where we drank tea and enjoyed delicate cucumber sandwiches and delicious cherry muffins. We visited the hotel rooms in which Simon was painting exquisite murals. He told us that, because he could never get far enough back to see his work in perspective, he either looked at it through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars, or walked outside to stand across the lawns and look through the windows.

On leaving Nebos, we drove along the mountain pass, enjoying glorious views. Joining the main road we travelled beside high, striated mountains, valleys planted with green corn and golden sunflowers, and into the little town of Ficksburg, nestling beneath its own table-top mountain. Our destination was ‘Die Blikplek’. Translated this means ‘The Tin Place’. The owners, two ladies, collect discarded tin, steel and iron items. >From an eclectic collection of iron baby-baths with holes in them and kitchen-ware with the enamel giving way to rust, they make garden signs, plaques with amusing quotes, mobiles to hang in trees, wall decorations, fairy-garden seats and an endless array of items each calling forth a chuckle or an exclamation of surprised delight. The ‘garden’ between shop and restaurant was filled with an array of tin and iron wares defying imagination and echoed to the pounding of hammers and the sizzle of welding.

After enjoying refreshing cool drinks, we drove to an organic farm where the farmer’s wife makes wonderful cheeses. A large flock of geese was scattered like white dots over green hillsides between peacefully grazing cattle. The down from the geese is used to fill pillows and duvets for the guest-houses, hotels and farms in the area.

By the time we returned to Chris’ house in Rosendal, we were all exhausted. As the sun set, shining rose-coloured on the mountain, Chris grilled meat for supper on a ‘braai’, or barbecue. We ate while listening to Beethoven, then retired to sleep deeply until the ‘telephone bird’, or ‘bokmakierie’ woke us with the dawn…

Another day of meeting fascinating people lay ahead. The Free State had much to offer these eager visitors… but the rest of this tale must wait for next week.

To Be Continued

Until next time, ‘here comes Treble!’

By Isabel Bradley © Copyright Reserved


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