Tierkrans Pass (DR03214)

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Views from the pass with the old rail reverses clearly visible Views from the pass with the old rail reverses clearly visible - Photo: Mike Leicester

This beautiful pass is cut into the side of a mountain, and angles down from a high plateau in the New England area to terminate at the historic Loch Bridge over the Kraai River. This part of the world is famous for its wonderful scenery, and in this case the pass also offers up spectacular views of the reverses and the rail bridge belonging to the now-defunct railway that was built through this gorge.

The road is in a mostly good condition and is suitable for all vehicles, except perhaps in very wet weather. The pass itself is fairly substantial, with a length of 3.6 km and a height difference of 172 metres. “Tier” translated from Afrikaans means “Tiger”, but, as everyone knows, there are no tigers in Africa. The word was often used in days gone by as a name for a leopard, so a correct translation of the pass name would be “Leopard Cliff Pass”.

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[Video cover photo: Mike Leicester]

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Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.

Digging into the details:

Getting there: To approach from the south, start off at the intersection of the R58 and the gravelled DR03214, at GPS coordinates S30.955738 E27.563351. This point is about 3 km to the west of Barkly East. Travel in a northerly direction along the gravel road for 6.3 km until you reach Loch Bridge, which is the southern start point. To approach from the north, start at the intersection of the R58 and the DR03214, at GPS coordinates S30.904398 E27.438569.

Follow the gravelled road in a northerly direction for exactly 7 km to S30.865528 E27.487826, where you will reach a Y-junction. The old ghost town of New England is close to this intersection, and is worth a slight detour if you have the time. Now travel in an easterly direction along the DR03214 for 7.7 km to S30.877137 E27.555849, where you will encounter another intersection; continue straight on for a further 500 metres to S30.879484 E27.560105, which is the northern start of the pass.

New England ruinsRuins near New England / Photo: Mike Leicester

We have filmed the pass from north to south. The pass begins at a high point on the plateau, then almost immediately bobbles through a shallow S-bend. This is followed by a straight of 250 metres, then by a very gentle curve to the right, then by another straight of 550 metres. At the 1.1 km mark, the road again bends to the right. Just beyond this point is the best place to stop to get an excellent view of the 7th Reverse, in the valley on your right-hand side.

Safety railings appear on the right to guard the very steep dropoff as you negotiate the next corner, which is a fairly sharp 90-degree left hander. About 100 metres after this corner, there is a small layby on the right-hand side. Stop here to get wonderful views over the 8th Reverse, the Kraai River Valley, and the rail bridge which is diagonally off to your left.

GPO ruinsBroken and rusted post boxes in the ruins of the Post OFiice at New England / Photo: Mike Leicester

The next 1.3 km of the pass is a long curving arc to the right, which hugs the mountainside as it slopes down towards the river valley following a natural contour line. At the 2.8 km mark, the road bends back to the left, then meanders through a couple of very shallow curves for 450 metres. A 90-degree right-hand corner leads straight on to the approaches for Loch Bridge, which signals the end of the pass at the 3.6 km mark.

New England

The Wartrail and New England areas are steeped in history. The region was originally inhabited by the San, who lived in nomadic hunter-gatherer family groups, and their legacy remains today through abundant rock art sites in the district. After the 1820 settlers had arrived in Port Elizabeth, a number of them moved northwards to populate this area; in fact, many of the farms in the region are owned by their 3rd or 4th generation descendants.

Old rail bridgeOld rail bridge over the Kraai River / Photo: Mike Leicester

The region was first surveyed in 1861 by Joseph Orpen, an Irishman, whose descendants still live in the area today. The names of some of the farms include Ben Nevis, Glen Gyle and Pitlochrie, which indicates that the area was reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. There is even a Loch Ness dam below Tiffindell, and although no living monsters have been spotted there as yet, there are dinosaur fossils in the area dating back over 180 million years ago to the Jurassic Period.

Railway Reverses

Along the mountainous border of Lesotho, between Aliwal North and Barkly East, runs what was arguably the most scenic branch railway line in South Africa. The line was constructed in four sections over a period of 28 years, spanning from March 1903 to December 1930. Construction of the final section, from New England to Barkly East, only started in 1928, because of delays caused by serious doubts about the economic viability of branch lines in general, World War I, and the sinking of a ship called Mexico loaded with building materials whilst en route from the UK .

Rail reversesThe 7th and 8th rail reverses / Photo: Mike Leicester

A German woman living in the area came up with the idea of using reverses rather than bridges and tunnels to negotiate the mountainous terrain. This meant that the trains had to zig-zag by manoeuvring forward and backwards up and down the steep inclines, which was slower, but had the advantage of being much cheaper to construct. A total of eight reverses were built along this line, and two of them (numbers 7 and 8) are clearly visible from vantage points along the Tierkrans Pass. There are only three other examples of these type of reverses remaining in the world today.

Now completed all of the way to Barkly East, the official opening of the line took place on 12 December 1930 – “Barkly’s Day of Days”. Starting at 10:00, the train entered the station and a customary bottle of champagne was broken on the decorated locomotive, followed by joyous festivities. But by the time of the line’s completion in 1930, a new competitor had arrived in the form of motor transport, against which it would steadily lose ground throughout the ensuing 60 years. For economic reasons, regular service was finally discontinued in 1991.

Loch Bridge

Loch BridgeThe beautiful Loch bridge - a national monument / Photo: Mike Leicester

Instructions were issued for the commencement of the construction of the Loch bridge during 1889, but a suitable site still had to be found. When a position had been selected, Joseph Newey, the District Inspector at King Williams Town, was instructed to complete designs for both ironwork and stone masonry type bridges. The estimated cost of a stone masonry bridge of £ 14 000 was approved, especially as Newey had found a good quarry site within half a mile of the site. Construction commenced in the middle of November 1891, the last arch was keyed in on 5 December 1892, the bridge was finally completed about the middle of March 1893, and the approach roads were finished in September 1893. There were 24 stone masons, three carpenters, and about 150 labourers employed on the works, and some 300 more were kept on the work of the approaches on either side.

Loch bridge plaquePlaque on Loch bridge / Photo: Mike Leicester

The bridge consists of five elliptical arches of 12 metres each, the length of the masonry is 80 metres and the full length of the bridge is 195 metres. The roadway is 5 metres wide and is 13 metres above the riverbed. Wing walls were added to the bridge after floods in January 1898 damaged the abutments. The final total cost of the bridge amounted to £ 14 722, while compensation costs of £ 1 509 were paid out to adjoining landowners after arbitration. When the last stone was laid, there were only two left out of the thousands that were cut.

The official opening of the bridge took place on Wednesday 6 December 1893, the delay being due to a dispute between the local Divisional Council of Barkly East and the Government about the former taking over responsibility for the bridge. The bridge was opened by Mrs Gie, the wife of the Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate of Barkly East, Mr J C Gie, amid great festivities attended by almost a thousand people.

Loch bridge crossingCrossing Loch bridge / Photo: Mike Leicester

A plague on the parapet wall has the following inscription:

“Built by the Public Works Department, WILLIAM MAGEE GRIER, M.I.C.E., Chief

Inspector, under the immediate supervision of JOSEPH NEWEY, M.I.C.E., District

Inspector, WILLIAM BIRNIE, Clerk of Works, 1893.”

The bridge was named after the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Henry Brougham Loch. It has been declared a national monument, and is one of the few bridges of this type still in use today.

Text & video footage by Mike Leicester

Fact File:


S30.879484 E27.560105


S30.879484 E27.560105


S30.906474 E27.572040














3.6 km




5 minutes


60 kph


Gravel (DR03214)






Barkly East (13 km)

Route Map:

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||Click to download: Tierkrans Pass (DR03214)  (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google earth and most GPS software systems)

More in this category: « Grondnek (R58)

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