Latest News! 5th April, 2018

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Keur River Bridge designed by Charles Michell Keur River Bridge designed by Charles Michell - Photo: Trygve Roberts

A bridge too far

It is the year 1915. The attractive dressed stone, single arch bridge that straddles the amber waters of the Keur River in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains between George and Oudtshoorn is one of the most popular places for locals to visit for a break in their journey. The lushly wooded valley is filled with birdsong and the gentle sound of water burbling over the stones and boulders creates a place of timeless tranquility. But on a fateful day in that year a drama involving a murder and a suicide unfolded at the bridge.

John Cooper of Oudtshoorn was in love with Alice Lee of Somerset East (both had spouses and children). After a three day lover's tryst at the George Hotel, they set out for Oudtshoorn. Their journey ended at the Keur River bridge. Mrs. Lee was found with her long hair down and in disarray, one arm of her coat was almost ripped off. Near her lay John Cooper. Within reach of his hand was a recently fired revolver. In Cooper's car were letters for his wife and eldest son.

Witnesses recounted that some nights when young men raced down the pass on their bicycles, they saw Cooper and his mistress gliding half a meter above the road. Theunis Muller and Izak Theron were two Georgians who swore that they saw the ghosts more than once. The George & Knysna Herald newspaper reported that Mr Cooper shot Mrs Lee and then shot himself. (More lower down)

But let's go back to 1847. At the time Charles Michell was the Surveyor-General of the Cape, who was called on to design a bridge over the often powerful Keur River. Michell was a master designer who had been educated at Sandhurst in England and designed the attractive bridge which still stands stoutly and gracefully after 171 years of service.

Perhaps Thomas Bain's fame overshadows that of Charles Michell, but the latter is also a man who had great vision and influence on the progress of the Cape at the time. We are talking of course about what was considered a masterpiece of road building in its time - the Montagu Pass.

It was Michell who authorised and raised the funds (at the time a large amount of money - 36,000 Pounds Sterling) for the construction of the pass. The road still carries daily traffic between the towns of George and Oudtshoorn, but consists mainly of tourists, with the bulk of the heavy traffic routing over the more modern (1952) Outeniqua Pass on the western side of the valley.

At the time, the Montagu Pass (named after Sir John Montagu) was considered to be state of the art and was South Africa's finest piece of road engineering. It was on this pass that several engineering techniques were developed and it was also the first pass to be built exclusively using convict labour. The pass was constructed with a maximum gradient of 1:6 which must have seemed like a highway after the seriously steep and dangerous Cradock Pass, which preceded it.

We refilmed the entire pass from Herold to George in February 2018 in 1080HD with a silky smooth stabiliser in operation and have produced a brand new 4 part video set which covers every aspect of safety, tourism and technical information for first time drivers and for those who have already driven it, there is probably information you didn't know about.

For those who prefer driving the pass in the ascending mode, we have left our 2017 video set in place at the bottom of the page.

So, sit back, relax and enter the world of ghosts, convicts, adventurers, murderers and lovers as we take you down the timeless Montagu Pass. Just click the hyperlink below, which will take you directly to the pass page.

* * * * *  MONTAGU PASS   * * * * *

New passes added this week:

Kempslust Pass (KZN) - A remote gravel pass with a 222m altitude variance near the village of Luneburg.

Upgraded videos added this week:

Swaarmoed Pass (WC) - A big tarred pass north of Ceres and the main access route to the snowfields at Klondyke and Matroosberg.

Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing" ~ Walt Disney

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Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.

Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.

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