Latest News! 15th August, 2019

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It's almost springtime - Namaqualand awaits It's almost springtime - Namaqualand awaits - Photo: Google Images


* Spring flowers look promising
* Baviaanskloof - The story continues
* South African history - the 1st Anglo-Boer War.
* Podcast - how to prepare for your next gravel travel adventure
* Pass of the week 
* Words of wisdom

It's been an excellent winter for the Western Cape with drenching rain falling for many weeks. The wheat and canola fields are a blaze of green and yellow; the dams are full and the rivers are flowing strongly. The region's biggest dam, Theewaterskloof, is currently at 71% and water continues to flow strongly in the catchment area. The big question is, should water restrictions be relaxed or remain?

Springtime is arguably the best season to travel and destinations like the Namaqualand National Park beckon. Our fully booked spring tour into the Cederberg area will include a visit to the Biedouw Valley - a well-known area to see the wild-flowers. We will bring a full report on the tour towards the end of August. [More lower down]

Bain Tour Story (Part 7) - Holgat Pass and old cableway

Once you start the ascent of the Holgat Pass you will have noticed the rapid change in vegetation with a distinctly more sub-tropical feel and more so in the valleys between the passes. The Holgat Pass was also built by local farmers but with input and financial assistance from government. It was the last pass to be constructed which would bring the eastern and western sections together to form one long road of almost 200 km.

The pass itself is not excessively steep, but the many side ravines which have to be negotiated mean that the road is subject to regular water damage. The pass contains 49 bends, corners and curves within its 4,7 km length and 10 of those corners are greater than 90 degrees. The road is partially strip concreted and sections of the concrete are in poor condition, making for quite a bumpy ride. Most of the pass has steep, unguarded drop-offs and drivers need to be alert. Overtaking is impossible and passing vehicles travelling in the opposite direction will require both vehicles to move over to create sufficient passing space, probably having to fold away side mirrors - it's that narrow!

The views to the left (west) are out of this world with the distinctive shape of the Langkop peak taking centre stage. There are no suitable places to stop, but mostly the traffic volumes are so low, it's usually OK to block the road for a short while. Near the summit, most of the pass you have just driven up can be traced. It's a beautiful vista and up close you'll be surrounded by proteas, restios and ericas.

The summit point itself levels off over a long plateau and a large layby has been created by EC Parks Board where there are toilets and a billboard style information sign showing some of the interesting facts about the Baviaanskloof.  A short walk of 5 minutes down a jeep track will get you to the old aerial cableway. This was built in the 1960's by Winston Le Roux and his father. The gorge over which the cableway spans is impressive and several hundred metres deep with rugged near vertical cliffs. It must have taken a lot of planning and physical and engineering effort to pull that thick steel cable over the chasm.

The actual cableway cage, which would contain cargo ranging from seeds, vegetables, livestock and even humans, would be winched over the gorge using a farm tractor to power the system. It is only if you have seen this cableway with your own eyes that you can appreciate just how hair raising that trip must have been.

The Le Roux's owned the farm Enkeldoorn on the western side of the gorge and the cableway cut off more than two days travel - a major advantage in being able to get their produce to market.

The SAR road motor services began operating a regular bus service through the kloof in 1932. The service ran from Willowmore to Keerom on Mondays and Thursdays and returned the following day. The oddly shaped bus used for this service was called a Tri-Compo for its 3 compartments, which consisted of a cabin for the driver and his assistant, followed by a small area for those holding 1st class tickets, whilst 2nd class ticket holders sat at the larger rear section of the covered part of the bus. The rear half consisted of a large metal cage like structure which housed farming equipment, seeds and livestock. Postal items were transported in the front with the driver.

SAR&H Tri Compo Bus

[Next week: Combrink's Pass and the Cambria Valley ]

South Africa History - Chapter 15

The 1st Anglo-Boer War

Battle of Majuba Hill

Having originally discounted the interior of South Africa as worthless, the British became increasingly perturbed by the discovery of diamonds near Kimberley and the early gold strikes in the Eastern Transvaal. Even though they had recognised the independence of the Boer Republics in 1852 and 1854, they now arrogantly decided to rescind their decision. 

On 12 April 1877 a proclamation of annexation was read out in Church Square in Pretoria, the capital of the ZAR. Although highly incensed by this, the ZAR Volksraad (government) initially decided on a path of passive resistance, and sent a number of delegations to London to argue their case, but to no avail. The UK government insisted that the ZAR remain under British authority. 

Realising that they had no other option, the Boers began to prepare for active conflict. They surreptitiously surrounded the six British garrisons that had been established in the territory after the Anglo-Zulu War, then waited for an excuse to start hostilities. 

This came when a farmer named Pieter Bezuidenhout refused to pay extra fees on his wagon, saying that he had already paid his taxes. The British authorities then confiscated the wagon and his oxen. On 11 November 1880, a commando of 100 men under General Piet Cronje took back his goods from the British bailiff and returned them to Bezuidenhout. 

Following this event, between 8,000 and 10,000 Boers gathered at Paardekraal, near Krugersdorp. A triumvirate of leaders was appointed, and on 13 December 1880 they proclaimed the restoration of the ZAR. Three days later they raised their flag at Heidelberg, thus rejecting British dominion and precipitating a war.

The fiercely independent Boers had no regular army; when danger threatened, all of the men in a district would form into loose groups called commandos and would elect their own officers. Being civilian militia, each man wore whatever he wished, usually everyday dark-grey, neutral-coloured, or earth-tone khaki farming clothes such as a jacket, trousers and a slouch hat. Each man brought his own weapon, usually a hunting rifle, and his own horse. The average Boer soldier had spent almost all of his working life in the saddle and was both a skilled hunter and an expert marksman. Boer commandos could also live off the land, negating the need for supply lines. 

British infantry uniforms at that time consisted of red jackets, black trousers with red piping on the side, white pith helmets and pipeclayed equipment, all of which formed a stark contrast to the African landscape. This made them highly visible, and enabled Boer troops to snipe at them from long range. British military tactics emphasized the traditional values of command, discipline, formation and synchronized firepower. The average British soldier was not trained to be a marksman and had received very little target practice. 

On 16 December 1880, the Boers laid siege to the British garrisons, cutting off all supply lines and effectively removing these troops from the hostilities. The first battle of the war took place on 20 December near Bronkhorstspruit, when an Irish unit marching to relieve the siege of Pretoria was halted by a Boer commando. The Boer leader, Piet Joubert, ordered the column to turn back, but the British refused; the Boers opened fire and most of the British soldiers were killed. The battle took just 15 minutes. 

With all of the British troops in the Transvaal under siege or defeated, the Boers concentrated their forces on the south-eastern border with Natal, where the remnants of the British army were located. Over a period of just 29 days, three major battles took place. The first of these was the Battle of Lang’s Nek, on 28 January 1881, during which the British were heavily defeated. The second battle (the Battle of Schuinshoogte) took place on 8 February 1881, again resulting in an almost complete annihilation of the imperial forces. 

On 26 February 1881, the British commander, Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley, led a night march of his troops to the top of Majuba Hill, which overlooked the main Boer position. Early the next morning, the Boers saw the British occupying the summit and started to ascend the mountain. Exhausted from their climb the night before and unprepared for this assault, the British soldiers offered little resistance and the battle turned into a rout. Colley himself was shot and killed almost immediately, as were many of his officers; the rest of the troops suffered heavy losses, some of the casualties occurring by men falling to their deaths off the mountain. The Boers suffered only one killed and five wounded. 

The British government realised that any further action would require substantial troop reinforcements, and that a continuance of the war would be costly, messy and protracted. They requested a truce which was granted on 6 March 1881, subsequently followed by a peace treaty on 23 March. The British surrender and the Boer right to self-government was officially ratified on 3 August 1881 with the signature of the Pretoria Convention. 

The 1st Anglo-Boer War was the first conflict since the American War of Independence in which Britain had been decisively defeated and forced to sign a peace treaty under unfavourable terms. It would also be the last time that the British would sport their famous “Redcoats”, and the final occasion on which a British regiment would carry its official regimental colours into battle.

[Next week: The second gold rush - Barberton]

PODCAST: Part 1 of a 3 part series chatting about how to prepare for a gravel-travel adventure. Click below to listen:

PASS OF THE WEEK - The Eastern Cape plays host to some of the most spectacular gravel passes, many of which have become popularised by the Ben 10 Eco Challenge, but today we take you along one of the more obscure passes that you might not know about.

* * * * *   G R E Y L I N G S   P A S S   * * * * * 

New passes added this week:

Nkaobee Pass - A big tarred pass on the A25 in Lesotho (Provisional video)

Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: " Traveling - it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller" ~ Ibn Battuta 

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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.

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