Kokstad - Heavy snow began falling in the north-eastern Cape in July this year, just as I was due to travel through the area. A phone call to Elliot, just below Barkly Pass, which is often snowbound, revealed that, while it was not snowing there, thick mist and torrential rain were making travel dangerous. Clearly a stop was called for while the situation was monitored.
So, I checked into Elandskuil self-catering, on a farm 17km outside of Kokstad. Just 800m down a gravel road, it proved a comfortable haven in a storm.
I had been told by the owner, Ann Gerrard, to position myself at a certain spot by 5pm. As this was around the time the sun set, I imagined this would be a fine vantage point to view the end of the day. Still, as Ann said this with a hint of humour in her voice (the suggestion was relayed by cellphone, as she was in Durban at the time) it sounded rather mysterious.
All afternoon, as I wandered around the farm, a hint of anticipation hovered.
The air was, to say the least, brisk. Stark trees brooded but, despite it being winter, the grass was already green after heavy rains, and cattle grazed contentedly.
My accommodation was in a sunny wing of the main house. A cute thatched cottage would have been my first choice, but that was booked. There were also igloo-shaped constructions beneath the trees, but these were more suited to summer.
My comfortable bedroom and lounge looked on to a long expanse of lawn and hills in the distance. A cute courtyard, with flowers adding a splash of colour, looked inviting. A stone bench added its own charm. The swimming pool was a no-go in this weather.
The appointed hour of 5pm saw me ensconced in a chair, armed wih a cup of coffee and rusks crammed with whole almonds, courtesy of Elandskuil. The show, which took place on top of a large stone pedestal, commenced... and it had nothing to do with a spectacular sunset.
A beautiful, colourful rooster which I had already encountered during my walk, settled on the pedestal. Next to it were two hens and one chick. This chicken, however, was much larger than its mom. Despite this, in a throwback to its first days on earth, it was trying to get in under her wing. Obviously, this was not possible, but the clumsy youngster persisted.
Eventually, fed up with this, the rooster pecked the chick, which tried to escape dad’s sharp beak by running around the top of the pedestal. Its mother got out of the way, by jumping off the pedestal. Meanwhile the second hen also flew off in a huff, while dad and his offspring continued to sprint around the decorative stone-piece.
It was as entertaining as a TV soapie.
Early next morning, it was all systems go, as the cold front moved on and the weather report indicated clear conditions through the mountain passes of the north-eastern Cape. Ann later told me if I had visited some weeks later, I would have found myself snowbound for about four days.
Now, as I left Elandskuil, some of the cows had located a spot in the sunshine on the lawn. There they lay contentedly.
A month later, on my journey home, pea-soup thick mist descended shortly after leaving Kokstad. Travel was hazardous, so I pulled into Harding for the night, where I agonised over where to stay.
Willowdene Guesthouse and B&B, with Spanish hacienda-style villas set in magnificent gardens, lured. The owner told me in October they are having an open garden display.
In the end, I chose the self-catering option of Kenton Farm B&B just outside Harding, where the accommodation is in revamped farm outbuildings close to the big, old family home. Arriving in the mist, between the trees, on a country road, added to the atmosphere.
If You Go...
l Elandskuil 0834482800; e-mail: [email protected]
l Willowdene Guest House and B&B 039 433 1038; 072 235 6326; e-mail [email protected]
l Kenton Farm B&B 039 433 1966; 076 729 8896; e-mail [email protected] - Sunday Tribune