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Now why should the town fathers order farmers to keep their ostriches under wraps? What offence could these birds have given?
The answer is a quirky one, typical of Victorian morals. Those who issued the ban could be said to have their heads hidden in the sand, just like an ostrich.
The town fathers of Montagu’s feathers, apparently, were ruffled by the sight of male ostriches dancing to attract the attentions of the females. “Disgraceful,” they declared, forbidding farmers to keep ostriches in paddocks where the public could view such scandalous behaviour.
Nowadays, of course, nobody bats an eye when the males go about their ritual dance.
For me, personally, every time I spot a hovering male ostrich, with legs all fiery in mating season, it makes me think of a visit to Tuscany, in Italy, where a male ostrich in a paddock stalked me up and down the farm fence-line.
While I flattered myself that he might have been a South African export who recognised a compatriot from his homeland, the farmer quickly pricked my bubble, telling me that male ostriches often fixate on human females when no feathered female is in sight.
But moving away from ostrich plumes, the Kannaland Festival was being celebrated while I was in the area, and the local radio station was making sure anyone who tuned in was aware of the delights the area has to offer.
So, which towns fall within the Kannaland ambit? Calitzdorp, Ladismith, Vanwyksdorp and Zoar. Calitzdorp is well known for its port, and a festival celebrating this noble distillation is held every July. The inhabitants also take their culture seriously, and there seems to be much on offer in this respect. It is a great stop-off with wonderful views of the Swartberg mountains as a backdrop.
The back road beneath the Swartberg is a wonderful alternative to the main road to Oudtshoorn from Calitzdorp.
The landscape around Ladismith is dominated by the twin peaks of Towerkop (bewitched peak). The surrounding farms mainly produce dried fruit and dairy products. Their cheeses are in great demand, while for nature lovers there are several conservation areas to explore, such as Towerkop, Anysberg, Gamkaberg and Swartberg nature reserves.
Nearby, hot spring waters of Warmwaterberg in the Barrydale district lure those who love a good, long soak. When I started visiting Warmwaterberg, it was run by a woman who was very health conscious. This was where I first drank rooibos tea, long before it shot to fame and fortune. Only the healthiest foods were allowed on the table.
Each room had its own sunken bath – like a miniature swimming pool. You soaked, you lolled on a bench, you dipped in the water again. If you wanted to swim outdoors, a reservoir – also with hot mineral water – provided amazing vistas of the Karoo veld.
Now there are more modern pools, and trees have grown up, but this means those phenomenal views have gone. The special ambience, almost like a spiritual link with the Karoo, has disappeared. The indoor baths, though, still exist, but only those staying in the old farmhouse have access to them.
Montagu, where those prudish forefathers once issued the ostrich edict, is also famous for its hot springs. I must confess I also preferred them in the days before the 1981 Laingsburg floods washed away the old ones.
The many modern pools can never match the charm of sitting on a natural rock ledge in a crystal-clear pool, with mountains towering on all sides, and palm trees reminiscent of a desert oasis. The meander down the kloof from the springs to the town was pure pleasure. Not having been for some time, I am not sure whether this kloof walk is still open.
Uniondale, on the fringes of Kannaland, is not a town where many people stop, but it has a character all of its own. Its name comes from the fact that two communities lived here. Friction and tension were the order of the day, until a church was built between them, thus uniting them, leading to the name Union-dale.
Uniondale became known for the quality of the wagons its artisans built, and its watermill had the largest water wheel – now a national monument – in South Africa.
Instead of the usual charge down the national highway, how about taking time out to enjoy these small towns and little pleasures? - Saturday Star