East London - The day could have ended in disaster soon after setting off. A menacing, sweet-thorn bush protruded from the middle of a cattle grid on the road.
Reluctant to retrace my steps, I climbed out to investigate. Perhaps the longest thorns could be broken off – but there were dozens of them. Ten minutes later, bloodied, I had to admit defeat. Should I try to weave around it? Finally it dawned – check the adjoining rusty gate.
The lock yielded, it swung open easily. Thankfully, no farmer arrived, or he would have sniggered at this dumb traveller, who overlooked the obvious and would even contemplate challenging those formidable thorns, which could stop a tank in its tracks.
Next, a network of roads south-east of Graaff-Reinet terminated in a dead end. This entailed some backtracking, but a few kilometres north of Graaff-Reinet, a sign to Erasmuskloof looked encouraging. After much meandering, this small road connected with the Letskraal road (the route I had been seeking).
Triumphant, as the road unfolded amid dramatic scenery, it was time to enjoy fat-bottomed sheep running, bleating, in front of the vehicle; nimble goats; a couple of plodding tortoises; a belligerent bull trying to stare me down as it stood in the middle of a cattle grid. The bovine posed little threat by comparison with the thorn bush, and soon gave way.
There had to be a farm offering a stopover. Sure enough, not long after a sign pointed to Pienaarsbaken Guest Farm – and it was just what the travel doctor had prescribed.
Should you decide to visit, it is not necessary to take the circuitous route (but it is fun). Travelling north from Graaff-Reinet on the road towards Middelburg, shortly after the turn-off to Cradock (don’t take it) you will come across a turn-off to Nieu Bethesda, on one side, and the road to Pienaarsbaken on the other.
This was meant to be a one-night stopover, but two days later it was still difficult to tear myself away.
The self-catering cottage proved to be well-equipped, charming, and bursting with character. Ceilings are low with wooden beams. One bedroom, reached via a low lintel, had thick walls, with a sash window. At night the full moon was able to steal into the room.
The comfortable bed had a drape like a billowing sail above it. There was a wall heater, electric blanket, and the cutest shower alcove reached, unusually, via a small hanging wooden gate, which also serves as a towel rack. In a separate bathroom and toilet everything required for pampering is on hand.
In the garden, ducks waddled contentedly. Instead of using the dining table, eating on the stoep provides a rustic scene.
There are plenty of easy walks: around a farm dam, through fields with glossy horses grazing; across the veld; and down beside the river. A large family of meerkats scuttled away, but curiosity got the better of them so, typically, they had to pause and stand on their back legs for another look.
The owners were away, but they also offer adventure packages for bikers into the nearby Sneeuberge. At night, an Irish wolfhound kept guard. The peace was all pervading. - Sunday Tribune
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