Clanwilliam is one of the oldest towns in South Africa. Picture: Nathan Adams
Clanwilliam is one of the oldest towns in South Africa. Picture: Nathan Adams

Clanwilliam; the little dorpie that's more than a wallflower

By Nathan Adams Time of article published Aug 21, 2019

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Chances are you’ve heard of Clanwilliam in the Western Cape but have never been to the town. Truth be told, it’s off the beaten track - you must turn off the N7 to get there. Once you take the turn, you’ll find it’s well worth it.

Before spending 48 hours there, all I knew about the dorpie was that it was well known for its annual wildflower show, a signature event in the Namaqualand region.

Clanwilliam is true to form in what you’d expect from a small, Western Cape town and it has standout characteristics. One of the most notable is that the farms are on the outskirts of the centre, creating a distance between the daily life of the town and agricultural activity.

Clanwilliam is the centre of the rooibos tea industry; this is where it’s grown and processed. It is also is a custodian of the Khoi San rock art dotted across the surrounding mountain ranges.

The town is steeped in history and yet it’s being reborn as it boldly looks towards the future.

It’s among the 10 oldest towns in the country - Clanwilliam’s beginnings goes back to 1660 when a team of Dutch explorers, sent by Jan van Riebeeck, first reached the Olifants River.

Not unscathed by colonialism and apartheid, the history of the town is evident in the museum, where visitors feel they’re stepping back in time.

From the ox wagon to the recreated homes and workshop of a bygone era, Clanwilliam reflects it history and it’s roots.

One of its most famous sons, Dr C Louis Leipoldt, is remembered in the museum with a fitting tribute and reflection on his life.

Visitors will find another hero at the tourist office, proudly remembered for his contribution to the arts.

Tolla van der Merwe, the Afrikaans comedian and TV presenter, was born in Clanwilliam. After his death in August 2000, an installation, which includes a bust of him, was created where tourists gather.

Clanwilliam should be explored in order to get an authentic taste of the town and its people.

Nancy’s Tea Room is a must, for its delicious cakes and an insight into town life. You can order a jumbo scone and a rooibos cappuccino and people watch while getting the measure of Clanwilliam. The small-town hospitality is genuine and warmly received by anyone who shakes off the attitudes of big city life.

Tannie Stephanie Murray owns and operates Clan Murray, the guest house I stayed in.

All the amenities you’ll need are within arm’s reach, but it’s when you invite her to the shared kitchen for a cup of tea that you will really enjoy the stay.

She is a tour guide and can tell you not only historical facts about the town, but also describe its quirks and interesting people.

Murray was born in Brits and married a man who was born and raised in Clanwilliam which is how she ended up there in her twilight years.

This is a town you can travel to for the wildflower show and easily stay for longer than a weekend.

There’s a saying among the residents of Clanwilliam that those who leave always return - it’s a theory I put to the test and can’t disprove.

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