The kiss of the winter sun is joyful.
There have been days of rain, and more rain -when I sit indoors with blankets wrapped around my legs and a prized water bottle tucked beneath, savouring winter soup and wondering how the months slipped away. But the South African winter also offers honey coloured days, warm and thick, gentle and gooey days when being outside, exploring, is a terribly good idea.
The Western Cape, where I find myself, is blessed with winter rainfall, and when the sun does come out, it is to reveal the lushest, verdant space topped by endless blue sky. The cattle are washed, dirt roads pooled and challenging, and landscape at this time of the year, sings. As I get older, my love for nature grows more profound, or does it circle? Tadpole hunting as a child, now tadpole watching again.
Visiting Tulbagh begins with a beautiful drive through wine and wheat country. This is Paarl and Wellington country, rising and falling between misty valleys, slipping down a gorge and up the other side; tripping names that clicks on the tongue. Afrikaans footprints. Colonial drama. Obiqua history. And Tulbagh.
Tulbagh is known primarily for two reasons. The first is the charming amble along the oldest part of town, Kerk Street, a visual feast of early Victorian, Edwardian and Dutch cottages … and the earthquake.
Love looking at old photos, don’t you? Generations of people we tend to forget lived a really long time ago, with hardship, pioneering and discovery. Without grand hospitals, schools – at times trekking, farming, feeding and raising families. Never to return to the country of their birth.
The tourism museum, which doubles as the Earthquake museum (you heard correctly), pays homage to the early settlers. I wonder why they always have to look so glum? Even the children here are so serious. Glum must have been fashionable for formal portraits but rather sad, this strict sense of morality and duty. Life was basic, but I am hoping full of romance and laughter too. Names like Retief, de Vos, de Bruyn, Marais – dutch settlers mainly who were given land to farm in 1699.
Tulbagh was discovered by Mr. Pieter Potter, surveyor for Jan van Riebeeck in 1658, and is the forth oldest town in South Africa. Can you guess the other three? Named after a former Dutch govenor, Ryk Tulbagh, the town prospered and officially called so in 1804.
The Earthquake and heritage museums are beside the Tourist information centre and a good starting point. The staff are most helpful and a ‘pensioner’s’ ticket for R20 will give you access to the church and four museums along Kerk Street. A poignant visit to the past, unexpected, loss of lives and property, one cannot help but feel for the townsfolk, the farming communities and all those affected by the quake. This happened on the 29th September 1969, at precisely 10.09 pm – you will see a clock, time suspended when the earthquake struck.
At the one end of Kerk street is the church and even before entering, I spy the ever important pineapple. My fascination for pineapples in London and England is well know to many, but to see one here, in the middle of the Western Cape, in Tulbagh, had me at … colonisation. In the 17th Century, it was the pineapple and tulip that signified wealth in Europe. Built by the OVC, the Dutch East India company in 1795, the interiors are filled with heritage pieces, an original Bible and here for me, the reality of slavery most felt. A separate gallery for slaves above the front door, the slave bell at the entrance and a receipt – the buying of a young girl for a few, meagre pounds.
This is why history is so important to preserve – we must never be allowed to forget, the good, and the bad and learn from it.
Camellias bloomed, blossoms pink as we wandered from number to number of house, down the entire street, some converted to art galleries, cafés and restaurants – some preserved in a delighted competition of the gables. One begins to notice how they change in building style, the further we walked, the more elaborate the gables became. Times were prospering then, the influence of simple Dutch, to Victorian, and later Edwardian architectural styles, carefully restored after the earthquake to their original form. The Dutch gabled house, so tied to the history of this land, is one of the iconic features in the houses down the road.
The walk should be a slow one, each numbered house has a sign with all the information about it, lovely to read before entering and guides to answer your questions. Appreciate the craftsmanship in wood and iron. My family used to have a farm in the Free State, dating back to the 18th century with window sills exactly like these I found – the walls were so thick that each window offered a little bench to sit and watch the world go by.
Highly recommended and thank you to all who shared their pride in living there with us. To end the day, a glorious meal outside, under the trees, cows close, snow on the mountains and blossoms my kind of happy pink, for spring is on the way.
Discover South Africa, the mystery and magic will hold you close.