Flowers of Cape Province – September 4th – 20th
I had walked with Ramblers Worldwide Holidays in Europe over ten years ago, but “worldwide” rambling was a new venture for me. Spurred on by a recommendation on the RHS website I opted for “Flowers of Cape Province”, to combine my love of walking with the opportunity to learn more about an area which has World Heritage status for its flora. In fact, this year, the famous carpets of spring flowers across the desert didn’t materialise due to lack of rain, but there were plenty of individual flowers to identify and photograph, and the landscape was awe inspiring.
We mixed flower hunting with longer walks. One of the highlights of the holiday for me was walking down the old road of the Swartberg Pass.
We set out from the Swartberg Hotel in Prince Albert, a Victorian style building with beautiful antique furniture and wonderful traditional food and the coach took us to the top of the pass. The road had been built between 1879 and 1887 by Thomas Bain, a remarkable engineer and road builder, to provide a better route between the farms of the Karoo and the markets the other side of the mountains. We stood at the top of the pass, looking down at the 10 miles of switchbacks and hairpin bends, thinking of the convict labour that was used to construct the road and the dry stone walls that still hold up the road one hundred years on.
Four hours later, we were at the bottom of the pass, soaking our feet in the stream at Eerste Water, talking about the indigenous pelagoniums we had seen, marvelling at the sight of the folded mountains, watching 4 by 4s negotiate the gravel road, and thinking about the efforts of the workforce who built the pass with pickaxes, spades and gunpowder. The tales of the pioneers of those early days, their efforts to carve a living out of the land, the stories of the Trek and the Boer War, all combined to bring alive the history of Prince Albert and the pride of those who live there today.