My last post on Sutherland saw the demise of my trusty and much used 17-85 mm Canon zoom lens. Apparently it can be resuscitated, for who knows how long, for the princely sum of R2000 plus. I have resisted such fiscal irresponsibility in the interests of avoiding a Grecian tragedy. My only back-up has been a nasty, red-hued miniature camera with more computing power than a 1970 IBM mainframe but the ergometric properties of a dyslexic octopus. (I’m not sure if that makes sense but use your imagination). Furthermore, Cape Town has awaited this opportunity to torment me with some of the most remarkable and glorious vistas I have seen for…well I can’t remember how long.
But I did find the stimulus of a family visit, which included 3 delightful nights in Montagu, sufficient to overcome my natural aversion to the toy to spend part of the first day recording some of the visual and social elements of the town.
Montagu, for those few South Africans who don’t know, is a natural beauty spot at the confluence of the Keisie and Kingna rivers and can be reached through the spectacular Cogman’s Kloof in the Langeberg range in the Klein Karroo. The road through the pass was constructed by Thomas Bain in the 1870s and is well-known to generations of Capetonians drawn to the hot mineral springs and spectacular physical beauty of the area. Montagu itself has undergone a remarkable spurt in numbers and sophistication in the past few decades but seems to have retained both charm and village friendliness.
We arrived in mid-afternoon at De Bos, an informal but comfortable rural lodging serving mainly the backpacking and camping community. It is situated on a flat plain bordered by the Langeberg to the East with paddocks, guinea fowl, a vociferous donkey, exceptionally friendly dogs and a hospitable host who added extra heating and blankets without demur on request.. Our own history with the town
goes back more than a half century when we used to visit with our two small children to hike the gorge and spend some time in the hot baths attached to the unpretentious little hotel nearby. The floods of 1981 did massive damage to the kloof from which it has not fully recovered. In any case neither Sheila nor I were ready to hike its rough trail on this occasion.
Sheila and I explored much of the town during our stay. The photos in this post were those taken on the first day before my shamefully neglected battery ran out of steam. Clearly money has arrived in Montagu in the form of wealthy refugees from Gauteng and other provinces and a flourishing tourist trade. This is reflected in the large houses, well-maintained gardens
and the general impression of spit and polish to the eating places and tourist establishments. Like all South African urban nodes the old historical inequalities are also clearly apparent but not as dispiriting as I have witnessed elsewhere, possibly owing to the economic opportunities afforded by tourism, building and a flourishing agricultural economy.
On the recommendation of our host we ate at Ye Olde Tavern and despite the appalling name the fare was varied, relatively inexpensive and extremely tasty.Tuesday mornings the Montagu Nature Reserve hosts the town folk to tea and cookies for the nominal price of R20. We arrived early to find that others had arrived even earlier, but the atmosphere was very welcoming, the tasties delicious and the walk up Bessie’s peak behind the tea room provided a wonderful vantage point from which to survey the town and become acquainted with the local fynbos.
Here is a potpourri of scenes with brief commentary. Urban chic rapidly becomes rustic chic and Montagu is a font of the latter.
Sceptics and sophisticates can scoff but I quite like it. It adds verve and funk and is infinitely preferable to rural stolidity or pretention. There is a bit of that too and you decide which is which.
What I liked about the town is that is forgot neither its agricultural roots or natural heritage.
Finally the urban culture comes in all shapes and colours and Montagu is well within the universal force field of American punk, even if slightly dated. Here is a young buck showing his feathers to the local ladies…
Have a look at the gallery to get extra pics. Visit and soak up the charm of the rural-urban interface. From the climber/hiker to a gentle foray into a different, yet deeply familiar South African culture, Montagu is well worth a visit – or even something more permanent.
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