21 January 2012 by Chris Marais

Into the Valley of Desolation

They would actually hike up to this point from Graaff-Reinet town on a Sunday, dressed in suits and long, draggy skirts.

Every time we drive up into the mountains of the Camdeboo National Park and look down on the so-called Valley of Desolation, I’m far from desolate.

In fact, as we sit up here sipping something cold and nibbling on something crispy, my heart soars like that old Verreaux’s eagle and his mate wheeling around in the skies above me, looking for their dassie dinners.

As I look to the north-east, I see the oval-shaped and distant Graaff-Reinet, 4th oldest settlement in South Africa.

Directly below me is Spandau Kop, allegedly named after a desperate bandit who hung out in these heights. Past that is the road to Aberdeen and the Valley of Desolation.

It is from this point that British soldiers could spy columns of approaching Boer commandos, their horses kicking up little telltale plumes of dust. But that was back in the South African Anglo-Boer War. Today you’re more likely to spot the glints of sunlight flashing off the windscreens of passing pickup trucks.

They say that folks around here were generally much hardier back in the 1800s. They would actually hike up to this point from Graaff-Reinet town on a Sunday, dressed in suits and long, draggy skirts. They would finally pitch up here, exhausted and dripping with sweat, and look down on dry, barren plains. Both the walkers and the landscape would thus be in a state of desolation – hence the name.

It is from this point that British soldiers could spy columns of approaching Boer commandos, their horses kicking up little telltale plumes of dust.

These days, you find David McNaughton at Karoo Connections just below the Mother Church in the main street, and ask him to take you on an interpretive drive up into the park.

David knows all the good stories that can bring a place to life. He’ll make sure you’re well catered for and comfortable in his 10-seater. And once the sundowner hour approaches and you’re well-ensconced on your rock, just sit back and let McNaughton weave his historic magic.

You’ll call it the Valley of High Contentment…

Category: Culture & History

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