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WWhat was it like on commando as a Boer soldier during the South African War of 1899 to 1902? What was it like to stand up to the well-equipped soldiers of the British Empire? What happened in the concentration camps where Boer women and children were incarcerated? Follow the Bethulie war trail to find out.
The Bethulie war trail in the Free State came to life several years back after trail guide Anthony Hocking bought the Royal Hotel in the small town of Bethulie – the oldest surviving hotel in the Free State.
He had no idea at the time how intimately it would acquaint him with the South African War, also known as the Second Anglo-Boer War.
'I learnt about the Bethulie Commando, comprising 300 men from this district, and the extraordinary battles that were fought in this part of the world following the decision by the Free State War Council to invade the Cape Colony,' Hocking explains.
'I learnt about the Boer War concentration camp that was in Bethulie, known as the "Bethulie Refugee Camp". The worst of all the concentration camps, it was designed for 500 people and landed up housing 5 000 Boers, mostly women and children, many of whom died here in unspeakable conditions,' he says.
'I learnt how the hotel I now own was the British headquarters during the hunt for the legendary Boer general, General De Wet. I learnt all this and more and I wanted to share it with others, which is when I came up with the Bethulie War Trail.'
Guided by Hocking, visitors are offered anything from a 1 to 3-day war trail, during which they embark on a vivid South African War experience.
During visits to the battlefields, Hocking relays dramatic details of the clashes in which the Boers, most of whom were farmers untrained for war and armed with vastly inferior weapons to the British, frequently gained the upper hand and won major battles.
They were eventually forced to surrender, partly due to the British embarking on their 'scorched-earth' campaign, as well as incarcerating thousands of Boer women and children in the notorious concentration camps.
Hocking describes the bravery of the women in these camps, many of whom stood firm even when tortured.
During your trail you stay at the Royal Hotel in Bethulie, which Hocking is restoring to its former glory and where you are in for some décor and culinary treats, including eland goulash and springbok pie.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Anthony Hocking at the Royal Hotel Bethulie
Tel: +27 (0)71 683 7767
How to get here
Bethulie is about 580km (6 to 7 hours' drive) from Johannesburg, and 875km (about 9 to 10 hours' drive) from Cape Town.
Best time to visit
All year round.
Things to do
There is plenty to do in and around Bethulie, including, golf, tennis, bowls; a visit to the nearby Tussen-die-Riveren Game Reserve to see rhinos; a visit to Gariep dam; fishing in the Orange River; horse riding; township tours and fossil hunts.
Speak to Anthony Hocking, who will either accompany you in your vehicle or organise a vehicle.
What will it cost?
Anthony Hocking will discuss the Bethulie war trail price with you, depending on how many people there are and how many days you would like to spend on the trail.
Length of stay
One to 3 days.
What to pack
Walking shoes, camera, binoculars, hat, clothing for warm and cold conditions.
Where to stay
The memorable Royal Hotel, Bethulie, which has been described as ‘falling down the rabbit hole’.
What to eat
The Royal Hotel has an a la carte menu with a wonderful array of boerekos (farmers' food), or South African food.