Discovering the Old Orange Free State – Part 2

We phoned on ahead and found camping facilities at Bokpoort Holiday Farm and before long we had our camp all set up. A sneaky chilly breeze started to blow, and picked up as the evening wore on so out came warmer clothes. Nestled in the valley below, we spied the peaceful Clarens village with lights twinkling brightly in the distance.


Clarens, founded in 1912, is the highest habitable village in the Free State.  In 1865, five burghers were killed by the Basotho and a monument to them was erected and placed in the town square. Soon we were on our merry way again to visit Surrender Hill just outside Clarens.   It commemorates where the Free State Boer Commandos surrendered to British troops in July 1900, and was proclaimed a national monument in 1986.   The history behind the site is best summed up by the inscription on the plaque erected (now missing) which read:  “In July 1890 a large part of the Free State armed forces were surrounded by British troops.  Gen CR de Wet and about 2,000 men escaped over Slabbert’s Nek.   They agreed to surrender under Chief Comdt Marthinus Prinsloo’s command. More than 4,300 Boers laid down their arms, most of them at Surrender Hill, where the British destroyed and captured arms and ammunition.”  We were very disappointed to see that the plaques had been stolen.  The monument is to the fallen British soldiers situated on the spot where 4000 Boer guerrillas surrendered and were sent to India as prisoners.  The British took about 20,000 prisoners altogether during the Anglo Boer War, and they were also sent to Bermuda, St. Helena and Ceylon.

On the road again – in fact on one of the 10 best roads for motorbike riding in the country with sweeping bends inbetween the mountains on our way to Fouriesburg, which is arguably one of the most beautiful corners of S Africa. The Dutch Reformed sandstone church was built in 1893 and sits majestically on an enormous town square.    Such a magnificent church inside!   The galvanised iron Blockhouse used by the British during the Anglo Boer War   stands in the grounds of the N G Church. The Fouriesburg Hotel was opposite the N G Church, so we popped in for a refreshing drink!      

We next visited the President Steyn House, and the Town Hall. Then we found the oldest house in Fouriesburg. Drinks in the Clock & Train Pub. Also a monument to all those who died in concentration camps. All heritage sites. Lastly, the little Anglican Church, St Mary’s. We even found a mosque in Fouriesburg!

After completing our  fascinating tour of Fouriesburg, we headed for Ficksburg. This town is at the foot of the 1,750 m high Imperani mountain and was founded by Gen. Johan Fick in 1867, who won the territory in the Basotho wars. An interesting fact that the last Gov. Gen. of the Union of SA and the first State President of SA Charles Robert Swart was imprisoned here in the gaol by the British in 1914, and was released one day before his scheduled execution.    Ficksburg is known for the annual cherry festival held in November every year which stretches over 3 days attracting over 30,000 people.     It is also known as the asparagus region of SA.  Ficksburg is the only town in SA where the border post is part of the town.    As we approached Ficksburg, we passed the Ionia Cherry Farm on our right consisting of five farms and there are more than 15,000 cherry trees planted there. 

On entering the town we  found the mosque (that Ian had built quite a few years ago), as well as the Museum and the Magistrate’s Court. We found the Anglican Church – All Saints, renowned for its beautiful stained glass windows.  The gate was unlocked so we walked in but all the windows had shutters covering them.   Lynette wanted to see whether we could see any of the stained glass windows, so she opened one of the shutters, and by doing so, set off the alarm, so we hot-footed it out of the church grounds before the security arrived.  

Back on the patched R26,  we wound our way through the beautiful bushy and rocky mountains and  eventually  stopped at a designated picnic spot along the busy road to  Clocolan  for some lunch, with huge trucks thundering by!   We were still giggling at how Lynette had set off the alarm at the church by opening the shutters to see the stained glass windows! 

Pic 9

We continued our journey southwards towards Clocolan, which was established in 1906.   The eastern Free State cherry industry originated in the Clocolan district where the first cherry trees were planted by Henry Pickstone in 1904 on the farm Platkop!   We drove through the little town and located the Town Hall quite easily, with a monument just over the road.    

Back onto the much improved R26 we headed towards the resort farm of Oldenburg, where we hoped to find camping facilities but unfortunately the owners were on vacation!   As we were driving back on the gravel road, Ian in front suddenly stopped, and Lynette jumped out and ran towards  a peach tree next to the road laden with peaches and picked about a dozen of the fruit ~ can we take her anywhere? These peaches were far juicier than the ones that they bought legitimately next to the road.    

We continued on our journey to Ladybrand on a back gravel road to Little Rock Holiday Resort in a beautiful setting which was located in a small wooded valley and almost  surrounded by sandstone mountains.   Big shady trees gave coolth to the green and grassy sites up camp.  We went for a little exploratory stroll around the resort and as the shadows lengthened, we sat comfortably with  sundowners in our hands discussing the trip so far with a few Basuto ponies wandering  through the resort. Although there was no wind the evening was prematurely chilly, but we were very snug in our little roof top tent.                            

 Next morning, after breakfast we set off to see what Ladybrand had to offer.   We came to 19 Prinsloo Street, which was a typical Edwardian style sandstone house with fret work on the verandah.  The Police Station was next with the Town Hall quite close.  Eventually we found our way to the  St James Anglican Church and met Hanli who was tending the gardens.  She gave us plenty of historical information with regard to  the church over the years.   

Then back on the R26, where we found our way to St Augustine & Priory at Modderpoort. “Modderpoort owes its origin to an idea in the mind of Bishop Twells, who became the first Bishop of this Diocese in 1863.   The Bishop bought two adjacent farms, and the Society of St Augustine was born in 1867 when Canon Beckett and 6 men left England  to work in this remote and isolated part of the Free State.  The farms were first occupied in 1869 by Canon Beckett, the Superior of the Society of St Augustine and four brothers, who lived in the now famous  cave, which is now currently  a consecrated Anglican Church.   They made their temporary home in a cave, and enlarged the existing area to a 3,6 x 4,2m structure,  by building up a wall of stones. This area was used as a chapel and small sleeping space, till it was later refurbished as a pilgrimage chapel by Fr. Adrian Martin in 1945.   The Priory church is alongside the original Priory building which is still in use today.  The Augustine canons later built the  Priory Church of St. Augustine  to replace the original church building” .    Every August  Anglicans from all over the Free State flock to The Cave Service and they have as many as 5,000 devotees to that service.  Plenty of seating all over outside the cave, some of it on slabs of rock placed in the grass. 

A wedding was to be held there on the day we were there and a young lad, Tshabalala, who was a guest, but knew his way around, acted as our guide and showed us around the Chapel and the famous cave  which we really appreciated.   At the entrance of the cave  were about 50 members of the Apostolic Church together with a band, and their singing could be heard from some distance away!!   They were very happy for us to go into the Cave ahead of them.    What an incredible setting and very interesting!

Now we continued on our way, and had an easy run  to Bloemfontein with fields of sunflowers on both side of the N8, as well as acres of very healthy looking maize fields.  

End of part 2