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Posted on: Monday, 25 October 2010

Louriesfontein and Calvinia – sommer net passing through

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Loeriesfontein Windmills

Loeriesfontein Windmills

‘Just what is so important that it warrants a drive through to Louriesfontein?’ my other half comments dubiously whilst thumbing through his recent acquisition – a book brimming over with the plant types we can hope to see around Nieuwoudtville – millions of them. My windmills cannot compete, or can they?

‘A windmill museum’, I inform him, with as much ‘ta da’ as I can muster. I’ve seen photographs of the array of eccentrically stacked windmills in the yard of a church in Louriesfontein, and I want to go – think of the photo moments. Besides which, it isn’t that far from our accommodation. We tumble into the car and set off in a north easterly direction for roughly 60 km …

A friend of mine broke down on the road between Nieuwoudtville and Loeriesfontein. That was three weeks ago. Her car is still in the one and only garage awaiting a part. She hitched back from Loeriesfontein, getting a lift with a local farmer from whom she learned all about fat-tailed sheep, probably a lot more than she wanted to know, but she relates the story as one of the most fun things that has ever happened to her.

Loeriesfontein is small. It is also off the beaten track on the R355 that branches off the R27 into the Northern Cape. It lies on the southern edge of what was known as Boesmanland, on a hill. Its main claim to fame is the Windmill Museum (there are only two in the whole wide world, honest) and the flowers, and it gets visitors mainly because of its proximity to Nieuwoudtville – there is a sign for the Windmill Museum (more commonly known as the Windpomp museum) on the edge of town – Nieuwoudtville, that is.

Louriesfontein
Photographs – Louriesfontein Windmill Museum

Loeriesfontein grew around a general dealership set up here in 1894 by a man named Frederick Turner, a bible pusher who retired from selling bibles to settle down and provide the locals, mostly farmers, with supplies. The local museum, named after Frederick, lies in the grounds of the local Baptist Church (you have to ring the bell for someone to show you around, and on a Sunday you might have to forego this pleasure entirely) it shares with a whole host of windpomps – of every hue, shape and description.

There are windmills called Gearing Selfoiling, Hassy, Worths, Beatty Pumper, Dandy, Fairbanks Morse, Star Zephyr, Conquest, Leers and others (whoever names windmills has a sense of humour,). They stand, all 27 of them apparently, in the grounds of the church against the blue of the sky – a favourite venue with photographers who make it here, each carefully painted with some kind of silver stain to protect it from the elements. This makes them look oddly new.

They stand eerily turning in the wind, each gasping and groaning its own particular grind, as its blades revolve, a chorus of rasping and clangs as they spiral slowly – a windy day must be pretty deafening. A sign slung at the bottom of the Fred Turner Museum board indicates that refreshments are sold in the shelter or ‘skerm’. But, being a Sunday, no-one is around to help us and my idea of a mug of coffee on a stoep sadly not met.

Louriesfontein - more Windmills
Photographs – Left: Fred Turner Museum sign / Right: and more Windmills …

There is a barn of sorts though that probably qualifies as the Fred Turner Museum. Inside there are a series of displays depicting the life of the ‘trek farmers’ of Namaqualand. It isn’t an old barn but the old school in which the various wagons, tents, ‘kook skerms’ and other cultural artefacts are housed – over 1000 items are on display and it is very interesting if you feel like taking the time to read some of the newspaper articles.

We stop to refuel at the only petrol station in Loeriesfontein (there is also only one ATM in town). The petrol attendant is rumoured to have an office full of pot plants, but I don’t get out to verify this as we’re already engrossed in deciding how best to get to Calvinia from here. Loeriesfontein seems stuck in some sort of time warp, somewhere in the 1960s but the beautiful NG church just outside of town, quiver trees on either side of the doorway, is pretty, and the windmill museum definitely worth the ride here.

Said petrol pump attendant, after dubiously noting our sedan, says not to drive the dirt road that connects Loeriesfontein with Calvinia. Instead we drive back to Nieuwoudtville and turn onto the R27 in an easterly direction.

Calvinia is a happening town. It also has a really big post box. Set on the right as you enter the town it stands six feet high and was originally a water tower. You can, believe it or not, post letters here and your post will receive a special postmark. It is on Hoop Street, which functions as the town’s introduction and has a couple of beautiful old buildings and a restaurant or two. We stop off at the Hantam Huis because it looks so inviting and we’re coming to hungry.

CalviniaPhotographs – Left: Calvinia’s post box / Right: Hantam Huis

Built in 1854 this gorgeous little T-shaped building is the oldest authentic house in the town and took more than 10 years to restore. It is a national moment and there is a black board outside advertising waterblommetjie bredie and the door is open, people are chatting inside. But they’re only serving their paying overnight guests, and won’t entertain the idea of feeding us their gorgeous bredie before their diners arrive. Oh well, perhaps it is because I spoke English and not Afrikaans (must learn to praat die taal better!).

Diagonally across from Hantam Huis is the ubiquitous NG church – every town has one – and I snap a couple of pics of this, and the town’s butchery. The Calvinia Hotel too exudes character, even if it is now an Iote due to various letters having seen to much sun and time, and is for hire.

Calvinia lies at the foot of the dolerite-topped Hantam Mountains and on the edge of the Oorlogskloof River. Water Street is beautiful. It runs parallel to Hoop Street, crosses the river and is lined with beautifully restored Victorian houses, most of them now guest houses, and a testimony to the large Jewish community that once lived in the town (actor and author Antony Sher descends from here, even if he was born in Middlepost).

CalviniaPhotographs – Left: A house on Hoop Straat /Right: Die Dorp Huis on Water Straat

I read somewhere that Calvinia functions as the ‘inkopiemekka’ (shopping mecca) of the area and that outlying farmers come here to shop. We test this hypothesis at the local Spar, which is really well equipped, considering. They even have local biltong, if you ask them. We stop to buy a couple of things to stave off our hunger, having decided to dine again under the stars on the farm, rather than find a restaurant to meet our needs. But Calvinia, we agree, is worth a longer visit, sometime.

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Wanda Coustas

About 

Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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1 comment about Louriesfontein and Calvinia – sommer net passing through
  1. October 25th, 2010 at 15:35
    Liz Louw says:

    We visited the windmills in early October one Sunday afternoon and were lucky to find everything open ! We also had the BEST pancakes I have ever eaten served by two lovely local ladies in the skerm near the windmills. Quite delightful but a town long forgotten.