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Posted on: Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Clanwilliam – rooibos, veldskoene, Tolla, and the living landscape project

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Clanwilliam Tourist Info

Clanwilliam Tourist Info

We wander quietly into Clanwilliam on a particularly hot day, our air conditioning turned up full (not great for my green street cred, but what’s one to do when it’s this hot?). The main street is busy. But then it always seems to be, what with the new and huge Spar to the right of us, and the myriad historical buildings opposite it that make up one of the major charms of the pretty town.

I’m busy rattling off from a brochure about the many attractions in Clanwilliam – great place to be during flower season, the Clanwilliam dam offers a space for water sports, there is hiking (Clanwilliam lies at the feet of the Cederberg range of mountains and their presence adds an extra something to the town), rooibos is farmed here, as is citrus, and there are farms to visit, it is famous for its ‘veldskoene’ (there is a factory you can visit), outdoor activities such as mountain biking, 4X4 routes, quad biking and horse riding abound, and it’s only two hours’ drive from Cape Town. Bonus.

There is also a centre on the main road named after Tolla van der Merwe, the television personality best known amongst the Afrikaans speaking community, who was born here and died tragically in a car accident in 2000. It isn’t his birth alone though that makes him well loved amongst the town folk, he was also one of the main reasons the town celebrates its annual Cederberg Arts Festival, known as the Leipoldtfees, named after yet another artist (well, he was a doctor and poet) who grew up in Clanwilliam.

Clanwilliam Photographs
Photographs – Left: Tolla se Sentrum / Right: The old goal

Principally we’re here to stock up on goods. Great place for it, as the Spar (I’m not usually a fan but this store is an exception) is big, stocked with extraordinary products like wheat free pasta and Melissa’s goods, and air conditioned! I, of course, nab the role of shopper and head off for at least 30 minutes of cool respite.

Later I brave the heat that has enveloped the main street, despite its being but October, to stroll amongst some of the seven odd national monuments that make Clanwilliam one of the ten oldest towns in the country (the seventh oldest, if my facts are correct). I wouldn’t go as far as to describe the architecture of the Spar as homogenous with the rest of town. In fact it positively jars. But with all convenience comes a price and it definitely adds to the town’s appeal for visitors.

On a corner, virtually opposite the imposing but beautiful NG church, at the end of main road, is Clanwilliam’s museum known as the ‘Ou Tronk’ or old prison. The architecture though is rather strange. It has something of the ‘great wild west’ about it, now that I think about it – perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it was used by the garrison during the Anglo Boer War? It is open, but I cannot bring myself to get as excited over Voortrekker wagons, pioneer artefacts and the history of rooibos tea as I should do and so decide to give it a skip, even if Clanwilliam is the headquarters of the Rooibos Tea Control Board.

Clanwilliam Photographs
Photographs – Left: Not the NG Kerk / Right: Pretty architecture

The tourist information, on the other hand, is pretty comprehensive. It lies just across the street, next door to the NG church built in 1864 (everything was originally ‘next door’ to the church as the town grew up around it). There is nothing on the history of the town available in document form, but the walls are graced with a number of really interesting stories about the local families that live in Clanwilliam, there is information about rock art tours, where flowers could be found during the annual flower festival, news of a new rooibos cookery book entitled A touch of Rooibos, and I learn that Clanwilliam is Dorp van die Jaar, having won the award late last year.

We could go on an historical walkabout through the town, but I’m just too hot to face it. Besides, I’m looking for that ‘something special’ that isn’t necessarily on the tourist route in Clanwilliam.

We sidle off down Park Road. Part way along we stumble on the Living Landscape Project. Contrary to the way it sounds, it isn’t about gardening. It is a community project focused on bringing archaeology to children. In a nutshell, the project funds the training of locals as guides, craftspeople and heritage managers. The aim is to reach school groups, who can come and stay here, to teach them about Time – how fossils, artifacts and ruined structures all point to the passing of time. Those trained in crafts provide goods for the shop that is also situated here.

Clanwilliam Photographs
Photographs – Left: Waka Waka shop / Right: The Clanwilliam Tourist Info office

Next door to the shop is the Time Machine in what the project calls its school hall. It is an interactive game of sorts with various artifacts and fossilised remains housed in glass casings in the walls – a record of the past. In this way one can learn about Andriesgrond – a rock shelter lived in often over the last 10 000 years, like thousands of similar caves in which one can find paintings that teach us about people of those times, and the Olifants River – named after elephants that were very common along its banks; now only paintings survive.

In a similar way, I learn about Ceder Trees, after which the surrounding Cederberg is named. They’ve existed for 40 million years (a lot longer than we have). Today they barely cling to survival and are restricted to high and isolated stands. Roughly 350 to 500 school children take part in the project every year, with an annual lantern parade through the town’s streets.

We leave soon after walking through the Time Machine. I enjoy knowing that something like this exists.

Clanwilliam Photographs
Photographs – Left: Time Machine / Right: Clanwilliam Living Landscape Project

Buildings you might want to visit when in Clanwilliam:

  • pretty Anglican church & parsonage
  • Leipoldt’s House
  • The old slave bell
  • St John’s church – really old graves are here
  • the old gaol

Clanwilliam Links:
Clanwilliam Attractions
Clanwilliam Accommodation
Clanwilliam Hotels
Cederberg Accommodation
Western Cape Accommodation

Wanda Coustas


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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