Ceres conjures up images of Ceres Fruit juice, autumn colours and snow-capped mountains! We did a leisurely drive towards Ceres, first going up the Michells Pass. This is the southern entrance to Ceres and the pass was built by Andrew Geddes Bain, with completion in 1848. Our first stop, on a cold morning, was at the Tolhuis Restaurant where were sat in front of a blazing fire and enjoyed delicious freshly baked scones with cheese and jam! The Tolhouse was a pay point for all traffic to the Kimberley Diamond fields and was declared a National Monument in 1972. Standing in the midst of the mountains with a disused railway line heading into the unknown, one can just imagine the many wagons rolling towards the rich pickings of Kimberley Diamond fields. The lonely ghost of the Tolhuis is a lady with a long plait, swirling robes of another era and is seen from time to time. Apparently she is not an evil ghost but rather a lost soul who has not yet been able to abandon the area. Maybe she was waiting for a lover to return laden with diamonds and he was ambushed and killed on his way back to her? Perhaps she died of a broken heart or influenza waiting for so long in the cold of these mountains. Or maybe she was murdered by one of the many convicts used to blast out the pass. Who knows? It's rather sad that she has not found her way out of Tolhuis to a better, warmer place.
The Ceres Valley is truly a valley of fruitfulness - with it's deciduous fruit production, you can do a tour to watch fruit packing and the drying of fruit, or stay over on a working fruit farm to experience it personally. During November to December, you can enjoy cherry picking on Kondyke Cheery Farm.The valley also grown onions - not quite so interesting!
Our next pass was the Gydo Pass which is the Northern entrance to Ceres, The views are spectacular across the Ceres Valley and with autumn colours in full bloom, a carpet of various shades of red lay before us on the valley floor. This pass links the Warm Bokkeveld with the Koue Bokkeveld.
Whilst taking a photo on the way down, we heard an almighty bang and discovered a motor-cyclist had come off his bike and was lying in the road. The Police were on the scene before we even got down the mountain and the ambulance was not too far behind. The chap seemed able to move his legs so maybe his pride was hurt more than his body. We hope so! Rather an abrupt ending to his ride from Cape Town on a sunny Sunday. One wonders how he got his bike back home?
We headed next towards Tulbagh. This valley was first discovered in 1658 by European settlers. The town was developed in 1743. A major earthquake in 1969 ruined many buildings and 32 of these in Church Street have been restored and are now all National Monuments - the largest concentration of monuments in any one street in South Africa. The town hosts an annual Christmas in Winter Festival which brings in many week-enders. Given the extreme heat in summer, a hot Christmas dinner is not ideal in Tulbagh! Church Street was very dead when we arrived so after a short stroll we headed back home to our week-end B&B in Riebeek Kasteel. To be honest, Riebeek Kasteel seems to have more action on a more regular basis than Tulbach, but maybe we just chose the wrong day! Empty restaurants do not appeal and the one we did walk into had no serving staff visible so we walked out again. However, there are wine farms to visit and it is a peaceful village if you are looking for some R&R time. Church Street is certainly worth a wander with many of the monuments now B& B's.
Heading back towards Riebeek Kasteel we took a gravel road from Gouda - truly in the country! We came across a wonderful old, single lane bridge where we stopped for photos Whist standing on the bridge a solitary car came past and the occupants stared at us as if they could not believe what they were seeing - a white couple walking??? Unheard of! Then they nearly drove into our car parked on the other side of the bridge! Oh well, that was their Sunday afternoon's excitement. In these farming communities, thew workers are often very drunk by Friday night and the party continues until Sunday. One has to take care as they are often staggering across the road. many pedestrians are killed in this manner, especially at night when it is difficult to spot a staggering drunk. During the week, these same workers are a friendly bunch and will always give a smile and a wave!
One could spend far more time in this area than we did - this is just to whet your appetite to go exploring - take those gravel roads - your car can always be washed afterwards!