December 2015 - February 2016
  • Day34

    Homeward Bound

    February 2, 2016 in South Africa

    Today, we wend our way home, taking with us so many profound memories. As I mentioned at the beginning of this narrative my interest in South Africa was initially sparked by my Great Uncle Rob and here are Peter and I, some 50 years later, having finally trodden the pavements, grasslands, beaches and mountains of those inspirational letters. It has been a journey of discovery every step of the way. Of course South Africa has changed beyond all recognition since my Uncle's day and the transition has not always been pretty. This is a young country, a fledgling democracy, which to be honest could go either way. The poverty is crippling and the gap between the 'haves and have nots' vast. What was so striking was the energy and determination within the black community that the legacy of Nelson Mandela would be lived and adhered to. There are huge problems of course, but we can only hope and pray for patience on behalf of the population and a reduction in corruption amongst those in government that may eventually lead this majestic country onwards and upwards. Scenically, there is no beating South Africa and In some respects I was reminded of some of the majestic landscapes of the American West, but yet there is always that indefinable African feel. Great Britain's history and influence is clearly evident, together with that of the Dutch and to a lesser extent the French, but today the phrase melting pot comes to and sticks in the mind. We have seen so many stunning sights and met some inspirational people from all backgrounds, determined to succeed. Pietman Retief, a descendant of the original Huguenot settlers said over lunch in Stellenbosch "this country will grow and succeed. I am African and immensely proud of the fact". He is not alone.Read more

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  • Day33

    Game Drive 3

    February 1, 2016 in South Africa

    North Uthungulu, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Monday, February 1, 2016

    Unbelievably, this is our final game drive day and also our final day in South Africa before heading home tomorrow. It has all gone so quickly.
    The alarm call came as regular as clockwork and it was over to the main lodge for a drink and some food if you could face it, before heading off. Dylan had heard that the pride of lions we were watching yesterday had moved much closer to us overnight and so we called to say hello. They were literally just down the road. Our next port of call was to our favourite cheetah family. The cubs were delightful, in a really playful mood. Mum however, seemed more than usually watchful, maybe she had wind of the lion pride not far away and the threat they posed to her youngsters. Before long she moved them all to a thicket close by and we watched the little dears frolicking around in what seemed to be a cheetah adventure playground. Dylan then wanted to check again on the lion family. He must have had a premonition. We arrived as the older lioness had brought down a warthog and a feeding frenzy began. A warthog is clearly small fry for a pride of lions and there was much growling, jostling for position and quarrelling over the prize. Survival of the fittest came to mind. It was a fascinating if gruesome sight, but we were pleased to have seen a kill. By the time every morsel was crunched and devoured, with the exception of the tusks, those moody aggressive beasts were flat on their backs with full (ish) tummies and beatific smiles of their faces. Quite a change from ten minutes before. Right under the noses of the lions we watched some dung beetles at work, opportunists that they are. They are so interesting to watch, beavering away, rolling their huge ball of dung far larger than themselves. Inclines are hilarious.
    Breakfast beckoned and more of Happiness's superlative cooking. Before you leave the table she comes to take your lunch order -groan!! February is to be a non food month!!
    The afternoon drive proved to be a quite something. Elephants had appeared at the lodge and we drove round to have a look. There were about ten of them, all ages and they proceeded to have a drink at no 6 lodge's plunge pool and pull the pump apart because apparently they love fresh cool water! We continued by driving through the sand forest, an area I have come to love. Mr T spotted a rare bird called a Trojan. I don't know how he does it, he can only have seen a flash of movement. In truth we had been looking for one from the beginning. They are rather like a bird of paradise, with their beautiful red chests, yellow beak, white tail and green/blue iridescent body. The cheetah family were sleeping in the shade of a small tree in a clearing and we watched them for a while -sleeping! (there are only so many times you can exclaim at the twitch of a tail). However, our patience paid off, eventually they all yawned and did their yoga exercises, or so it seemed. Mother set off with a purpose, hunting was the considered opinion, and we followed her. (It appears to make no difference to the animals that this great big vehicle full of gawping humans is tracking them!). After one of two false starts she haired off with the cubs in hot pursuit, learning all the time. This time she was successful and brought down a young Impala. The cubs tucked in with relish, whilst their mother sat back catching her breath and keeping an eye out for trouble. The youngsters had had a good feed, but she had had none, when who should trot out of the trees, but a very large lioness. My heart sank, as I knew exactly what was going to happen next and sure enough she bounded over to them. The cubs scattered immediately, but their mother stood her ground, growling and threatening. She was of course no match for the lioness and she took flight in the opposite direction leading the lioness away from her Cubs, in a classic decoying tactic. If the lioness could catch the cubs she would kill them make no mistake. Thankfully, it didn't happen and the lioness returned to the kill and devoured the remains. This is something that you read of, but hardly expect to see in person. Dylan had never witnessed such a thing and was as astounded as we were. Night was falling rapidly and it was time to head back to the lodge. We could not have had a more spectacular end to our game drive. On the way home we even managed to see a nightjar (rare bird) and a bush baby.
    When we arrived back to the lodge, dinner was set out on the vlei lit by candles and lamps. We entertained our guide Dylan and it was the perfect end to a fabulous trip.
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  • Day32

    Game Drive 2

    January 31, 2016 in South Africa

    North Uthungulu, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Sunday, January 31, 2016

    I fear this could become quite boring; long litanies of the animals viewed, so I'll keep it to the highlights to cover the next couple of days!
    Is it Sunday today? (you loose track of the days), but whatever the day, the faithful 5o'clk alarm call cometh. I felt terrible, so tired; who would think that sitting in a jeep for hours on end could be so exhausting.
    The highlights of the morning were another delightful cheetah family, consisting of Mum and four cubs this time. Mum is doing very well to get four cubs to 10 months and all looking so well. These were quite playful and kept messing about with each other. Mum got pretty fed up with it and moved slightly away from them, whence they got up and promptly followed lounging all over her. Typical teenagers, irritating!
    We tracked our pride of dozy lions from yesterday for ages. There were tracks all over the place and Mr T was hard put to work out where they were going. Eventually, he and Dylan got out of the jeep to walk into the bush to have a look. They were just out of sight when glancing left what should I see, but 'Lion to the left'. The whole pride was on the move. With Dylan and Mr T back in the jeep we discreetly followed them. The two mothers of the eight cubs were clearly in hunting mode. They parked the cubs in a thicket and set off together tracking Nyala and came jolly close to catching one. Unfortunately, a couple of the cubs had got restless and appeared at the wrong moment and the kill was lost. It was clear the mothers were not happy! Kids, they never stay where you tell them!!
    This afternoon we drove out to the northern tip of the reserve, which is yet again a different terrain altogether. Flat grassland, with some more luxuriant sections. This is possibly one of the features of Phinda, there are several habitats within a relatively small area. It is famous for its large section of sand forrest, a very rare ecosystem and the largest of its type in the world. Like a lot of things in this neck of the woods, it is endangered, but at least in the right place i.e. a reserve to be protected. It is very beautiful on the eye.
    The aim was to see white and black rhino, buffalo and elephant and boy did we ever. To be honest the white and black rhino look identical, unless you know what to look for. If I have this correctly, the white have a square jaw and lower head carriage and the black a rounded more pointed jaw, with a high head carriage. The colour and size are the same, but at least now you'll have no problem telling them apart!! Next on stage were some water buffalo, the most dangerous animal in the bush, for their propensity to attack without warning and for no good reason, beyond they're feeling a bit grumpy that day. I think I can relate to that and maybe know a few human examples! The finale had to be a huge herd of elephants of all sizes, from an enormous bull to a tiny calf of two weeks. They were wonderful and very large! Two passed within 5' of the jeep fixing us with their beady eyes. Nobody moved!!
    Dylan had a surprise for our sundowner, in that we arrived at a sheltered clearing seemingly in the middle of nowhere, to find suspended from an overhanging tree, oil lamps, a bottle of champagne (in an ice bucket!), flutes and snax. The chilled cocktail bar was in the corner for those who wanted a beer or G&T. It looked gorgeous and tasted the same as the sun went down in spectacular fashion. A great end to another superb day.
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  • Day31

    Game Drive Day 1

    January 30, 2016 in South Africa

    North Uthungulu, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Saturday, January 30, 2016

    The five o'clock wake up call was as bad as expected, but it was worth it. What a morning we've had. You clamber into an open top jeep with your guide (Dylan in our case ) and Mt T the tracker, who sits on the front of the jeep. I realise he knows what he's looking for, but boy what he can see is amazing. Dylan wanted to head south, as he had heard that a cheetah family was about and wanted to check it out. So it is more of the sand tracks, up and down and as you travel further south the landscape changes and opens out. The soil is redder and it becomes more savannah like. There is a severe drought all over South Africa at the moment, so the water holes are down or in some cases completely dry, which is a concern. However we did come upon a large one which had hippo, black rhino, crocodiles, a pied kingfisher and a pair of fish Eagles, so a good start! There were giraffe a plenty. They are so elegant and with eyelashes to die for. Then it was off to track the cheetah family, which we eventually ran to ground. A mother and three cubs aged about 8 months. They were stunning and made my day.
    By 10am we were back and had had breakfast and felt it was time for bed! Your time is then your own, apart from lunch -more food! I sat quietly outside on the deck catching up with the blog, whilst Peter dealt with the hire car. There were little birds drinking and having a bath on the ledge of the plunge pool. I was entranced. Up came some large male Nyala to drink from the trough at the bottom of the pool. They fixed me with a look and then carried on. I was entranced all over again. A family of monkeys appeared to play on the side deck and at the back of the house were more Nyala and a family of Warthogs, including 6 babies. I just didn't know where to look. Did I need to get up at 5am I asked myself?
    The afternoon game drive starts around 4.30 and we saw a martial and a snake eagle, a beautiful little iridescent Pygmy kingfisher, zebra, more giraffe and a pride of lions dozing in the shade. What a sight they were. Dylan drove so close and they didn't bat an eyelid, well they did actually, but not with any mall intent. Our final treat was elephant, three of them, plus an African white faced owl on the way back after dark. Sundowners were taken as the sun sets and we were back at the lodge around 8pm. What a day!
    One thing to remember if you are a woman of mature years on a game drive. It is impossible to look anything other than the wild witch from the west. You are rattling along in a open top jeep, the wind whistling through your hair, so bad hair day for a start. You are shiny from liberal applications of sun cream and if you put your hat on you appear as a squashed wild witch of the west! Finally, all over beige or mud colours does nothing for us. It may prevent you from being eaten, but is that of any consolation I ask myself?
    On our return this evening, our hostess had a surprise for us. She had set up a romantic dinner for two on each deck- great! I suppose we must forgive her, she is young. So there we were Peter, I and the family of warthogs snoring in the bushes, plus the nipping insects of course. We walloped down a couple of courses, passed on desert and headed for bed, bearing in mind the 5am alarm call. What on earth can tomorrow bring?!
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  • Day30

    On the way to Phinda

    January 29, 2016 in South Africa ⋅ 🌬 11 °C

    North Uthungulu, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Friday, January 29, 2016

    Today is our longest and last travelling day from Fugitive's Drift up in the north of Kwa-Zulu Natal to the Phinda Game Reserve, on the coast not far from the Mozambique border. It took us exactly 6 hours as expected.
    We were sad to say goodbye to Fugitive's Drift which had been simply fabulous, but knew that our last port of call would be more of the same, but with a different emphasis.
    The drive was stunning. I cannot describe the magnificent scenery that we passed through on our way down to the coast to pick up the N2. This region is a real gem for several reasons and somewhat overlooked I feel.
    Eventually we approached Phinda and if we thought our off road antics had been testing before, this was no different . We were eventually reduced down to sand tracks as we neared the lodge itself. Two large Nyala antelope jumped across the track. 'What the .... !' Exclaims the driver. Just you wait!!
    This place is magical. We are in a small individual lodge to ourselves, with a deck and plunge pool and there are just 6 lodges. We missed the afternoon game drive , but we're glad of the opportunity to settle in and phoned for our escort to dinner at 7pm. After dark, no one walks about unescorted! We had a very good dinner on the verandah open to the stars. Our cook is called Happiness and is exactly what that may imply, with food in mind! After a while I was aware of being watched and looking down there was a genet, a small cat with enormous eyes. She was hopeful of some food, but was of course unlucky.
    It could have been worse, apparently the night before, 2 lions came to take a look and settled themselves down for a snooze.
    Our first game drive is tomorrow at 5.30 am! Overnight security gives you a ring at 5am.
    Yes you heard -God help me!
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  • Day29

    Rorke's Drift

    January 28, 2016 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 5 °C

    North Uthungulu, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Thursday, January 28, 2016

    Later the same day, came the second devastating attack. The right horn of the Zulu battleplan, did not engage in the fighting at Isandlwana. I should explain that the Zulu like to attack in a buffalo formation, with a central head and chest and left and right horns to envelop the enemy preventing escape. In this case the right horn failed to close sufficiently, hence allowing the 55 to flee to the river. It should also be explained that in Zulu culture only single men are allowed to fight and until they have bathed their spear (assegai)) in enemy blood they are unable to marry. As a consequence this section of Zulus were champing at the bit to prove themselves and so their leader disobeyed the King's orders and crossed the Buffalo river with the intention of attacking the small hospital garrison remaining at Rorke's Drift.
    At the time, Rorke's Drift consisted of a small white painted missionary station and large separate church/store house and kraal, which Lord Chelmsford had requisitioned as a field hospital and storage for ammunition, large sacks of melee flour, the dreaded Army biscuits that were the soldiers staple food, ( cardboard consistency I understand, wet, dry, hot or cold!), bully beef, plus other essentials. As a consequence there were less than 100 fighting men, several of whom were already injured, some very seriously ill men, with two field officers, the engineer Lt Chard, Lt Bromhead and a very experienced commissariat of stores James Dalton, (who quickly helped develop a plan of defence). Perhaps understandably, none of the 55 escapees headed to the mission to help, but one did send a message to say that the Zulus were crossing the river and to be ready!!
    The men of Rorke's Drift faced an impossible position with 4500 Zulu warriors bearing down on them and somehow managed to erect defences around their tiny pocket battlefield using melee bags and biscuit tins to a height of 8ft. One thing they did have of course, was a massive store of ammunition, some 27,000 rounds. By the time the fighting was over, there were only 660 rounds left!
    We walked around the mission building that was rebuilt virtually identically afterwards, except there are now many more doors and windows. Even so, they are tiny, hot, claustrophobic rooms even without the stench of disease and death. It became all too apparent how impossible a trap the men inside were caught in as the battle progressed and the men's courage and resolve in the face of overwhelming odds reduced me to tears.
    The Zulu gathered on the hill behind the station late in the afternoon and began their battle preparation of war cries, foot stamping and shield thumping, working themselves into a frenzy. Colour Sergeant Bourne walked to every man with a hand on their shoulder exhorting them to 'Mark your man and wait until you see the whites of their eyes!' The Padre George Smith would not shoot being a man of God, but continually supplied the ammunition with the cry 'Don't swear boys, for Gods sake don't swear, just shoot!' Chard and Bromhead positioned themselves to lead their men and they waited. Eventually the Zulus threw themselves down the hill on to the barricades and were shot down by the score. The men of the 24th foot grimly defended their position as best they could. Lt Bromhead led bayonet charge after bayonet charge, but gradually the outer defences were breached and they were beaten back to the second line of defence and their battlefield was no bigger than a tennis court. Night fell quickly, as it does in these parts and now they could not even see their enemy. Enter stage left a little terrier called Pip. One of the fallen officers at Isandlwana had left him in the care of the surgeon Major Reynolds and he raced up and down the line barking at the next Zulu to hurl himself at the barricade. The line held. However, the Zulu had managed to set fire to the thatched roof of the mission and did finally break into the courtyard. The soldiers had to retreat to the small section around the kraal where a third line of defence had been constructed and carried on fighting. The hospital now stood alone with the exception of the few brave orderlies and the heroic cook who fought the Zulu from room to room dragging their charges through holes hacked in the wall to one corner of the building. Men died under horrific circumstances on both sides. The thatch was now on fire, so smoke was an additional factor, but at least there was a little light! A tiny window 8' off the ground was enlarged by Pte Hook (the cook) and two badly injured soldiers rushed from the kraal to catch the seriously ill soldiers as they were dropped from the window. They then carried them to the kraal time and time again under continual attack, before Hook the last man escaped the building. His fingers were now worn down to the bone, his finger tips never to recover. The fight retreated to the area around the kraal.
    The martini rifle is heavy with a kick like a mule and these small men (there was not one over 5'4") had been firing and reloading continuously for hours. The barrels were red hot and glowed in the dark according to Zulu reports and the men's hands and faces were burned with the recoil. They tore the pockets off their red tunics to enable them to continue firing and still the Zulu threw themselves forward. Bear in mind that the temperature was 45 degrees during the day and had dropped little at night and these men, in Army tradition, had donned their wool uniform to fight. There would have been no time for a gulp of water either if they wanted to survive. All this time their small wiry little surgeon was treating the wounded in the open against the wall of the storehouse, which afforded him a small degree of shelter. This is the first example of a surgeon operating on the battlefield and of course he had virtually no supplies.
    As dawn starts to break, all of a sudden the Zulu fall silent. Their scouts could see Lord Chelmsford's relief column approaching in the distance. Lt Chard orders his men to stop firing and they watch silently as the Zulu gather as many of their dead as they can and melt away into the hills, with respect on both sides. When Chelmsford's men reached the the defenders of Rorke's Drift these gallant soldiers had no voice left to cheer.
    There were 11 VCs awarded that day, the most ever in a single battle and that is of course not counting those of Lts Melville and Coghill. This was a fight to the death and it would do us good to reflect on the immense bravery on both sides.
    We were taken on this visit by Douglas Rattray, one of David's sons and I think it is fair to say he is clearly a chip off the old block. He led us around the battle site and made the actions of that day come alive almost 137 years later. It was an intensely emotional afternoon both for Doug and us, his horribly enthralled audience. It is virtually 9 years to the day since his father was murdered by thieves in front of his wife Nicky and we all had need of the handkerchieves by the end; the ladies openly and the gentleman more surreptitiously.
    In keeping with family tradition, Doug is a first class lecturer and human being.
    This is a visit and experience that will live with us for the rest of our lives.
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  • Day28

    Isandlwana

    January 27, 2016 in South Africa

    (South) Umzinyathi DC, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Wednesday, January 27, 2016

    We departed for Isandlwana at 7.30 sharp this morning. A wake up call and a pot of coffee was delivered to the cabin at 6am, which was a kind thought-I think!
    It was a beautiful sunny morning, as indeed it was on the morning of the 22nd January 1879 and that fatal confrontation between the men of the 24th Regiment of Foot and 20,000 Zulu warriors. The British central column under the command of Lord Chelmsford had crossed the Buffalo River into Zulu land at its natural fording point, Rorkes Drift (drift meaning exactly that, a river crossing), with the intention of meeting the Zulu in battle and subjugating their nation to British rule. This was something the proud Zulu were understandably opposed to. Lord Chelmsford had selected a vast and beautiful plain beneath the crag, that came to be known as Isandlwana, as his vantage point and his men, some 850 white tents, their wagons, horses, oxen and equipment were strewn about the camp, covering a considerable area. The Zulu proved elusive and on that fateful morning Lord Chelmsford took his senior officers and most of the troops into the adjoining valley looking for the Zulu army, leaving some 1400 men under the command of an inexperienced officer, Major Pullaine. Mistakes were made, no lookouts posted and by chance a small contingent of men discovered the might of the Zulu army in completely the opposite direction. They were settled in a gorge awaiting the opportunity to attack, once the anticipated eclipse of the moon had passed ( Day of the Dead Moon-a bad omen). The small group of soldiers made an attempt to attack before fleeing when faced with the enormity of the task. The 24th Regiment of Foot were ill prepared for the battle that then ensued. These men, drawn largely from South Wales, were a courageous, tight, fighting unit, but were completely overwhelmed by a massive attacking force of 6ft warriors, fleet of foot and carefully drilled on their plan of attack. The thundering of their drumming bare feet, thumping of their shields and bloodcurdling war cries must have struck terror into the men lined up to face them. It was total chaos, as is the way of war. Despite great valour and fierce resistance, the camp was overrun and the Zulu took no prisoners. They were fighting for their very identity and were and are an honourable people, completely sold down the river by the local representatives of the British Empire,
    1329 soldiers were cut down that day by a force of warriors 20,000 strong. Just 55 escaped down the Fugitive's trail back to the river which had to be crossed in full speight. The Zulu proved to be a formidable enemy. Many Zulu warriors had jogged bare footed 100kms to reach the battlefield, another 15 kms during the battle and at the end were still strong enough and fast enough to overtake and kill a British soldier on horseback. When it became clear that all was lost and the retreat sounded, only those on horseback stood any chance of avoiding the Zulu spears or assegai. One of Major Pullaine's final tasks was to call the adjutant Lt Meville to him and order him to save the Queen's colour, the most sacred regimental object. They saluted and Melville took the heavy 20' colour in its leather case and rode for the river. Miraculously, amidst the melee, he reached it and was assessing where to cross when a lone Zulu appeared from hiding and speared his horse from under him. The horse, Melville and the colour all ended up in the fast flowing Buffalo river, being buffeted from rock to rock. Somehow, Melville managed to hold on to the colour and as he approached a coffin shaped rock he espied a NCC officer marooned on its top. Melville yelled to him to catch hold of the colour, hoping he could pull him out, but the two of them plus the colour ended up in the water, under heavy attack from the Zulus on the bank. They were swept downstream and were in a desperate situation, when Lt Coghill spotted them from the Natal bank. Coghill was a superb horseman and despite a badly sprained knee, (he could not mount his horse unaided or walk) had forded the river and now without a thought for his personal safety, plunged his horse back into the river to help the two men floundering in the water, with the colour. As he reached them, his horse was shot between the eyes by a Zulu wielding a British Martini rifle. Somehow they managed to reach the Natal bank and what they thought was relative safety, but in the strong current the heavy colour was wrenched from their grasp and carried downstream. Exhausted they dragged themselves up the bank and Higginson the Natal officer, who was in the best state, said he would try to find some loose horses. In truth he abandoned Melville and Coghill to their fate. Melville managed to carry Coghill up the steep bank to a rocky outcrop where they rested until they were found by a group of Zulus skirmishing on the Natal bank. Despite a fierce fight, the two brave soldiers were killed. They were found four days later, by a party sent out from Rorke's Drift to try and retrieve the colour and were buried where they lay, on land now belonging to Fugitive's Drift. Some years later, they were awarded the first posthumous VCs by Edward V11, as his mother Queen Victoria would only present a VC to the living. The colour was indeed found stuck in the rocks further downstream and returned in great triumph to what was left of the regiment at Rorke's Drift.
    We were taken to Isandlwana by Mph'wa Ntabzi, a Zulu whose great grandfather and grandfather fought and fell in the battle and he told the story with emotion, detail and passion. He was a great friend of David Rattray and it was clearly very hard to do this in his place. Later in the afternoon we walked to the graves of Lts Melville and Coghill, accompanied by Andrew, a young officer from The Welsh Regiment, which the 24th foot has been incorporated into. They have a very strong relationship with Fugitive's Drift and regularly send out a representative to experience at first hand one of the regiment's most difficult campaigns. Andrew was able to add some interesting additional facts from the regimental archive and obviously to look at the actions that day from a professional soldier's point of view.
    I cannot tell you how powerful these visits were today and we still have Rorke's Drift to come tomorrow. I feel rung out emotionally, when I think what these young soldiers went through so many miles from home to die in the most horrific circumstances and with the utmost bravery.
    Imagine the reaction of Lord Chelmsford when he returned to Isandlwana some hours later. The decimated camp was knee deep in bodies of men and animals. There were no survivors beyond the 55 fugitives who made it across the Buffalo river back towards Rorke's Drift. The Zulu had removed their 3,500 dead on shields to their villages for burial and had ritually disembowelled their victims, as is their custom, to allow their spirit to escape and roam free...........RIP.
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  • Day27

    Fugititive's Drift

    January 26, 2016 in South Africa

    (South) Umzinyathi DC, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Tuesday, January 26, 2016

    The journey from Three Tree Hill takes approximately 3 hours, via Ladysmith. The last 30 miles are off road and the scenery increasingly dramatic. We arrived here at Fugitive's Drift in time for lunch, to discover a series of beautifully appointed cabins on the lip of the Buffalo River Gorge, within the Fugitive's Drift Game Reserve. This is the life and work of the Rattray family, in particular the late David and his wife Nicky. She and their family continue David's work of training, developing and rebuilding the relationship between English speaking people and the Zulu of Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. David was a renowned authority and lecturer on the Anglo Zulu wars having considerable exposure to the area and its people since childhood.
    Close by the reserve lie the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift and gradually over the years a ground breaking destination has been built up around tours of the area and its history, particularly military. Over 20,000 visitors a year wing their way to this remote part of South Africa for the experience and that is exactly what we have done ourselves.
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  • Day26

    Spioenkop

    January 25, 2016 in South Africa

    (South) Umzinyathi DC, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Monday, January 25, 2016

    I think it is fair to say the circumstances surrounding the Boer War were not our Nations finest hour. When war was finally declared, the might of the British Army were challenged by at most 20,000 Boers; farmers, who I think it is fair to say the British dismissed with a degree of arrogance. What they underestimated was that these men were tough, born to the saddle and hunting marksmen from a young age. This was not to be formal squared, fixed bayonet warfare. The Boers developed the first example of a commando style conflict which the professional British Army was ill equipped to counter.
    The drive to Spioenkop from the lodge takes about 45 mins and a dirt road winds it's way up to the summit. There are Zulu villages all around and it is usual to acknowledge anyone you pass, as they will you. Goats, cattle and people roam freely across the roads, so between avoiding all of them plus the potholes, driving requires more concentration than normal!
    Spioenkop rises dramatically from the surrounding countryside and is flanked by several lower hills that played a significant part in the battle and it's outcome. Iron rich, red sedimentary rock predominates the region with igneous extrusions, often basalt. This rock being much harder to erode, has resulted in hills like Spioenkop, with steep sides and a flat top. The British Empire had already been engaged in colonial South Africa some 20 years earlier against the Zulus and should have known some of the pitfalls that fighting in this country produced. Earlier on during the Anglo Boer War the British were heavily defeated at the battle of Majura trying to hold just such a hill. The lessons that should have been learnt from this encounter were seemingly ignored and General Redvers Buller and his command committed more men to an almost certain death by attempting a repeat performance, as part of the attempt to relieve the siege at nearby Ladysmith. In the early hours of January 24 1900, three Lancashire regiments scaled the mountain, which would have been no small task in the dark. They were burdened by a heavy uniform and greatcoat and had to carry all their supplies. Only one small bottle of water was allowed per man, which in the heat of summer on a South African exposed mountain top proved disastrous. There was a thick mist when the men staggered on to the summit and their commander Major-General Edward Woodgate and his officers attempted to arrange their battle lines with use of a compass, which proved inaccurate, because of the presence of so much iron in the rock. Consequently, when dawn broke and the mist lifted, there must have been a collective gasp, on the realisation that they were ill placed and surrounded by The Boer with their far superior weaponry, positioned on the surrounding lower hills. The battle that raged all day resulted in carnage for the young Lancashire soldiers crouching in their shallow trenches on the hill top. Simon Blackburn our guide, who owns Three Tree Hill, is a brilliant raconteur and held us spellbound as he walked us through the battle lines, pointing out the position of all the participants and my blood ran cold at what those boys had to endure. One can only imagine what the young Lancashire fusiliers (having come from the grey, damp, cramped conditions of Victorian industrial Lancashire) must have thought as they marched through this imposing majestic landscape. To die like animals outgunned and picked off by weapons sold by the British and Germans to the Boer, seems doubly galling. There are massed graves marking the trenches where they fell and individual memorial stones erected later by some families. The simple head stone that reduced me to tears and would any mother I suspect, was placed there by a mother who finally managed to visit the site of her son's death some 8 years later. She had carefully nurtured and brought from their garden a small cypress sapling and planted it in this foreign field that would be forever England, in memory of her beloved son. Against the odds it has thrived and now stands tall and proud, a fitting memorial for those 124 men who perished that day alongside her boy.
    This battle has always been portrayed as a desperate defeat for the British Army, but in truth it was a stalemate . At the end of the day both sides retreated having believed they had lost. It was only the next morning when the Boers suddenly realised that their enemy had withdrawn, that they ascended Spioenkop once more and unexpectedly claimed the victory. It was a fascinating and gruelling visit in some ways and just the beginning of our battlefield exploration.
    Incidentally, many of the young soldiers hailed from Liverpool and its environs. The Kop at Anfield was originally called Spioenkop in memory of their lost sons, before being nicknamed simply The Kop. A steep hillside that takes no prisoners .
    Later in the day we took a game walk in the reserve, with Simon, attempting to see the white Rhino. It is grassland and acacia trees predominantly, which really enhances that Out of Africa feel. This reserve is particularly well known for the Rhino and I had spotted several from our verandah through the binoculars. It was a special thrill, however, to walk to within 500 yds of three of them, including a mother and calf. They are huge and give a whole new meaning to the phrase 'does my bum look big in this!' I will never complain again.
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  • Day25

    Three Tree Hill Lodge

    January 24, 2016 in South Africa

    Indlovu DC, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    Sunday, January 24, 2016

    Today was another travelling day and we made our way further north, with the Drakensberg Mountains forever looming in the background. The vistas are so vast that I couldn't seriously capture them on my camera, but take my word for it, spectacular. Eventually, yet again we turned off the tar road and drove up and up until it didn't seem there could be anywhere else to go, before our home for the next two nights came into view. This is Three Tree Hill Lodge. Once more we are in a cabin, named Churchills, this time perched high on the hill overlooking Spioenkop itself and the Lodge's private game reserve around it. I probably don't have to tell you the views are again fantastic. In truth I'm running out of superlatives, so excuse me if I have to keep repeating myself. Heavy duty binoculars are provided and we have already espied animals galore. Tomorrow we are going to take a closer look at both the reserve and Spioenkop.
    Dinner is taken at the main lodge with the other guests. The menu looks good, but not quite the epicurean fantasy of yesterday, which is probably just as well!. All is quiet as I tap away to you on the verandah, apart from the breeze and the call of the birds.
    I wonder what delights tomorrow will bring?
    I'll keep you posted, but no internet connection at the moment, so will send this to you when I can.
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