Monday, 30 June 2014

Winter sun in the Cederberg and at Saint du Barrys

For the past few years, we have been travelling in the UK at this time. Not this year. We have had to adjust dthe shape of our year because of additional family members arriving. I have just taken a short walk in the garden and right now have checked the temperature outside. 25C. I still have on a jersey and a jacket because I have been at the computer for much of the morning, and the office is colder than outside because, being a thoroughfare, we don't ligh the fire until we have settled down for the day.

Today is a good day for being outside, for enjoying the warmth and for noticing how nature is replenishing her growth.

Yesterday we decided to pop into the Dam Bistro just fifty meters away for a late breakfast. Sitting in the sun at a warm table was a good idea, but then we had to move to a table in the shade. It was too hot. The winter sun is a wrestler. Clouds, mist and rain contend, and contend well, dominating part of the season, especially when snow on the Cederberg joins in. But when the sun comes out, the other contestants are dazzled while the audience is warmed.

Give it just a couple of weeks, and the flowers will begin to respond, too. Some rain is forecast this coming Friday, a good sign of a floral explosion soon after.

Generally, May, June and July are the quieter months for tourism in the Cederberg area. Yet there is much to be said for turning this way during our winter: you will find very affordable prices, more sunlight than you would have in Europe, good quality of dining if you know where to look, a experience of nature that penetrates (the cold mornings) and pacifies (the later sunlight. The temperature will not drop to freezing. The height above sea-level in Saint du Barys parking area is 52 meters above sea-level.

While you are driving around in the sunshine, there are always the vineyards and the wine route to follow. More information on these will come later.

I recommend a visit at this time, if only for the sake of tasting a flavour of the Cederberg air that our more usual visitors don't. Because there is less fervour and clamour for a yet more vivid experience of the spring flowers, there is more space and intensity, and if you have or make friends amongst the locals, another dimension of social experience can be added. A restaurant that is not abuzz is often deemed to be boring. My experience is that this is when the most curious conversations occur: where people open up not because of the general atmosphere, but because something special is recognized.

Taking the season less travelled can be remarkably rewarding.

Friday, 13 June 2014

The coming winter solstice at Saint du Barrys

Each year at this time, I begin to tell Joan that summer's almost here. The solstice on 21 June is important to me. In the past I have tried to write a poem every solstice and equinox to mark the season. We've had snow, cold days, dull days and sunny days thus far, this winter. Today we noticed daisies in the late morning sun. But it's far too early for flowers yet. This spring should see good flowers; we've had enough rain to raise expectations. The Jan Dissels River has risen a number of times, water is flowing into the Clanwilliam Dam as I write,quite a bit of it from melted snow that we observed a morning or two ago, on the Cederberg peaks to the east of Saint du Barrys, and the town.

 It is our thirteeenth year of living in Clanwilliam and owning Saint du Barrys Country Lodge, and at the risk of nostalgia, I think of all the seasons we have experienced here. If there's one thing that I've come to feel because of living here, it's the ebb and flow of life according to seasons rather than any strict measurement of hours and minutes.The body has a limited memory when it comes to being in the centre of a season. It barely remembers the inertia brought on by February's soaring temperatures when mid-winter throws down its icy stare. The local people like to remark on the particular characteristics of each season.

Sitting in the afternoon sun, at a comfortable temperature of around 20C, I found my gaze settling on a point where air and matter seemed to merge: I could see so much movement of particles in the light, creating spiralling bridges between plants, earth and air-swirls. Yes, one is fortunate to experience life in this way, sitting on the patio, enjoying the left-overs of chilli con carne, naan bread and cold Blanc de Blanc, musing on the details of this season.

Saint du Barrys has seen growth of many kinds: increase in occupancy, staff stability, greater internet presence, family increase, family travel, favourable exchange rates for guests, town developments.

The last elections came and went peacefully, and the most noticeable thing happening around Clanwilliam is the road construction.We lived through construction between Piketberg and the Piekenierskloof Pass, we lived through construction over the pass itself, now we're living and waiting while the section of the N7 between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam is being rebuilt. At the same time, the N7 north of Clanwilliam is also being reconstructed. It's a nuisance but when everything is complete, Cape Town should be no more than two hours away, even less if you ignore the speed cameras at your own peril.

The next construction is to be the dam wall, which has been expected and delayed for years. Once that begins, the value of property on the dam and in the town should increase. New, big changes tend to inspire interest, especially when large areas of water are involved. New playgrounds are always welcome.

Thus, Clanwilliam's climate goes beyond weather. So many little Karoo towns to the east and north-east in the interior have died off. Clanwilliam's heart beats on, quite loudly, when busy days make the main road more like a daring computer game than a traffic thoroughfare. On days like these, tourists are advised to take the main road slowly and carefully, as movement across the road can be more evident than progress up and down the road. The right of way belongs to whoever gets there first. But once the shopping is done, things quiten down, and it's easy to stroll rather than dodge your way while you see what the town has to offer.

Visitors right now are the boulderers, who have waited for the colder weather so that they can grip the rock surface more firmly with finger-tips. Recently we had the dare-devil sport of slack-lining, the one-upmanship that goes beyond the tight-rope.

If you want to see spring flowers, it isn't necessary to wait for August and September. From the first warmer days in July, the flowers make an appearance.

So while we wait to see what happens, we light the fire in our office hearth, choose between a Merlot, Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon, and dream about tomorrow's meal.

 Five hundred pieces of wood were delivered a few days ago.  They are going down quite rapidly. The height of the pile is a good thermometer to go by.