Garden Route Accommodation

African Horror Story

Old ghost stories are always interesting and contain so much of the oral history and tradition of a place. The Cape is no exception and in fact, quite a leader in this regard with such legends as the Flying Dutchman. Here is another which is steeped in history and very relevant to guests who travel to Swellendam via die N1, past Worcerster to Augusta de Mist.

In 1700 W.A. van der Stel handed out the first pasturage licenses in the Land van Waveren (Tulbagh & Wolseley).  In 1707, when he was called back to Holland due to his mismanagement, further extension across the old Hottentots Holland Pass took off.

The latter extension took place next to the Sonderend River, while those in the Land van Waveren were situated next to the Breede River with an extension in the Exe River Valley (called that, due to streams and ox wagon routes crisscrossing each other).  At that time a desolate paradise for wildlife like elephants and buffalo. The first pioneer to risk coming into the valley with his livestock to graze, was Roelf Jantz van Hoeting.

He was the first person to receive license to graze his livestock ‘under the mountains of Red Sand above the Rock of the Lions’.  This was an auspicious date for the valley – the beginning of its modern agricultural history and the advent of European settlement in an area, which until then, had belonged only to the Bushmen and the wild animals, which they hunted for their food.

Other cattle keepers followed Van Hoeting to the valley. Official names of farms began to feature in the records:  on 8 December 1723, for instance, Vendutie Kraal (the sale pen) was granted to Jacob van der Merwe and the name of the farm hints at an establishment industry is cattle breeding and auction. In view of the value of land in the valley today it is interesting to note that Mr. Van der Merwe paid 24 rixdollars (R12) for his grant and agreed to deliver one-tenth of his grain crop each year to the landdros of Stellenbosch; the latter part of the deal he could quite easily evade by not growing any grain at all!

By the end of the 18th century six farms had been granted, covering all the best reaches of the valley.  Kanetvlei (named after the type of reeds in the marsh there) was in the hands of the Stofberg family;  Roodesand was owned by the Jourdans and noted for the quality of its Madeira-type wines;  Vendutiekraal belonged to the Van der Merwes;  Modderdrift was owned by the Conradies;  De Doorns (the thorns) was the home of the De Vos family, whose hospitable home was already recognized as the natural community center of the valley;  Buffelskraal, a farm at the upper end of the valley, was owned by another branch of the same De Vos family.

Each farm had a handsome Cape-Dutch style farmhouse and it is in one of these, on Buffelskraal (this section of the farm today known as Clovelly), that the legend was born of the fair ghost (the hex or witch) who is supposed to haunt the Hex River Mountains.

The Legend:
In the year 1768, just after the house had been built, one of its occupants was a beautiful girl named Eliza Meiring.  She was so popular with the local young bloods that she set any would-be suitor the initial task of bringing her a disa from the inaccessible precipices of the 2249-m Matroosberg, the highest peak of the range; the very difficulty of the task was intended to deter unwanted suitors.

Unknown to Eliza, however, the one young man she really favored set out to surprise her by securing a disa.  In the attempt he fell and was killed.  The shock deranged the fair Eliza and she had to be locked in an upper room of the house.  One night she contrived to force a window open, but in trying to reach the ground she slipped and was killed.  It is said to be her spirit, lamenting the death of her lover, which wanders along the windswept peaks at night and believed by some locals that she committed suicide.  She was called (die heks van Exeriviervallei) the witch of the Exe River Valley, and in the mouth of the community the name of the Exe River Valley changed to the Hex River Valley.  The date 1768 and the initials ‘E.M.’ were once carved into the windowsill...

Today, of the original six farms in the Hex River Valley, there are nearly 150 subdivisions.  The value of any single subdivision is so greatly in excess of the original combined value of the first six farms, that the comparison is ludicrous.

In contrast to the quiet economic conditions of the cattle grazing past, an economic revolution has come to the valley in comparatively recent times.  The change began in 1875 when the Hex River railway pass was surveyed by Wells Hood and Built at a cost of R 1 million, to carry the main railway from Cape Town to the north and the diamond fields of Kimberley.

Seven years after the opening of this great railway pass, the first tentative export of table grapes was made to Britain.  In 1886 the grapes (red, white and Hanepoot) were privately dispatched to Dr. Smuts in London.

Due to Hanepoot being a very fragile grape it did not arrive in very good condition – probably the reason why it is classified as a wine grape.  This to be the reason why Dr. Perold smuggled a Barlinka vine from Algeria, hidden in his cane, into the valley.  This grape is much tougher and grew to its full glory here, where at the coast it did not had the same quality.

Today the Hex River Valley is not only known to be the biggest producer of table grapes in South Africa.  It also hosts the biggest pre-cooler in the Southern hemisphere (Hexkoel) aswell as the winery with the longest harvest season in the world (De Doorns Cellar)!

The local village, De Doorns (460m above sealevel), is situated in the heart of the Hex.  At 2249m above sealevel, the peak of the Hex River Mountain Range, the Matroosberg, is the highest mountain peak in the Western Cape.