I’d come across Verkykerskop while searching for accommodation in and around Harrismith and have been intrigued by their ideas about rural development. It seemed to fit my thoughts on local living pretty well, so I headed out through the flat topped hills to find it.
After Parys it was a breath of fresh air. Not pretentious, despite all the trading store memorabilia. It actually is a proper store which serves the local community, runs the post office, has a butchery (all local meat) and a bar and restaurant. Right on the road to Memel or Warden (it forks just outside the village).
While I enjoyed a much needed cup of tea, delightful ‘Rock-Chick-gone-Rural’ Beth told me she was feeling sad. Unfortunately, someone had run over the leg of one of her chickens that morning and the vet said it was too mangled to fix, so it was being plucked for supper. The cat had been diagnosed with cancer that morning, too. The trials of country life.
I wandered along the road and came across some interesting plants. Lots of Pentanisia, Gnidia, Helichrysum and a Euphorbia which was almost impossible to photograph with it’s spindly stems.
Over the road is the Boere Saal and Stock Sale Yard (sales still held monthly), the VKB depot filled with enormous sacks of fertilizer and great tanks of diesel.
There is a very smart police station and a collection of cottages, old and new. The new ones are built from materials reclaimed from abandoned buildings in the area and are hard to spot. The key to the verandah door of my stylish room in Central Hotel had been mislaid, so I climbed in and out of the window to stoep-sit in the breeze.
I wandered down to Smiley’s (beside the store) for supper. Douglas, barman and right hand man has a red tee shirt which says “Joe Blikzem. Vat Nie Kak Nie Clothing Co.” The entire place is pretty surreal.
Although local meat forms the bulk of the Roadhouse style menu, Beth and Matt (owners, dreamers, cooks and builders) discussed pizza options with me and we decided on spinach with feta and capers. She dashed into the back yard to pick the spinach and Douglas assured me he had already made the dough, so it wouldn’t take long. It was utterly yummy.
Conversation too was good – we talked about living locally, growing food, resilience, sustainability and all my favourite things. There are interesting plans afoot to develop this into a small scale agricultural town, with alternate energy sources, food gardens, water harvesting –revitalising the agricultural history of the area – agrarian urbanism is the term. Look it up if you are interested. Beth and Matt had been there for eight years and I was pretty certain they had had a really positive impact on the community. They told stories of the fascinating mix of young and old, traditional and trendy, which ensure that parties at Verkykerskop were fantastic. Chris Chameleon was performing on New Year’s Eve.
Before I wandered home to bed, we discussed breakfast – there was the possibility of a couple of happy eggs from the speckled Zulu hens. Matt suggested some spring onions too. I slept soundly with the chorus of frogs in the dam outside my window and the real, real darkness.
Blue cranes calling, sheep bleating and cattle bellowing roused me in the morning. When I felt like breakfast I walked along the road. Beth greeted me with “You’re out of luck. Our hen decided to sit on her eggs this morning and will NOT let me have any”. Now that’s seasonal living, taking only what is given freely. I was impressed and perfectly happy with a toasted sarmie instead.
It wasn’t too hot yet, so I went for a long walk to explore. I found some lovely plants – a couple I had never seen before. This Zaluzanskia (might be Zaluzanskia natalensis?) amongst the rocks.
This little Pygmaeothamnus was completely new to me.
Also Myrsine growing in rock crevices, unusual Ledebouria, Boophane, Mesembryanthemums, Scabious, Dianthus, lots of interesting succulents and other treasures.
I was distressed at the invasive trees infesting the water courses. What an enormous impact they must have on the water available downstream.
I had afternoon tea on the deck, throwing pine cones for Tippex the Labrador. A couple of local farmers arrived to drink lite beers and discuss their Christmas party. This is certainly carnivore central – I eavesdropped on the conversation. After pizzas (in all probability vleis pizzas) to start, the fires would be lit for a lekker braai. Lots of afval (offal) would be served, sheep’s heads smoked, tjops and a potjie too.
When I went back to the restaurant for supper, more white bakkies filled the car park and the farmers were still there with a few more friends. They immediately invited me to join their group and in no time I was invited to their celebration too. On enquiring what on earth I would eat, I was offered sweet carrots and koolslaai and out of season broccoli bought from town! I enquired about their homestead kitchen gardens and they sounded impressive. Beth thought it would make an amazing story for my blog, so who knows I might just head back in December. I really do like it there.
Other people arrived for dinner – local farmers who make tons of vermi-compost for their farm and grow sugar beans and non-gm mielies organically. The awful thing is that their sugar beans just get mixed in with all the rest, they are not sold as organic! I was told to come back in April to stock up. They also grow soya beans and save their own seed, but said all the soya seed was contaminated with gm now.
Beth told me that all the farmers’ wives share produce during the growing season and she is never short of strawberries, patty pans, apples or pumpkins. A huge elderberry bush growing outside was in full bloom, so I gave her my Elderflower cordial recipe. They have planted many fruit and nut trees all around the village.
A couple of days before, I’d visited Joana Selebi in her home in Moholokoeng. She had grown up in Verkykerskop. I wondered how much had changed in 60 years – the farms were still huge and the white farmers 3rd and 4th generation. Joana had given me a jar of her homemade preserved peaches, it seemed appropriate to eat some of them on my stoep. They were delicious.
Apparently, during the Boer war, English soldiers left a pair of binoculars (verkykers) on top of the hill which gave rise to the name of the village. One certainly can see for ever across the grassy valley. Interesting, that a small group of far-sighted individuals should settle right here. They have a great vision but are living firmly in the moment, delighting in everyone who crosses their threshold, eating well and celebrating every day. The Verkykerskop motto is Farm, Play, Live Free.
As I left, Beth was feeling very chirpy. Six abandoned baby lambs were on their way for her to hand rear. I always think this is very brave – to eat the animals you have raised. She admitted that she couldn’t actually bear to, so her friend along the road also reared some and then they swapped when it came to slaughtering and cooking time, so they wouldn’t know the names of who they were eating!
Despite all the meat and murder, I’m pretty certain I will go back.