Weekend Escape: Oak soaked in Greyton
Nick Yell wanders the tree-lined avenues of a classic Western Cape country town
It was Fugard's writings that first enticed me to experience that most pleasant of Karoo outings: walking through a small village's deserted streets in the "late frost-sharp hour", looking to the trees for "companionship".
"The sense of them alive and awake, their huge black presences magnified still further by faint starlight, is quite awesome."
So, it was reminiscing of the acacia, ash and pepper-treed streets of my previous hometown (Aberdeen) in the Karoo that I set off with my girlfriend down the oak avenues of Greyton, late on a Friday night.
Hand in hand, we wandered the dirt tracks, accompanied by soft green verges, post and rail fences and the tinkling of the stream on our right. With trails of steam surrounding his head, a friendly horse whinnied a greeting to us as we passed. But it was the sky and its firmament of stars, seen through the network of naked oak-tree branches, that got most of our attention. Even leafless, these ponderous old giants evoke a stout vitality and a brooding sense of wisdom.
It seems that oaks were planted in Greyton as early as 1795 by Martin Theunissen, owner of the farm Weltevrede. Apparently he received the saplings from the neighbouring mission village of Genadendal, who in turn received them from the Castle in Cape Town to decorate their "werf". With oak trees planted along the road all the way up to his front door, it is thought that Theunissen probably copied the example set by the Cloetes of Groot Constantia.
The next morning, we woke with a bang. Well, technically we were already awake, but probably not fully compos mentis when I decided to light the gas fire to ward off the chill. The plan was to thaw out in front of the hearth with a cup of coffee before unleashing ourselves on Greyton's extensive and eclectic range of shops and eateries.
I'd followed the instructions carefully, but after twiddling the relevant knobs, nothing happened. I was giving the lighting procedure a third try, when "Whum!", the fire exploded into life with the force of a napalm bomb and my heart lodged firmly in my throat. I made a mental note to have one less cappuccino on our high-street excursion.
One of the first shops we visited was A Little Bizarre - trinkets and treasures it advertised. We came away with some exotic eastern stockings, some beautiful costume jewellery and armloads of incense. Next was The Inside Story, with antiques, collectables, décor items and artworks. We got talking to the owner, Carol Gibbs, veteran shopkeeper, artist and raconteur, and were fascinated by her stories of her recent travels to the East. She said she'd decided one day: "I'm not getting any younger, I'm going to blow my pension and travel India." And, judging from the glint in her eye and her effervescent demeanor, she made the right decision.
Paul Leger's Snob's Guide to Budget Getaways talks of the Oak and Vigne restaurant as "the flavour of the day amongst the Greyton trendset". He may be right, but I think of it as a charming place to sit under the oaks and watch the passing parade on a summer's day; or to lunch on fine food in front of the fire inside during winter.
Choosing the latter, we snuggled up near the fire and drank cappuccinos with whisky, a perfect way to unwind after a morning of browsing and shopping in this one-of-a-kind Overberg village.
Some think Greyton is too chichi for a country village, that it's lost its authenticity. I call it the very best of both worlds.
If you go...
Where it is: Francolin Cottage is at 30 Caledon Street in Greyton. Turn right off the main road at the first four-way stop.
What it has: The quaint cottage has two en-suite bedrooms, one with a king-sized bed and the other with two singles. It's equipped for self-catering, and has a braai area and garden with a stream running through it, plus a pool.
Why go there: To relax with your loved ones in the quiet country surrounds, though there are shopping and gourmet eat-out options galore. For the adventurous, there are mountain-biking and cycling, walking and hiking trails (you can do the Boesmanskloof trail as a one- or two-day outing), horse-riding, 4x4 trails, plus bowls and tennis facilities.
The food: Self-catering but "basket breakfasts" and other home-cooked meals available on request.
Rates: R950 for the first two adults and R150 per adult, or R100 per child thereafter.
Contact: Call Jéan and Mary Faure on 0283140571, visit www.francolincottage.co.za or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.