Its new year – the first week of January 1902 and we continue to ride, or rather walk, with Deneys Reitz as he and seven other colleagues have been separated from General Jan Smuts who is on a mission to raid the Cape – and possibly – cause an uprising of Cape Afrikaners.
By now Smuts has realised that the idea of Cape Afrikaners rising up is a pipe-dream, but wants to surprise the British close to Cape Town to prove to them that the Boers are still able to strike fear into British citizens.
Remember last week we heard how Reitz and his fellow commando members had managed to give the English troops the slip over the Swartbergen somewhere in the Small Karoo to the north of Craddock.
The eight had managed to cross the mountains but now had to make a difficult decision. Where the Swartbergen mountains had consisted of a single clearcut barrier …
It was getting dark, and a heavy rain began to fall.
They continued descending from the Swartbergen and needed to find shelter quickly. When the rain falls in highground, the temperature can slide from a balmy 30 degrees centigrade to a really chilly 12 degrees of less in a matter of half an hour.
They found a overhanging rock and rested until daybreak, trying to sleep as the wind whipped rain into their faces.
They scrambled down the whole day, until by around four in the afternoon they emerged from the mist and clouds and could see a long narrow canyon ahead. It’s sides were enclosed in perpendicular cliffs. Then they spotted huts around 1000 feet below and decided to go ask for directions out of these mountains.
They were taking a chance, all eight together descending to the huts. Those with horses left them in a nearby ravine to look after themselves and scrambled down arriving at the huts as the sun sank below the western cliffs.
They were faced with a number of huts designed in the Xhosa way but also featuring wattle and daub, the much fancied building technique of the early settlers in the Eastern Cape.
“As we approached the huts, a shaggy giant in goatskins appeared and spoke to us in a strange outlandish Dutch…”
The stranger was one of the oddest people Reitz had ever met.