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  • Writer's pictureClare Travis

A Berry Nice Weekend

Updated: Jan 6

Berry season is here! It's a short season in the Western Cape, being only November and December, so we grab the opportunity to go picking as soon as we can. The best place for blackberries and youngberries is in Swellendam. For the second year in a row we have stayed at Wildebraam Berry Estate. There are 4 chalets on the farm, we stayed in Berry Cottage. It is a lovely spacious, comfortable spot. It is best for a couple, but does have a single bed in the living area, if someone would be comfortable sleeping like that. The bedroom is large, with a massive bed and lots of cupboard space. There is aircon for the very hot days, in spring and summer most days in the area are over 30ºC. The living area has comfy chairs and a dining table, which we never use since we always eat outside. The kitchen is well equipped, with a full size fridge and a coffee plunger. There is a very funny counter in the kitchen, it has cupboards and draw in it for utensils and a bar like top, but it is so high and narrow you worry things will slide off. The patio is large with a big braai and a wooden bench table and lovely views of the garden and mountains. There are very friendly farms dogs that sometimes come for a visit, our boys love playing with Sambuca the black lab.

On the farm there are berry fields where you can go picking. It used to be free if you were staying in the accommodation , but this year that has been changed, it's only R15 per person though. There is quite a small section of youngberries, which last year were not for picking, so we were happy to be able to get some this year. The main field is blackberries and they are delicious. The picking is very fun and normally quite busy, but there are loads of ripe berries to go around. Just be careful of thorns, especially if you take your dogs with. And make sure to put on sunscreen, because there is no shade. When you go to get your berries weighed you can taste all the jams and hot sauces in the shop. They also make liqueurs of all sorts of flavours, which you can taste before you buy. We love the hazelnut.

Very nearby is the Marloth Nature Reserve. It's run by Cape Nature, so this means badly run and no dogs allowed in. You can download the brochure, with map, from their website. Just be aware that the distances are not taken from the entrance parking of the reserve, but from a parking area far inside. So if you start running or hiking from the entrance you need to add a few kilometres to your planned distance, we got caught out before. They also randomly close trails or change the entrance times without putting this information on their website. The only way to find out any information is to enter the park and go to the ticket office. The Reserve is open, according to the website and sign at the gates, sunrise to sunset, but the office opens later. The website also states you can do a self-permit if you start before the office is open, but there was no self permit book at the entrance and office, so I'm not sure how they expect people to do this. This year the gate time had been changed, because of covid-19 they want everyone in at the same time, but you can't see this new time until you have already got up at 5am and are inside the reserve. There are 3 main peaks, Tien (ten), Elf (eleven) and Twaalf (twelve) uur kops. They are known as the clock peaks and apparently were named so because they cast shadows on the village at those times and long ago villagers used to tell the time by this. Last year we planned to do Twaalfuurkop, which is the highest peak, but discovered it was closed when we tried to do the self permit. So we did Tienuurkop instead. This year we planned to do Tienuurkop again and discovered, only after running the 6km to the turn-off, that it is closed for rehabilitation. Nothing about this on the website, which I had checked 5 days earlier. How can you take a place seriously when it is so badly run, sigh. But the reserve is beautiful and has amazing views, and fabulous steep climbs for those of us that love them.

Just outside the reserve is the state pine forest and some jeeptrack MTB trails. It's an open area and you can take your dogs there. The roads in the Hermitage area are also very quiet, so are fine to run the dogs on. You can run or hike from the farm into the forest and around the dams, with lovely views of the clock peaks towering above you.

Near the berry farm is the cheese shop, owned by the same people. They bring in cheese from all over the area which you can taste there, and save on the driving from farm to farm. Andrew always comes back with a few smelly ones. Further away, along the same road, we discovered a lovely wine farm, Bushmanspad. They do mostly red wine, and it's delicious. The farm allows dogs and have dog friendly accommodation, just a little out of our price range unfortunately. There are 3 friendly farm dogs, one is a Great Dane pup, who was super cute and playful. For some silly reason we didn't take photos while there, too busy tasting the lovely wine I suppose.

There is also a new MCC farm in the area, which was highly recommended to us everywhere we stopped, but doesn't allow dogs, so we gave it a miss.

For Sunday breakfast we found a lovely restaurant called La Belle Alliance. It is in town, on the banks of the river, and allows dogs. They also do vegan meals if you ask, but they are not on the menu. I had a rosti with veggies and Andrew had an omelette, which Dash thought smelled delish, but didn't get a share of. It's a beautiful quiet spot, with lots of birds nesting in the trees on the opposite bank. It is lovely and shady, so a great place to stop for brekkie or lunch on a hot day.

There are a few other places to explore in the town, like museums and the chocolate shop, which is unfortunetly closed on Sundays. A weekend is never enough to explore the Langeberg/Breede towns.

A great highlight for us was on our drive home. There was a little bit of traffic, nothing too slow though, but as usual there was a *beep driving like an *beep. While watching this potentialy fatal driving ahead of us we heard a siren coming up from behind. It was a cop van that had been parked on the side of the road and had obviously witnessed this bad behaviour. They got behind him and pulled him over. Then like in a movie the van stopped and all 4 doors opened at once as the cops jumped out. Good to see vigilant police work being done on our roads. We can only hope that the *beep learnt a lesson and will drive more safely in future.


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