Part 4: Summer Holiday '22/'23
Off to our next stop we go, Clarens in the Free State. A nice short 4 hour drive, but with lots of potholes once off the N3. We were staying about 15min to the south of the town at a place called Lesoba. Sadly this was the dud accommodation for this roadtrip, there always has to be one. But Clarens is awesome, so keep reading.
When I emailed about the accommodation I specified that we would be trail running/hiking and checked what length the trails were, as the website specified that they had 3 trails. I was told the distances were 4km, 6km and 11km and so requested to make the booking. I had to follow up a couple of times to get the booking done, including once when she asked me to change my dates, which was a bit odd/rude and obviously was not possible. Anyway, we got the booking and arrived safely the day before Christmas. The owner wasn't there, she had gone away. I think it was her mom-in-law that was there looking after the place, and half the cottages were occupied by family. The cottages were a bit closer together than they looked in the pictures, but the room was comfy. We stayed in unit 1, which is an open plan room with a double bed, small sitting area and kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen was quite well kitted with a large fridge and little gas stove. Sadly there was no coffee bodum so we had to have the instant that we had brought with. The bathroom was nice, but the shower was a bit cold some of the time, almost like it was sharing a geyser with another room, guessing by the timing of the cold spells. Outside is a deck, with braai space. There is a biggish lawn, with a swimming pool, camping and a small dam. Around the back of the place was a big razor wire fence, which was a bit odd since the front entrance remained open. We explored through the gate to find the hiking trails and found a couple of signs, but no path as it was extremely overgrown. While exploring we heard what sounded like a lamb stuck in this area where a lot of rusty metal and stuff was dumped. On inspection we discovered a sheep mommy that had just given birth to 2 babies, which were super cute. Since our hunt for the trials was a bit unsuccessful we asked the lady who had greeted us for a map. She produced a bunch of maps and a brochure, all stating different lengths for the trails, which was a bit odd, but she seemed very confident about them and even told us how they were planning on doing a camino across a few farms. Sadly they will be very unsuccessful with this since they obviously couldn't be bothered to do upkeep on their trails, even when someone specifies they are coming to use them. On Christmas morning we tried to do the longer trail, but it was so overgrown that we couldn't find it and spent hours stumbling around. There was evidence of arrows and signs, but it was impossible to follow as they just led into thick grass. While we understand that in these areas the grass grows really quickly during the rainy season, there is no way that this trial had been cleared in a long while and definitely hadn't been checked in preparation for guests coming to use the trails. Since this way didn't work we thought to try the short route to see the dinosaur bone and get a closer look at the Queen Victoria rock formation. After bundu bashing and following signs that had fallen down or where half covered by bush we came upon a massive fence, with no gate. It looked pretty new, but surely if your neighbour was putting up such a huge fence, across your hiking trail, you would know. So not a good start to our stay. Luckily you can still view the Queen Victoria from the road in, and it's pretty cool.
Because we had been to the Clarens a few years before, we knew the town was fantastic and that there was some really nice running in the Conservancy. So we decided to spend boxing day in town, hoping some shops and restaurants would be open. The conservancy is super organised, there are multiple places where you can buy your permits and a big sign board in the village with the list of places on it. It is only R30pp and the permit lasts a whole week! We suggest purchasing the lovely map with descriptions of the routes, for hiking and mountain biking, which is just R40. The trails are very well marked and maintained, there were only a couple of slippery wet and muddy patches - to be expected during the the wet season. Using the map you can easily plan a route and make your own distance by linking different routes together. Obviously dogs are allowed, under control, so if not trained they need to be on a leash. We did a great 18km loop including the Titanic Trail, Sky Contour, Caracal Contour and Porcupine Trail.
Luckily it didn't rain on us and we had packed a change of clothes, because everything in town was open! The town is super dog friendly and there were lots of people walking around, shopping and sitting at restaurants with their pooches. We started off at a lovely coffee shop near the main square, which didn't seem to have a name, but did have really good coffee. We visited the lovely bookstore, where I found a new massive Ken Follett book, which was great as I always feel a long roadtrip is incomplete without one. There is an amazing pet store at the square, called Calibou, where we got the boys much needed new collars and a few treats, according to Dash & Pi the best biscuits ever. There are lots of other boutiques, arty shops, and all sorts of places to spend the day wandering around. Then once you have shopped everything, there are lots of restaurants to chose from. We went to the Clarens Brewery, which we had enjoyed visiting a few years ago. They have beers, ciders and gin for tasting and buying, and a pretty good menu. It was packed and by then the dogs were pretty pooped, so Dash ended up sleeping under the lady next to us' chair, and was well loved. So after a pretty miserable first day on this stop, our second day was fantastic.
The take away from this visit is that it is better to spend a little more to stay in town and be near to the wide variety of things to do, than rely on the claims of a cheaper place a little further away. The Lesoba farm is in a wonderful location, with great views. Sadly it is wasted being run the way it is for a very specific clientele, not the adventuring, athletic type. The room was R450pppn and dogs stayed free. The area is not fenced and there were lots of resident yappy dogs that just yapped and yapped at our boys while they sat and watched in silent incomprehension. I don't recommend staying here. But definitely recommend a visit to Clarens.