When I tell you that the trail actually started in the 1800s you’ll probably think I’ve been hitting the Witblitz. In fact, the potent moonshine distilled in these hidden hills and valleys of the Swartberg had a lot to do with the origins of the Matjiesvlei trail – or so we discover. Bennie delved into this history, sitting at the table near the kitchen where Meisie (who has run this household for the last 31years) kept us plied with good moer koffie.
“My ancestors and the sharecroppers (bywoners) used to collect and drag bundles of Wild Plum down from the steep foothills of the Swartberg,” he began. From the farmhouse down near the banks of the Gamka River, one looks up at these steep foothills in the shadow of the looming Swartberg Mountains behind, and you wonder at the industry of these early settlers. The dry and dead Wild Plum was used to distil the region’s legendary White Lightning moonshine and to dry the raisins farmed in the valley.
“Man, that Wild Plum is an even better-burning wood than the hardekool found up there in the bushveld!” said Bennie. In winter, the tenant farmer made the most of this resource and sold the wood in Calitzdorp for extra income.
Later, while driving the trail, Bennie pointed to a gnarled specimen of Wild Plum, saying, “That tree has been there since my boet and I tramped this veld as laaities.” Like their vehicles, things last a long time out here in the hidden valleys and hills of the Vlei.
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