Encounter the Eastern Cape Travel Mailer – July 2023


The first half of the year is behind us and now its downhill towards the end of the year. Welcome to the July 2023 issue of Firefly the Travel Guy’s Encounter the Eastern Cape Travel Mailer. This month we look at the following:

  • Walk along the Nieu-Bethesda Labyrinth

  • Discover the St Francis Bay Canals

  • Learn about the Aberdeen bed grave

  • Who was Jack the baboon?

  • What and where is the Prince Alfred’s Guard Drill Hall?

If there is something that you would like to see featured in our monthly travel mailer or have any suggestions, please drop us a mail at jonker@fireflyafrica.co.za

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The Nieu-Bethesda Labyrinth

The Nieu-Bethesda Labyrinth at the Gregg Price Art Gallery

In January 2018 artist Gregg Price’s eldest son William took his own life. In the struggle to come to terms with the loss of their son, Gregg and his wife traveled to Chartres Cathedral in France. Here they explored the labyrinth in the cathedral through a course titled ‘beyond the boundaries of loss and grief’, which proved to be a seminal experience towards healing.

The Chartres labyrinth was built from limestone in early 13th century and evokes Greek mythology. The architect Daedalus constructed it for the destruction of a monster – the Minotaur – who ate the children of Athens..

The Prices built a stone labyrinth based on the design of the Chartres Cathedral next to Gregg’s art gallery in Nieu-Bethesda as a way to honour the life of William. They offer the labyrinth experience free to the community and travelers passing through the village.

Chartres Cathedral labyrinth in France
Gregg Price Art Gallery in Nieu-Bethesda

The St Francis Bay canals

St Francis Bay canals

The St Francis canal system is the largest man-made web of canals in the country. The canal system boasts a small craft harbour as well as a popular restaurant and is, together with the Krom River, playground for the water sport enthusiast and fisherman alike.

Leighton Hullett bought nearly 3 km of river frontage beside the Krom River and began to work on the canal system in 1968 with a dredger that he build himself.

In 1976 the first part of the canal system was completed with an eastern and western outlet to the Krom River. Resident homes around the canal system are known for their black roofed and white walled building style which was something stipulated by Hullett.

Paddling and Stand Up Paddling, swimming, boating, fishing, and especially late afternoon canal cruises are popular pastimes. Small boats can be rented on a day-to-day basis, and moorings are available for tourists who bring their own craft.

The Cove (the western outlet into the Kromme River) is a popular swimming spot for families as one of the sides will assure protection from the prevailing wind of the day.

Things to do in St Francis Bay

The Aberdeen bed grave

The bed grave between Aberdeen and Graaff-Reinet

Some 30-kilometres from Graaff-Reinet on the way to Aberdeen the N9 road passes an old cast iron bedstead in the veld. According to local folklore the bed marks the grave of a woman who took ill and died while her family was trekking by ox-wagon through the Karoo. As they were not from the area her husband simply buried her where she had died and used their marital bed to mark and protect her grave, thereafter proceeding on the journey with the rest of the family.

Cast iron beds only became commonplace in the late 19th century so it is unlikely to have been from the time of the Great Trek. The true details will probably never be known. The grave site can easily be missed in the long grass on the left of the road heading towards Aberdeen.

The story of Jack the Baboon

James "Jumper" Wide and Jack the Baboon

Jack the baboon was the pet and assistant of double leg amputee signalman James Wide, who worked for the Cape Town – Port Elizabeth Railway service. James “Jumper” Wide had been known for jumping between railcars until an accident where he fell and lost both of his legs at the knee. To assist in performing his duties, Wide purchased Jack in 1881, and trained him to push his wheelchair and to operate the railways signals under supervision.

An official investigation was initiated after someone reported that a baboon was observed changing railway signals at Uitenhage Station near Port Elizabeth. After initial skepticism, the railway decided to officially employ Jack once his job competency was verified. He was paid twenty cents a day, and half a bottle of beer each week. It is widely reported that in his nine years of employment with the railway company, Jack never made a single mistake.

Jack died of tuberculosis in 1890 and his skull is in the collection of the Albany Museum in Grahamstown.

Read more about Jack

The Prince Alfred’s Guard Drill Hall

Prince Alfred's Guard Drill Hall

The Prince Alfred’s Guard Drill Hall in Port Elizabeth was built in 1880 and is the headquarters of the Prince Alfred’s Guard Regiment (PAG), one of the oldest volunteer regiments in South Africa. The drill hall has been used for a variety of purposes over the years, including as a hospital during the South African War (1899-1902). It is partially converted into a museum and houses exhibits on the history of the Prince Alfred’s Guard Regiment.

The PAG was founded in 1856 as the Port Elizabeth Volunteer Rifle Corps. It was renamed the Prince Alfred’s Guard in 1860 after providing a guard of honor for Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria, during his visit to South Africa.

The PAG has a long and distinguished history of service, having fought in the Xhosa Wars, the Boer War, World War I, World War II, the Border War, and the South African War. The regiment has also been involved in peacekeeping operations in various parts of the world.

Visiting hours are by appointment only.

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