And so to Nirvana. Chris Marais told me that he could spend a week in Nieu Bethesda. We had 24 hours. I will find that week at a later date. In any event, 24 hours was longer than we’d spent anywhere other than Calvinia.
There are no tarred roads in Nieu Bethesda. I hope they keep it that way. There are two pubs on the Chris' top 21 list, though, and a highly recommended lamb restaurant called, er, the Karoo Lamb. Culinary perfection for me doesn’t stray very far from a sympathetically grilled lamb cutlet, pink on the inside and with a bit of crispy fat opposite the bone. I hadn’t found one exactly like that yet. Many delicious variants, a few involving curry, but none with the exquisite simplicity I was looking for.
The Karoo Lamb on the left. The hub of Nieu Bethesda
I believed with all my heart that my quest would end at the Karoo Lamb. Remember Nick Broomfield? Well I suppose it’s an added reason to return to Nieu Bethesda. Closed it was. On our one and only night in the place. The owners were dining elsewhere, it being a quiet evening in downtown NB ...
Actually Ian, who owns a lot of the facilities in Nieu Bethesda, was most solicitous and steered us to the fascinating Art Centre (not one of his own) where we learned about /Xam history in the afternoon and had a tasty lamb curry in the evening. The /Xam culture is depicted in a series of stunning tapestries that were enthusiastically described to us by a young chap who worked on the project. My reluctance to display my ignorance prevented me from exploring the nuances of /Xam vs San. Another compelling reason to return to NB.
After our cultural introduction we needed some refreshment and repaired to the Brewery and Two Goats Deli, a short(ish) walk from the centre ville. On our way there we crossed the ubiquitous Karoo dry river bed and were astounded by the sheer width and depth of it, evidencing the amount of water that must roar down its course on rare occasions.
The road to the craft brewery
Walking along the gravel road to the Two Goats we encountered a car racing up and screeching to a halt alongside us. It didn’t actually screech because it was a gravel road but there was some dust involved.
“Are you rich Americans?” a not-unfriendly face demanded.
“Well, we’re not rich and we’re not American but otherwise you have hit the nail on the head,” I quipped. He wasn’t deterred as I had a Nikon dangling from my neck. I’m not sure if he knew it was quite an expensive one but, hey, it was just an excuse for a chat anyway. I just love that about people in remote places and the Karoo is pretty right on in that respect.
Everyone says you have to have lunch at the Two Goats Deli but this was late afternoon. Another reason to return. The beer wasn’t half bad, either. Nor was the seating crafted from old tyres, a kind of souped-up version of the sandals we all envied back in the 60s.
Now we had to go to the Ramstal, the premier joint for a dop (another Afrikaans word that would take a sentence to explain why you can’t just say “drink”). The Ramstal does Karoo shooters including one called “Aardvark’s gat”. I was determined to have one of those after dinner but, come 9PM, the flesh was less willing than the spirit had been at 6PM. Another reason ...
Richard had reached his alcohol quotient by about 6 so he departed from the Ramstal, leaving me to discuss rugby, in Afrikaans, with the barman (the landlord, Ian, had gone out for dinner, remember ... oh I didn’t say that he is Mr Karoo Lamb and many other things beside in Nieu Bethesda).
It was twilight when I left and peace had settled over the village. There was a group of people about 1⁄2 a kilometre away down the main street. Suddenly, a shape appeared from a side street about 200 m away, turned in my direction, approaching quickly. In the few seconds before everything became clear, I in no way felt threatened, just curious. Then two horsemen galloped past and disappeared into the gloom. Later that night, sated from the Art Centre and reneging on the Aardvark’s Gat, I was preparing for bed in my cottage (also owned by Ian) when there was a commotion outside. On peering out of the door I enjoyed the spectacle of a bunch of unaccompanied cows strolling past along the road.
Two pioneering women in the arts
I would have to write a scholarly tome to describe the next morning. The Karoo Lamb having redeemed itself with a guilt-inducing fat-boy-special for breakfast, Richard and I went to the Owl House and Camel Yard. This is the museum of the life of Helen Martins. She was an extraordinary artist who died in 1976. I can’t believe that she won’t become more famous than she already is. There is enough information on Google for it to be a fool’s errand for me to try to describe her and her installation. The only thing I can say is that I spent a couple of hours in a small area and left, lost for words. Anything I would have tried to write in the visitors’ book would have come out trite. So I didn’t try.
There was a small personal note. Miss Martins, being somewhat of an outcast in Nieu Bethesda, did not have many friends but one of them was the sister of a girl I used to date in the 60s. She and Helen were photographed together. I last saw Helen’s friend in the 80s when she came to a braai armed with a fish and a banana leaf. RIP Helen Martins; you certainly had none of that during your time on this earth.
Richard and I moved on to Cradock, another picturesque Karoo town with vestiges of its colonial past adding to its attractiveness. A splendid hotel, the Victoria Manor, with its accommodation supplied by a street of beautifully restored cottages, is the centrepiece. The Albert Bar in the depths of the Manor’s opulent dining area is another fine watering hole.
For us, Cradock was almost too much. Having visited Helen Martins in the morning, we stumbled on Olive Schreiner in the afternoon. How many tears can one stem in a day? But the Olive Schreiner museum is a must, if only because the biographical material of her life is a bit hard to pin down. Ruth First wrote a book but it is out of print. How can there be no extant biography of this remarkable woman. She didn’t just write The Story of an African Farm, she was modern woman personified in the late 19th century and would have made many a suffragette blush.
The Owl House can only be appreciated properly by going there. I tried to pick out four photos at random to give a bit of a flavour. It was a difficult task. The entire house and garden is an art installation. By contrast, the Olive Schreiner House was achingly simple with a comprehensive wealth of information inside. The sommelier behind the Albert Bar in the Karoo was most welcoming.
... there remained a cycle race to complete
Where did we leave the Karoo? Tarkastad, Queenstown? Certainly by the time we got to Matatiele in our dash for Durbs, things were getting a lot greener and there was actual water in the rivers.
All that remained was for me to complete the Amashova, representing the Farcycles and resplendent in pink and white jersey emblazoned with cycling pigeon and gothic folly tower. On the starting line in Pietermartitzburg, a few fellow cyclists looked a little askance:
“Far sigh kills,” one of them commented, interrogatively.
“Do you ride a buy sigh kill?” I retorted.
“What are you on about, man?”
“It’s far sick ills,” I explained. “I come from Faringdon in Oxfordshire where everything is a bit farcical.”
“Oh,” he didn’t look particularly impressed.
Farcical but I finished (in a decent time, too
Forming up at the start with my generous host for the event, old school friend Alan Beall, and then a couple of snaps by roadside photographers.
A hundred and six kilometres later, having traversed the aptly named Valley of a Thousand Hills, and now standing by the seaside, my mate Alan and I were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.
Coming Up: We're off to serendipitous Scotland in Campy before our brains archive the memories.
 Those who haven't followed this Karoo pub crawl blog from the beginning, Chris Marais provided a lot of the input as to where to go and pubs of interest via www.karoospace.co.za If you would like to catch up on earlier numbers, keep scrolling down.
 Another one of Ian's, with pictures on Instagram