When people hear the name ‘Clarens’ they think of a little town in the Eastern Free State overrun by artists and arty pensioners. To me Clarens and Golden Gate remind me of that happy time when everything was still right with (my) world, and that when I enter Clarens I enter the royal domain of Koning Lafras – Kabouterkoning and protector of the PJ Steyn lineage (of which I am part).
A couple of months ago I decided that a road trip is in order for my birthday, and the destination was an easy choice: Clarens, of course. My Person (my best friend among other things, nudge, nudge, wink, wink) declared that he will drive me there in his shiny Beemer, pay for the accommodation at the establishment of my choice, and place his gold Visa card at my disposal. What more could I ask for? (I did ask for a hot air balloon ride, but refused to make the booking).
It had been 14 years since my last visit to the area. So much had changed! I wasn’t sure where my grandfather’s sister used to live. Once upon a time she was the mayor of Clarens.
Now one thing you must ALWAYS has on hand when in the vicinity of the Maluti mountain range is a tampoeriesteentjie*. When placed under the tongue, they make you invisible to the witches who live there in the ravines. Alternatively you can throw some bacon at them – that and bodies of water are excellent witch repellents.
Fortunately there is a shop in town that sells a variety of semi-precious stones – in case you left yours in your other trousers/loin cloth/Wonder Bra. Of course there are art galleries; dozens of them within spitting distance of each other. And there is no reason to go hungry here, even if you did chuck your last piece of bacon at Petronella Trommel or Deborah Slymstok**. There are cafés and restaurants galore around the square, and The Purple Onion is one of the coolest food shops I’ve been inside in a long time. For breakfast I can definitely recommend “The Highlander” at The Highland Restaurant for something different, and pretty much anything at Artist’s Café for something traditional.
Make sure you also stop at the Clarens Brewery (conveniently located next to The Highlander – for hair of the dog and such, I guess), where you will be offered a taste of each of their brews to help you choose. I sampled the cherry cider, apple cider, lager, light ale, red ale and stout before settling on the pleasingly light Clarens Blonde (lager).
Bibliophile has a nice range of books, but my most precious literary buy was mad at the little antique/second hand book shop just off the square. Boom, bomer, boomste by Elsabé Steenberg was a childhood favourite of mine. I love all her books, but this one spoke to me.
We took a leisurely drive through the Golden Gate nature reserve so I could show My Person the amazing rock formations, and reminisce about the one time our family – grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – spent the Easter Holiday there. Six months later the only man to ever love me unconditionally; the man who taught me about science, language and tolerance; the man whose alliance with the gnomes would ensure that I’d always be safe from the witches of the ravines around his hometown, passed away.
I dedicate this entry to my grandfather with gratitude for my ability to (sometimes) bewitch with words.
P.S. The Speckled Bean, Clarens’ magazine, can also be read online at http://www.speckledbean.com
* Any polished semi-precious stone. Each one carries magic within.
** The two most notorious and feared witches from my childhood.