When, as a child, I used to travel across the Free State with my parents and my brother to our relatives in Natal, we seemed to establish a pattern of stopping off at certain places. On very hot trips we would stop very soon into the journey in Winburg. There was a shop at the first service station one came to that sold fresh milk in paper cups. I was not a great lover of milk, but there was a novelty about sitting on the back seat of the car beside my brother sipping fresh cold milk through a straw.
On very cold journeys we would stop in Bethlehem. Somewhere in the middle of town, also at a service station, was a kiosk that sold piping hot cups of soup. This place seemed to be open from very early till very late, and I recall sitting on the back seat in the dark, warming my hands around the cup as I savoured the rich spicy taste.
There were also journeys where boredom called for a stop in Kestell. I recall strolling curiously around what seemed to be a very old bookstore in the small town, while my parents decided which short and easy reads to purchase for their two squabbling backseat warriors. I remember being introduced to The Gingerbread Man after a visit to Kestell, but my brother was less fortunate as the reading brought on carsickness.
My mother, a person of a number of strange tastes, needed on occasions to stop at one of those typically Free State roadside picnic spots, which entailed driving off the road into the centre of a rectangle of gum trees. She had grown up on an arid sheep farm in the western Free State and her tales about her family’s diet during the worst and desperate drought years inspired great respect and awe in my brother and me. So something as bland and harmless as eucalyptus gum was a delicacy to her. We would watch as she wandered around the trunks expertly picking off clumps of gum, which she would savour afterwards in the car as if they were humbugs.
The best refreshment stop was on the Eastern Free State route, between Ficksburg and Fouriesburg. At a particular farm stall we would pull over and, under the shady trees, settle down to large cups of fresh homemade ginger beer that was quite certainly unequalled in flavour in the Free State or anywhere else.
When I first returned to the Free State from Kwa-Zulu Natal thirteen years ago I spotted that farm stall, empty and abandoned, and felt a twinge of sadness that such a special little home industry had closed its doors. Last year, after returning from nearly a decade in England, I was invited by my niece to visit the farm she had bought during my absence. You cannot imagine the surprise and delight I felt when I discovered that the farm stall of my childhood, and the shady trees around it, formed a part of her farm.
Our photograph this week is taken on Cluny Farm, on a fresh winter’s morning walk with the goats. After my niece, who is our local vet, had bought the farm, it happened that she was presented with an abandoned cat in Clarens that she tried to re-home, unsuccessfully. After a month she decided to take him to the farm, and she named him Cluny Cat. Cluny Cat, together with a second cat, Peanut, have successfully continued on the farm, Cluny having shacked up with the farm labourers in their cabin, and Peanut with the goats in the goat house.
The next welfare animal to come to Cluny Farm was a pony, Milo. Her previous owners had rescued her from across the river in Lesotho, where she had been beaten and abused, and for ten years they had looked after her. Finally, when they were no longer able to care for her, she was taken to Cluny Farm where she spent the last three years of her life, reaching around 35 years old. She is buried on the farm.
A varied assortment of animals have since come to the farm, some of them productive farm animals, some of them merely living out their remaining years in a nurturing environment. It is no surprise then that when my niece, Katherine, established the Animal Trust a few years ago, she used the name Cluny in it, bonding it to its humble beginnings at Cluny Farm.
The goats, who occupy a self appointed position of superiority on the farm, and who graciously produce their milk for cheese making, have on occasions ensured that the farm stall’s doors have been opened once again. Travellers along the road between Fouriesburg and Ficksburg might have been fortunate on one of these occasions to find varieties of cheese, cream cheese or feta available for purchase from the stall.
The picture insert features in the 2014 calendar produced by and sold in aid of Cluny Animal Trust. Calendars can be purchased at Clarens Gallery, Clementines Restaurant and the Old Stone Bottle Store, in Clarens. Alternatively they can be ordered from Katherine on 0827886287, Jan on 0782462553, Helen on 0582230918 or by email to email@example.com .