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The eastern Free State is God’s own country. Wide open plains as far as the eye can see occasionally punctuated by rock outcrops and rolling grasslands flanked by magnificent mountains which form the western foothills of the Malutis. 

The area has a rich local history of story-telling, legends and African Basotho folklore. This story is about Valerie Wilcocks, 22 and Johan Bestendig De la Harpe, 21 a young couple in love. Valerie was a beautiful young woman, spirited and independent minded and her boyfriend Johan was a handsome adventurous young man in his prime.

It was the summer of 1932. Clarens was only twenty years old, a tiny village established in 1912 with dirt roads & sandstone cottages built by Cornish stonemasons.

The young lovers would ride out from the farms of their respective families to meet at a rendezvous in the mountains near Clarens so that they could spend precious time together. They met in secret against the express wishes of their parents because of a long simmering feud between the Wilcocks and the De la Harpe families.

(photo Horst Muller)

There is a hiking path that leads up to the chain ladders ascending Mont-Aux- Sources and one day they were out riding on his horse Moscow when a summer lightning storm unleashed tragedy in the form of a bolt from the sky. A battered and rusted sign along that path attests to the spot where it happened

Their grieving families set aside their differences & buried the young lovers next to each other. Valerie was twenty two years old & Johan was twenty one. They died on 18 December 1932, one day after Johan’s twenty second birthday.

 When travelling on the road from Clarens towards the Golden Gate Highlands National Park you should stop in at Sugar and Cinnamon before passing through the check point and the Van Reenen family cemetary is on the left just before the Meriting Picnic spot.

The local Sotho people living in the area say that when dark storm clouds gather, you will see Valerie and Johan riding off into the distance.

The dozen or so graves are enclosed by a low sandstone wall. Above the cemetery on the right, the Rooiberge of the eastern Free State with their eroded cliffs and exposed, horizontal sandstone strata in golden hues of ochre, red and orange, stand as silent sentinels watching over the graves.

This is a well chosen and peaceful final resting place for loved ones. In the same cemetery you will find the grave of a brave young hero called Nathan van Reenen lying just below below the tombstone of his brother Laurens. Nathan was slain by an unknown assailant on 7 December 2013 in Durban whilst coming to the assistance of a victim of crime. He was sixteen years old.

Ride on young lovers, ride away,

Ride on & forever to a better day.

“May God bless & keep you always,

May your wishes all come true.

May you always do for others, 

And let others do for you.

May you build a ladder to the stars, 

And climb on every rung.

May you stay forever young,

Forever young, forever young, 

May you stay forever young.”

Bob Dylan – Forever Young

Clarens Guide
Author: Clarens Guide