Helen Walne inherited Lily, a dog that had once been buried alive and left for dead. Fully recovered, it was time to show Lily some more of the world and so they set off on a road trip from Cape Town to Cradock in search of the best pet-friendly accommodation along the way. It may not have been the blissful adventure she’d dreamed of, but the wide open spaces and warm, welcoming heart of the Karoo won through, and left her in no doubt that it was a wonderful route for a girl and her hound.
In the side mirror, I could see a tongue, a black nose and whiskers. The windows were open, white hairs swirled across the dashboard and the CD player was at full volume. The boot was packed with clothes, blankets, dog food and a hunk of biltong. Lily and I were headed for the Karoo for nine days. We’d sniff the air, romp through the veld and swim in rivers. And this little fighter, who had survived being buried alive in Khayelitsha three years ago and had won back the use of her paralysed legs, would take her first real road trip. It would be happy! And joyous! And relaxing! We would be like Tintin and Snowy!
By the second day, we were more like a Stephen King horror in which the placid family pet turns into a jumpy, incontinent beast. After gunning the 462 kilometres from Cape Town to Beaufort West, we checked into Olive Grove Guest Farm – a green oasis amid taupe hills. That night, Lily barked at every noise: a shift in the breeze, the shuffling of fellow guests, the sound of an olive dropping from a branch. In the morning, a German tourist strolled past us outside and Lily – on a lead, thankfully – lunged at him, snarling. I apologised (he was very nice), hastily packed the car and headed towards Nieu-Bethesda, growling at Lily in the rear-view mirror.
We stopped at a roadside picnic site outside Graaff-Reinet. Lorries barrelled by and as I sat swatting flies in the sun, Lily scrounged for bones. I should have known better. By the time we arrived at our cottage, Allemann se Huisie, her stomach was making squelching noises and the air in the car smelt cruciferous. We took a walk through the village, stopping to admire the wall display of skulls outside Die Waenhuis restaurant and store. In the cemetery, I let Lily off the lead. She lagged and panted and made more broccoli bouquets. By the time we arrived at the cottage, it was clear she was as sick as a dog. And even though I let her out three times during the night, I awoke in the morning to a scene that would have made even the most seasoned sanitation worker weep. I found a mop and bleach and left Lily inside while I visited the Owl House. It must have been the quickest visit in history, yet Helen Martins’ house of colour left me moved and unsettled.
Back at the cottage, Lily was unmoved and very settled – on the bed. I felt her warm nose and promised that if she didn’t perk up I’d take her to the vet in Cradock. On the way out, I stopped at The Brewery and Two Goats Deli, where I bought goat’s cheese and a bottle of smoked ale. A pair of peacocks preened themselves beside the car. Lily went ballistic. We wouldn’t need a vet.
Market Street in Cradock greeted us under a typical Karoo sky: cauliflower-shaped clouds against hard blue. Heritage cottages, their curved tin roofs painted in traditional stripes, line the street – all the work of Sandra Antrobus, her daughter Lisa and son-in-law Dave. Over the years, they have bought 30 of these once rundown buildings – collectively called Die Tuishuise – and turned them into guest cottages furnished with antiques and heirlooms. Lily and I checked into Karoo Morning, where we sat outside under a lemon tree. She dozed in the shade, I dozed in my chair and then we wandered across the road to Schreiner’s Bistro and Tea Room where we sat in the tranquil back garden. I ate a salad zinging with caramelised pineapple. Lily watched. And drooled a little.
The next morning I left Lily with a lamb bone, donated by the bistro’s Tony Jackman, and headed to Lingelihle, once home to the Cradock Four. At their graves, guide Amos Nteta, who knew the anti-apartheid activists, described how the men were ambushed between Port Elizabeth and Cradock in 1985, and their bodies burnt. On the top of a nearby hill, a monument to the men – four concrete pillars fingering the sky – lies derelict. Yet Amos’ storytelling made history flourish in my head.
In the heat of the afternoon, I took Lily for a walk – again to the local cemetery. The dead don’t mind being disturbed by a loping mutt with a penchant for pouncing on litter. I let her off the lead and went looking for Harry Potter. Little did this man, who died in 1910, know that his resting place would become a tourist attraction. I eventually found him, a few rows away from the humble mounds of fallen soldiers from the Anglo-Boer War.
The next stop was Glen Avon Farm in Somerset East. We took the dirt road through Swaershoek Pass, grey drifts of rain smudging distant hills. Lily stuck her head out of the back-seat window, scrabbling at the upholstery when we passed a pair of buck. When we turned into the farm entrance, her ears pricked at the sight of sheep. I braced myself.
I was an hour late and Alison Brown, who runs the two guest cottages on the farm, had arranged for her son Greg to take me to the top of the property’s Boschberg Mountain. Opting to leave Lily out of the adventure, due to sheep/buck/cows/sundry creatures, I quickly locked her in the kitchen of Hart Cottage – a thick-walled homestead built by the family’s ancestors in 1817 – and headed out in the bakkie, chugging in low-range to a grassy plateau with views of dams and the distant Zuurberg range. When we returned two hours later, I could hear Lily yelping in the cottage. My idyll had been shattered … as had two doors in the kitchen and a very nice tray. That night I lay in bed, worrying about the scratched wood and whether taking a road trip with Lily had been a good idea. But when I looked at her, curled on her blanket, my heart warmed. And it warmed even more the next day when the Browns accepted my payment for Lily’s damage and shrugged off the trouble. ‘Nothing some sandpaper and paint won’t fix.’
The next two days were bliss. After driving through the crumpled red rock of Seweweekspoort, Lily and I settled into Bergzight Cottage on Zandrivier Farm, its garden frothy with dahlias and sunflowers and the interior decorated in contemporary Karoo chic. In our own space, separated by stone walls from chickens and lambs, Lily relaxed. I watched the stars; she watched the back of her eyelids. When we left the farm, we stopped at one of the drought-shrunken dams for a dip. Lily sprinted along the banks. This was what we were here for.
On the R62, between Ladismith and Barrydale, we took the dirt road to our final destination. I had almost cancelled staying at Wolverfontein, due to the diarrhoea, the 42-degree heat and Lily’s redesigning of heritage doors. However, when Andre Hagan, who runs the two cottages and bed and breakfast with his partner Ashley Brownlee, assured me on the phone that, if necessary, we could work out a rota system for Lily and their three dogs – ‘she can have an hour outside, then ours can have an hour outside’ – I knew this was a special place. And driving up to their home, Moreson Manor, a grand Victorian farm house saved from ruin, I knew I had made the right decision.
Our cottage, D’Waenhuis – a restored 1880 dwelling – was filled with eccentric items, including Kaizer Chiefs towels draped over the back of retro couches and bones on strings for light switches. In the afternoon, Lily and I walked to water. An underground source feeds a natural pool on the farm and when I dived in and surfaced, Lily was next to me, paddling and snuffling – all her limbs working. We weren’t Tintin and Snowy, but nor were we a horror show.
We were just a girl and her dog in a vast landscape filled with warmth, beauty and a myriad stories.
Dog-trip tips and etiquette
- Test-drive your hound on a shorter trip, such as a weekend away, before tackling a longer adventure. Being on the road can turn even the nicest pooch into a werewolf.
- Stop regularly to let your hound stretch his or her legs and drink water.
- Avoid roadside picnic sites as they are often littered with bones. Rather pull into farm roads and let them sniff around the veld.
- In small towns, where there are often no parks, cemeteries are excellent spots for walking a dog as they are often quiet and fenced.
- While you might love your mutt, others might not. Keep your dog on a lead when around other guests.
- Travelling with a dog means that many experiences, such as eating in restaurants or visiting museums, will be out of bounds. If you leave your dog behind, make sure he or she is calm, settled and entertained.
- If your dog has a habit of creeping up onto the bed during the night, make sure you cover the bed with your own blanket as a courtesy to guesthouse owners and future guests.
- Ask about an establishment’s pet policy before booking. Some places prefer pets to be confined to the kitchen area while others will accept only smaller dogs.
Tour Lingelihle and Cradock Four remembrance sites. R100 per person, minimum of five people.
Glen Avon Farm
Hike the three trails marked out on the property or fly-fish in one of the three stocked dams. Hiking free, R150 daily rod fee for fly-fishing.
Pet-friendly places to stay
1. Olive Grove Guest Farm
Olive Grove Guest Farm has self-catering chalets R440 per person sharing; non-self-catering guest rooms R550 per person sharing. Breakfast R75 per adult, R35 per child under 12. 0234143397.
2. Allemann se Huisie
Allemann se Huisie has self-catering from R580 for two people or R640 including breakfast. 0498411642.
3. Die Tuishuise
Die Tuishuise have self-catering R670 per person sharing, including breakfast at Victoria Manor. Three people sharing R525 per person, four people sharing R435 per person, including breakfast. 0488811322.
4. Glen Avon Guest Farm
Glen Avon Guest Farm has self-catering from R300 to R400 per person.
sharing. Breakfast R85 per person. 0422433628.
5. Bergzight Cottage
Bergzight Cottage has self-catering from R600 for the unit (up to three people). 0824455569.
Self-catering in D’Waenhuis is from R300 per person. 0285512277.
Travelling with a dog curtails dining out, however some restaurants will allow dogs provided they are well behaved or small. Enquire in advance.
This article first appeared in the April 2015 issue of Getaway magazine.
All prices were correct at time of publication, but are subject to change at each establishment’s discretion. Please check with them before travelling.