/ 18 May 2012

Life in a small town through Rosendal-coloured spectacles

Going nowhere slowly: Unless it is to the large sandstone church.
Going nowhere slowly: Unless it is to the large sandstone church.

‘When people ask what there is to do in Rosendal,” said the owner of Inglesby’s B&B and a long-time resident, Nelmarie Inglesby, when I visited some time ago, “I say ‘nothing’.

You don’t come here to do anything except unwind.”

It is clearly not advice many of the residents of this seemingly soporific eastern Free State dorp take to heart. Despite its sleepy exterior, everyone in this town seems to be on some kind of mission, be it painting, soap-making, weaving, farming or some kind of industry or another.

Take Inglesby, for example. Aside from running the B&B, she has separate self-catering accommodation and is an estate agent and an active member of the community. “I was a breech baby,” she said. “I was born feet first and I haven’t stopped running since.”

Wedged in a valley between the Witteberge and the Drakensberg mountain ranges, the town sports only one tar road and a handful of about 100 full-time residents. There is, like most small towns in this region, a disproportionately large sandstone church with a steel spire that flickers into view against the crisp blue sky almost regardless of where you are in town.

Originally a farm, Rosendal was established in 1911 when the widow of landowner Phillip Botha was asked to name the area. With with her son, she came up with two names: Liliesfontein and Rosendal (rose valley). The latter won and the town was named after the abundance of rambling roses in the area.

“The missionaries imported them to make rosehip powder to give to people in Lesotho for the vitamin C, but of course the seeds spread everywhere,” said Nelmarie, sweeping her arm in a wide arc across the landscape running below the mountains.

Bohemian bounty

Like the abundant pink flowers, the town has proved fertile soil for artists, eccentrics and entrepreneurs.

Galleries easily outnumber general stores and there is not one ATM, so locals tend to barter instead of trading in cash. Visitors, however, should draw money before they arrive. Bring a bit more than you bargained for, because there is a surprising amount of shopping to be done.

For starters, there is Skoppelmaai Gallery, where owner Willem Pretorius shows his photorealistic paintings alongside Wim Rautenbach’s atmospheric landscapes. If the gallery is closed when you arrive, give Pretorius a call and he will gladly open for you.

Next door, Johanna Brand Studio and Gallery exhibits oil prints, etches and big and small sculptures made by Marinda du Toit from old kitchen implements.

About 200m away is the Meerkatkolonie, an art gallery and gift shop owned and run by Dahla Hulme and Michele Nigrini, whose works adorn the gallery. Even the shop assistant, Josephina Tumusi, plays her part in stocking the shop by making small lappoppies, rag-type dolls that she churns out in rainbow colours as bright as her smile.

Although its founder, Chris van Niekerk, aka Francois from the soap opera Sewende Laan, has sold up and the Rosendal Theatre has changed locations, it is still a major drawcard that hosts regular shows by established as well as up-and-coming artists and musicians.

The main shopping “district” is Kriek Street, where you will find Suzani, Turksvy Trading and Enamel. It will take a morning of slow browsing to cover the lot, although the town’s retail offerings keep expanding and each visit brings a host of new offerings, which leaves the rest of the visit for hiking, bird-watching and relaxing.

The 7.5km Mosamane hiking trail on the foothills of the Maluti Mountains close to Rosendal cuts through yellow-and-red sandstone that carves out strange natural sculptures in the colourful floral landscape. It is home to secretary birds and bald ibis, among others. In fact, all of Rosendal is birder-friendly.

Birds of a feather

One enthusiast is André Loots, textile weaver and soap-maker, of Studio Ben. Rosendal is home to vultures, blue crane and four species of owl: the barn, spotted eagle, Cape eagle and marsh. You can also spot a wide variety of water birds.

“When we take visitors for a drive to the dam, we see up to 60 birds. We don’t even stop for spoonbills anymore, we see them so often,” said Loots.

If all the relaxing has worn you out, book a massage or beauty treatment at the Rosendal Country Retreat, the hamlet’s only hotel. When you are done, enjoy a cold drink on the stoep or stay for dinner and have the resident chef cook you a feast from local produce.

After dinner, you might be surprised to find that the bar is pumping. It is amazing just how many people come out of the woodwork at party time.

 “I bet you didn’t expect to find so many people here,” said a moustached farmer in two-tone khaki regalia. “I most definitely didn’t,” I agreed, as we lifted our beers and toasted the waning day.