Things to do in Dullstroom in the Dark - ESSA Year-End Event 6-7 December 2014
Seldom before have ESSA-ites played so hard-to-get than when the call for interest in the Dullstroom Year-End event was announced. ‘Yes, no, maybe, no, yes, perhaps…’ Either it has been a difficult year that has compromised our decision-making abilities or this time of year brings with it too many options for the last weekend before the silly season.
Nevertheless a festive group set out for ‘the town we usually just pass through’ that lies in a semi-alpine enclave between Belfast and Lydenburg in Mpumalanga.
John and Selena Dickie and I arrived on the Friday evening to temperatures that went from the mid- twenties to the mid-teens in a matter of minutes (truly a four-seasons-in-one-day kind of place this). Unfortunately the local brewery was already closed but plans were made to visit it the next day.
On Saturday morning John and Selena set out on a walk on the Steenkampsberg trail from the municipal dam on a steady incline to Suikerboskoppie. I did the same route later in the day as a trail run with my little dog, Bagigi. The rocks alongside the dam offer some gentle scrambling so my climbing-dog in training got to practice her soloing skills and sharpen her claws.
Mariam Isa, Pia Lamberti and Chris Kirchhoff were travelling through on the Saturday and were unfortunate enough to hit some bad hail storms – witnessing cars aqua-plane on the highway and generally testing their motoring fortitude. On arrival in Belfast there was nothing for it but to steady their nerves at the Pig and Pickle… alarmingly, the last pub for a whole 35km.
Such was their bad luck that they managed to hit another hailstorm just outside Dullstroom.
Meanwhile, the Dickies and I had finally found the local micro-brewery, Anvil Ale, open and did a beer tasting before settling on a favourite brew and a calabash of German sausage. This was necessary to prepare our stomachs for the next event of the weekend – the whisky tasting. Fortunately we had found cover by the time the hailstorm hit and the sunny day turned into a wet and misty affair.
This mist and cooler weather provided the perfect ambiance as the whole group met up at Wild About Whisky jostling for attention with many enthusiastic spirit appreciators despite the load shedding that was taking place (no, not even sleepy Dullstroom is immune to Eskom’s schedule). The power was out for the duration so the imbibing was done by candle-light. Whisky expert, Dave Gunns, shared some of his vast insight and knowledge about the chosen tastings and everyone learned something new. Pia and Mariam shared an Irish tasting and discovered that Irish whiskey is in general less intense and flavourful than that of its Scottish counterpart. Chris tried the Irish Premium tasting and ended with a trip down memory lane and a tot of Suntory Hakushu, a premium Japanese Whisky he had previously enjoyed while working overseas.
Being more of a Bourbon man, John chose to experience some of their growing American collection concluding that the Blanton’s was very much worthy of a second taste. Selena and I, meanwhile, played the game of chance with the lotto option – six randomly chosen whiskies from a pot-luck section of the proprietor’s collection (they have over 1000 whiskies there and theirs is considered the biggest whisky range in the Southern hemisphere). This was a great means to new discoveries and I finally advanced my palette to some lightly peated varieties. The candles cast a lovely glimmer on the amber liquid and one hardly noticed that not a single bulb glowed in Dullstroom.
Just as the group was contemplating the ability of the dinner venue to produce food without electricity, the lights came back on. And with that it was off to Mrs Simpsons, known for good hearty food and its tribute to Wallis Simpson, the two-times divorcee that was at the heart of King Edward’s abdication of the throne in Great Britain and possibly the only truly romantic tale to originate with the British royal family.
Dinner conversation ranged from 100 fun things you can do with gunpowder, childhood misadventures and the usual recaps of epic adventures, to royal scandals and wedding dress disasters… don’t ever suggest that ESSA-ites can’t make diverse conversation! Good food, laughter and wine flowed and everyone left with a rosy glow.
The last instalment of the weekend itinerary required an early start on the Sunday morning for a guided wild flower tour. Local park official and wild orchid expert, Frans Krige met us early at the Dullstroom Nature Reserve and through the morning mist introduced us to the hardy flowers and grasses that had survived the hail. This colourful character delivered a sermon, tutorial, history and botany lesson in equal measures that made for a really interesting couple of hours. Pia was the recipient of the best of the (allowed, ‘good’ flower) pickings and ensured our discoveries were recorded for the ESSA newsletter.
While Frans rushed off to church, the group took a leisurely stroll to some Boer War relics and made a sceptical attempt to locate the ancient ‘veldskoen with a leg-bone attached’ that Frans had claimed to have discovered, before heading back down the Steenkampberg trail to pack for the journey home. A quick breakfast at Harrie’s Pancakes gave the group a last opportunity to chat and exchange festive greetings – and wish Chris a pleasant trip to Rwanda later in the week.
Thank you to all who made the effort to see the year out in cosy Dullstroom and especially to Selena for promoting the weekend and chasing up on the yes, no and undecideds.
I think I can safely speak for the group and say everyone enjoyed themselves and realised that Dullstroom has far more to offer than what meets the eye. There may well be another Dullies / ESSA adventure in the near future.
Taryn van Olden