The title refers to the road coming through Witsieshoek, now Phuthaditjhaba, in the Free State, going up to the Sentinel car park. It is a strange road. Was it constructed just to give us hikers better access to the top of the Tugela Falls and Mount-Aux-Sources? Very unlikely.
Mount-Aux-Sources map (Barrier of Spears)
The road this article is about is shown on the map, roughly in the middle going past Basuto Gate and finishing at the Witches.
The first piece of road, the road to Witsieshoek towards the Drakensberg, was constructed in 1928. This was partially to pick up on the traffic over the Namahadi Pass to and from Basutoland, as it was called then. The path only allows for foot and animal traffic. The importance of this pass can be seen by the fact that a police post was built near the top, on the South African side, the picture from my archives shows the ruin how it looked in 1994.
Namahadi Police Post (Horst Müller)
And the remnants of the building still serve a purpose, giving shelter from the cold winds that blow over the plateau in winter.
Namahadi Police Post Tent (Horst Müller)
In 1967 the Free State undertook to push the road forward with the aim of taking it up the mountain linking it to Lesotho. Looking at these mountains I find it difficult to see how they were going to take it up without some tunneling or major concrete work. But then I am not a road builder. The road was taken to a point, now called the Sentinel car park. Hikers can drive up there and make it a starting point for a hike to the Tugela Falls, the top of Mount-Aux-Sources or further along the mountains.
Sentinel Car Park (Horst Müller)
The road leads up to the car park and the start of a good hiking path which will be subject of a future article.
What is interesting is that there are signs of road-building between the Namahadi police post and the shoulder into Lesotho. I assume that was done at the same time when the road to the car park was built.
Not far from the former police post is a sign, now laying on the ground, informing passing hikers of a tragedy that took place here.
The sign (Horst Müller)
Translated the sign reads: At this place a lightning strike on Sunday 18 December 1932 killed Valerie (22 years), daughter of the administrator and late wife C.T.M. Wilcocks, and Johan Bestendig (21 years) son of Mr. And Mrs. Percy de la Harpe, also the riding horse “Moscow” of Johan de la Harpe.
CTM Wilcocks was the administrator of the Free State from 1929 to 1939. The bodies of the deceased were taken to and buried at Golden Gate. That is the graveyard coming into the park from Clarens on the left side.
Wilcocks and de la Harpe Graves (Horst Müller)
Even with the project not taken to its conclusion it would be wrong to say it was a waste. The result of the road is that the Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge was built which provides easier access to the top of the 'Berg'. A toll fee has to be paid when using the road, thus it does make some money.
The Mountain Lodge was established in the 1970s as a community project. There was a hiking hut before that which had been constructed by chief Wessel Mota in the 1950s to accommodate hikers coming up from the valley. The Lodge has had its ups and downs over the years. It was refurbished and extended from 2013 and placed under new management.
Witsieshoek Lodge (Horst Müller)
The road to the car park is at times difficult to drive on because of a deteriorating surface. But things are improving, there is ongoing construction work to improve the surface by putting down interlocking bricks. The sections that have been done so far show no wear and tear and are in very good condition.
Paved road to Witsieshoek (Horst Müller)
About the author: Horst originated from Germany many years ago. He has spent a lifetime working for some of the major chemical companies. Throughout his life he has had an interest in local history and has now, in retirement, made this his major hobby. He believes in not just doing the exploration and research but to also write down his findings. Check out his website here. In addition to his website he has contributed a number of articles to the heritage portal (click here to view).
- RO Pearce, Barrier of Spears, Southern Book Publishers,1973
- Article by Siska Martin, 'Plaat vir gelieftes op Mount-aux-Sources;, Volksblad, 23-02-2018