As we began our journey northward toward Johannesburg, we spent two nights at Castle Peak Hotel in the Drakensberg Mountains. The clouds that have been following us around South Africa, joined us for dinner, covering the peaks in mist, then rain. The food service is delicious enough to warm us on a cool damp evening.
We awoke to see the cloud rising up the escarpment that surrounds us. The breakfast buffet is just as satisfying as the evening options. We had scheduled to join the guided morning walk up to a cave with ancient rock art. We have enjoyed discovering these in our own Southwest, and wanted to see how these images compared.
The hike took us on a relatively easy ascent, except for some muddy slopes, along high meadows. The last few hundred feet up to the rock shelter were a bit more of a scramble. Just as in Hluhluwe Park, the rain has hailed the wildflowers for us to enjoy. Baboons and several types of antelope strolled along the slopes, a distance away. The cloud continued to rise, fall, and drift around us. After our viewing, we were back at the hotel in good time.
As it was still before lunch, we hopped into the van for another hill top viewing at Spioenkop, where a major engagement of the Battle for South Africa (aka, The Second Anglo-Boer War) occurred, in January 1900. The military significance of this high ground was for reconnaissance of the uThukela River valley. The Boers were laying siege on the town of Ladysmith south of Spioenkop and could keep track of the British attempts to advance toward the city. After several defeats the British wanted to clear the Boers from Spioenkop.
In the dark of night, the British troops ascended the rock slopes in the fog. They came across a small scouting group of Boers near the top of the hill, killed several but alerted others. Not knowing where they were on the hill, the British set into digging quick trenches. As daylight lifted the fog, the Boers realized that the British were not at the top, and were faced with the flank exposed the skilled Boer sharpshooter. The accurate riffle shots picked off one British soldier after another, who were faced into the sun, fully exposed. After the battle, these same trenches would be used for mass graves, first filled with bodies, then with stones. The trench warfare of World War I was foreshadowed on that day.
As night fell, the British and Boers both retreated from their positions, unknowns to each other. A few Boer scouts ventured up in the darkness, to find only dead and wounded. They left and took the war south for additional engagements. Again, as would so often happen in future wars, ground was fought for fiercely, only to be abandoned with no obvious winner, and many dead. Two men who would influence history over the next fifty years also happened to be on that hill that day. Winston Churchill work at a journalist covering the wars and Mhatma Ghandi was part of an ambulance squad which carried the wounded away.
To add to our experience of walking the battle field, we first saw the valley, the opposing hill on which the Boers were stationed, the filled in trenches of the British, then fog rolled in. The valley disappeared, the rocks only a few hundred yards away turned into white shadows, the desperate confusion of the British was evident.