Saturday, January 22, 2011

Off The Beaten Track [Part 1]

Track in the Wemmershoek Mountains Conservation Area, Western Cape.

One of the exciting discoveries of venturing off the beaten track is suddenly and unexpectedly coming across a long-abandoned, crumbling homestead aka a ruin!  My husband and I have always had an affinity with ruins...  

I don't know exactly what it is about these silent, tumbledown vestiges of the past that spark our interest, but we find them irresistible...please click the read more button below to continue
...and have gladly risked both life and limb in our eagerness to clamber through rusted, barbed-wire fences, knee high grass and thorny bushes...
...harbouring any number of possible threats (think snakes, spiders, scorpions all of which we've encountered) to get close...really, really close. 
I guess part of their allure lies in the fact that they stand as monuments of something NO MORE!
Organic buildings are the strength and lightness of the spiders' spinning, buildings qualified by light, bred by native character to the environment, married to the ground.  ~ Frank Lloyd Wright ~
No matter how forlorn or dilapidated they might be, they still seem to carry an echo of a time when they were home to someone, to a family, inhabitants who loved, dreamed, laughed, cried, sighed. 

Coming close to where all these feelings took place, one can almost imagine what it was like THEN... we listen to the breezes that sigh through the cracks and breaks of the time-ravaged, derelict remnants in which we find ourselves standing, transfixed, wondering...

We inevitably find ourselves standing, silently, mesmerised by the decay, the old, musky smell, the 'feeling' emanating from the building itself. 

Often, we can get a sense of whether this was a 'happy' place or a place of hardship, tribulation, sadness. 

Sometimes, it can 'feel' eerie, other times,
light and airy. 

Slowly, we begin to explore,
often splitting up, as each of us is drawn to something that catches our attention.

After a while, one of us will inevitably call out to the other, often excitedly, to share the object of our 'discovery'.
By now, my husband has invariably been clicking away with his camera...
Love is a springtime plant that perfumes everything with its hope, even the ruins to which it clings.
~ Gustave Flaubert ~
...and I'm usually starting to look for some small treasure/token to take back home with me, some small reminder of our 'discovery', some small memento of a life and time no longer in existence, something that carries the 'essence' of the long-gone inhabitants of this forgotten place.  

Sometimes, it's a rock; other times, it might be a piece of wood or a shard of pottery. 
It could be a mud brick or an old airvent, or rusted implement found half buried among the rubble. 

I only take one object and never anything that might still be attached to the structure. 

I try to find something that 'speaks' to me and, no, I'm not clairvoyant and neither am I a mystic!
Many of the ruins we come across in South Africa were built of mud and daub or sun-baked, mud or clay bricks.  The floors were often mud mixed with dung and the roofs were frequently tin or thatch. 
These materials fall into disrepair quite rapidly and the remaining ruins meld charmingly into the surrounding landscape from which they were originally sourced. 
As with all abandoned buildings, nature begins to reclaim what was hers and bats, owls, pigeons, rats and even snakes move in to build their nests and raise their young. 
Trees and creepers often grow up through the ruins, lending an almost comical aspect to the scene.
The years teach much which the days never knew.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

All things human hang by a slender thread; and that which seemed to stand strong, suddenly falls and sinks in ruins. ~ Unknown ~
Old Time, that greatest and longest established spinner of all!.... his factory is a secret place, his work is noiseless, and his hands are mutes.  
~ Charles Dickens ~

The soul's dark cottage, battered and decayed,
Lets in new light through chinks that time hath made.
~ Edmund Waller ~

A land without ruins is a land without memories - a land without memories is a land without history.

~ Abram Joseph Ryan ~

I look at each ruin and take care to remind myself, 'this was HOME to a family' and then I try to absorb a sense of what their life was like and to ponder the myriad reasons that might have led to the abandonment of their home.

It holds a subtle fascination and it is this that keeps up our interest; it is this that prompts us to stop the car and take a closer look. We have never been disappointed.  There is always something new to discover, something that reaches out across the barriers of time and space.  It is rather a humbling experience...


  1. Hi Des,

    What a lovely outing and I am also fascinated by ruins...I love to think of who might have lived there once and called it home... and now, it's just the building, the sunshine and the plants...

    I must compliment you on the use of those beautiful quotes, I find it quite fascinating how you find quotes that match your photos and writing so perfectly.

    Cannot wait for Part 2!

  2. Why, thank you most kindly, Linda :)
    I have already prepared Part 2, but will give it a day or so before I upload it to my blog. Can't be spoiling you now, with two postings in a day, can I?

  3. Mostly, ruins in England are barns or historic buildings. The barns are beautiful, while the historic buildings are normally cared for. I guess the equivalent to one of your 'ordinary house' ruins might be one fallen into disrepair and boarded up in a town or city; no-where near as charming.

  4. I have a thing for ruins also. When I was young my family would make a trip from California to Missouri (to visit family) On the way we would always pass the road to ancient Indian cliff dwellings. Every year I would beg my father to stop and look at the ruins. At that time people could actually enter the ruins. He would always say no to all stops but bathroom breaks.

    Years later, when I was relocating myself and my children to from CA to MO I was determined to stop and finally get to see those ruins. I turned onto the road. Drove for about 20 miles and came to a large
    chain link fence WITH AN EVEN LARGER LOCK. Boy was I mad at my dad. A tremendous opportunity lost forever.

    Ahhhh, I think I just wrote the beginnings of a blog! Thanks for the idea.

  5. The age of our ruins cannot compete with the wealth of antiquity you have in the UK. Fortunately, public buildings and homes with historical merit within towns and cities are stringently protected and often, Trusts are set up to care for the buildings. The ruins we stumble upon are mostly farmsteads of ordinary folk who tried to eke out an existence from a barren and forbidding landscape. Mostly, they were far from wealthy and many fought a daily battle just trying to survive.

  6. Hi Karen:

    Looking forward to that story, then ;)

  7. Wowwwww...i am just home from the shop...what a amazing post again !!...i really like this!! your country is so so so beautiful !! ....lovely weekend......warm hugs from me

  8. There is a wonderful energy one can sense in your photos. The road in the first frame is what I picture when reading, "Waiting for Godot". Beckett surely had this in mind.

  9. Cletis:

    Thanks for visiting.

    Not having personally read Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot', I was not familiar with the setting of the play. After a snappy search, I note that the play opens with both protagonists waiting on a country road, beside a bare tree. There is also a mound (or rock) nearby.

    I see also that Beckett's play drew inspiration from a painting of Caspar David Friedrich, titled 'Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon'. As the play is so "stripped down and elemental" I guess the scene in my photograph could have served the purpose ;)

  10. How interesting. I wonder why it was abandoned too. Around here we never see homes that were built of mudbricks or any of those types of materials. I do get that same sense of wonder that you had when I see old dilapidated farmhouses around here.
    I really love seeing more of where you live, it's fascinating to see things that I will probably otherwise never see.

  11. You are lucky to be able to get up close and personal to the ruins. If only the walls could talk.

  12. Desiree, I believe the reason this road is so compelling for me is because of the sense of expectation that "something" is coming; hence the Godot connection. I grew up in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky and often felt that same timeless expectation while hunting poems in the mountains.

  13. This building looks like a prison tome..and maybe those holes were feeding openings...I see numbers...very interesting!


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