THE STORY OF SIR LOWRY’S PASS By Mari Fouch.é
Thousands of people traverse it every day: up the winding double
carriage thoroughfare over the mountain to the Overberg or down the
other way, checking out the magnificent view, towards Cape Town.
Today it is known as the Sir Lowry’s Pass. We take it for granted
but have you ever reflected on the history that lies behind this
We have to go back into the far distant past, when animals had
dominion over this region of the world, to trace its beginning.
Sure-footed herds of Eland, searching for greener pastures, crossed
over in the winter months, long before man ever struggled up their
precipitous path through the infamous Kloof. The Khoisan tribe,
known as Gantauwers (People of the Eland), on their arrival also
followed this route, which became known to later travellers as the
Elandspat (path of the Eland).
It was early cattle-buyers like Hendrik Lacus and Jeronimus Cruse,
sent in 1663 by Zacharias Wagenaar, the replacement for Jan van
Riebeeck as Commander at the Cape, who were the first white people
to brave the path over the Kloof.
These intrepid travellers must have quaked at the sight of the
steep, rocky ascent when they first arrived with their wagons at
its foot, and with good reason. Oxen were frequently killed and the
wagons smashed as they lost ground and hurtled back down the
mountain. It became expedient at times to unload the wagons, take
them up piece-by-piece and reassemble them at the summit while the
oxen and travellers scrambled up over the rocks. Grooves in the
rocks made by the drag-shoes on the wagons can still be seen there
after 300 years.
Arriving at the top (it had taken them over two hours), they were
treated to a pleasant view and noted with great relief that the
wagons could be re-assembled, oxen inspanned and the descent made
without even attaching drag-shoes.
However, the dauntless Lady Anne Barnard, who made a trip to the
Kloof in 1797 but not up it, declared, I found the horrors of the
Kloof, like most other things oft repeated by those who look to
astonish others, very much exaggerated.
But later, on her journey into the interior she seemed to have
changed her mind. In a letter to her dearest friend, The Right
Hon. Henry Dundas, she wrote while pausing on the first mile of the
ascent and looking back over heath, sand and sea, where there was
scarce a house to be seen, no cultivation and of course, no
population, that looking upward to the Kloof she was about to
cross, she was greatly afraid. The path to the top was very
perpendicular and the jutting rocks over which the wagon was to be
pulled were so large that we were astonished how they were
accomplished at all, particularly at one part called the Porch.
Before Lady Anne Barnard braved its heights, many other explorers
had travelled over the Hottentots Holland Kloof.
Seventy-one persons journeyed with Ensign August Beutler on their
way to their official reconnoitre into the Eastern Cape. The
flamboyant Frenchman, Francois Valliant, followed in 1781 and later
many others such as the Swedish naturalist, Anders Sparrman and the
botanist Francis Masson.
This form of travel remained unchanged until the then Governor of
the Cape Colony, Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole (1828-1833) realised that
if the trouble with the Xhosa tribes on the eastern frontier were
to be controlled, it was imperative to build better roads. Previous
plans had been made to repair the Kloof but it was abandoned as far
too costly. It was the Surveyor General, Major C.C Michell, who
advised that an entirely new road with easy gradients could be
built to the south of the old Kloof. Plans were drawn up, submitted
and tenders published in the Cape Gazette. After many unforeseen
problems along the way, Sir Lowry won, his scheme was sanctioned
and work went ahead to create the new road, and was officially
opened on 6th July 1830.
For a hundred and twenty-eight years it remained unchanged until in
1958, the reconstruction of the Pass, costing R500,000, was
completed. In 1984 a further up-grade was made when the upper parts
were widened into four lanes.
Today sightseers drive up this beautiful pass to stop at the
lookout point, a site on the 420m summit, and enjoy the
awe-inspiring view. Paragliders use it as a jumping-off point to
sail over the land and touch down on the beach below.
Baboons sit around on rocks and contemplate where their next meal
is coming from. To think that in 1821, 4,500 ox-wagons in a year
used to struggle up and over the Elandspat. Wonder what those hardy
men would of thought if they could have glimpsed the magnificent
road over the Sir Lowry’s Pass today.
a. The Story of Hottentot’s Holland : Peggy Heap.
b. Gordon’s Bay, Jewel of False Bay : Helen van Schalkwyk.
c. Letters Written from the Cape of Good Hope : Lady Anne Barnard.
d. Cape Trails and Wilderness Areas : Jose Burman.
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