Cape of Storms and Superlatives (2)

Let’s go on a journey round the Cape Peninsula, looking at the sights and sites lauded in guide books; but concentrating on some that are not so well known. 

Heading west out of the V & A Waterfront, first up on the left is a beautifully restored Victorian building, Somerset Hospital, which was built in 1862 and is named after Lord Charles Somerset who was a governor of the Cape from 1814 to 1827. This was the first hospital in the country to train medical students. Opposite the hospital is where something called the “dolos” was manufactured. This is a concrete structure used in breakwaters all over the world, and was invented by a South African draughtsman Aubrey Krüger, working in the office of the harbour engineer, EM Merrifield, in East London in 1966. 

Further along, after the site where one of the new 2010 soccer world cup stadiums is being constructed, is the Green Point lighthouse. This was built in 1824, and is the oldest working lighthouse in South Africa. It is famous for the foghorn that was installed in 1929 when the light was electrified. Locals know it as Moaning Minnie.

Eleven km out to sea is Robben Island. It got its name from the Dutch word for seals: “rob”. Originally it was a source of penguin eggs; and lime and slate for the Castle was quarried there. Since then it was a place for banishing wrongdoers, a leper quarry and a lunatic asylum. In recent years it was used for long-term and political prisoners. Famous people such as Robert Sobukwe and Nelson Mandela spent time there. It is now a World Heritage Site. 

Sea Point is noted for its sea views and the brick path along the water’s edge which walkers and joggers of all shapes and sizes enjoy training or strolling on. But it is famous in geological circles for an event that occurred there 540 million years ago, when molten igneous rock (Cape Granite) intruded through sedimentary rock (Malmesbury Shale – originally laid down 560 mya). There is a good viewing site opposite the President Hotel in Sea Point. This site was first recorded by Clark Abel in 1818, and visited 18 years later by Charles Darwin in 1836 during his voyage on the HMS Beagle. This was proof to geologists that there was such a thing as molten igneous rock. (Some geologists, particularly in Germany, thought that there was only sedimentary rock.) 

We pass by scenic Bantry Bay where some of the most expensive homes in South Africa cling to the hillside (some served by funiculars), and Clifton (noted for the beautiful bikini girls sunbathing on gleaming white beaches where the sand is so clean that it squeaks when walked on with bare feet). Some say that the quality and quantity of pulchritude on the four beaches is enhanced by the large number of modelling agencies in Cape Town (the models find the beaches a convenient place, close to the city, sheltered from the wind, where they can get a nice suntan). Another reason for the high standard of talent on the beaches is that there are many steep steps leading down from the road to the sand; this factor tends to exclude the old and fat, and admit only the young and fit. 

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Bragg and Hayley at Maiden's Cove, 21 Dec 08

At Maiden’s Cove we can join the tourists pointing their cameras at the view across the bay to the white sand and palm trees of Camps Bay, and the spectacular Twelve Apostles in the background. Our great sporting rival, Australia, also has something called the Twelve Apostles; but there are only eight of them sticking up out of the sea near Melbourne (there were nine, but one of them collapsed – to our great delight). We, of course, have a genuine twelve, (or thirteen if you count Table Mountain, the peak on the far left). 

After Camps Bay and Bakoven is a smooth road with a wide emergency lane which is popular with cyclists, particularly on weekends. Most of the riders seen there are training for the world’s biggest bicycle race, which takes place on the second Sunday in March every year. It’s the biggest in terms of number of participants: 35,000 people race around the peninsula on that day, and every finisher is given a certificate with their position and elapsed time. Apart from the top riders even elderly men and women compete furiously to become first in their age group (there are trophies for girls and boys 10-14, 15-19, and so on up to the oldest competitor who is usually at least 80 years old). 

It’s getting late, so I’ll leave my journey there for today. An early start tomorrow, and another tour of the peninsula beckon.

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Today’s quote

Seventeen publishers rejected the manuscript, at which time we knew we had something pretty hot.         Kinky Friedman

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