Proud stockists of Ural sidecars & spares

Historical Zululand Battlefields Trip

11 - 14 July 2013 

A number of us have been busy with this specific trip for a while. Getting it organised proved to be a bit more involved than some of us thought. Anyway as a result of seeing Ken Dalglish at our convention in March, the battle finally commenced so to speak.

As we were mostly riding out from our neck of the woods, our intrepid commander and leader did a quick survey to find out whether most troopers wanted to ride dirt or tar? The ugly truth came back - tar! This turned out to be the wrong answer. The dirt lovers will tell you they knew this all along, but anyway we found out the hard, badly tarred way.

First stretch to Delmas was even less impressive than usual. Some ugly driving by fellow road users and the general road conditions not great. Finally hit Delmas, with no Wimpy stop. I had to work on keeping the face unchanged as we passed a Wimpy without eating but I managed. I can offer you an incredible fact though – Leandra and Nigel are both 43 kms from Delmas – now is that something or what!!! This is so because I saw it with my own eyes on a road sign.

We soldiered on – even us girl riders put on brave faces and fought back the tears at leaving Delmas without our Wimpy fix, but what must be must be. We still had some way to go to get to Val and the Moeggeploegkroeg where we would be eating.

 First I have to digress – I thought Devon is the ugliest little town in the universe. That only lasted as long as it took us to ride to Leandra. Currently award for fugliest place you can imagine goes to Leandra! What an incredible shocker - thank goodness I was wearing my full face helmet. My mouth was literally hanging open. Realised this because I hit a pothole and bit my tongue!! There's no imagining what could have flown into my mouth. What came out of it was an entirely different story of course!!

By now we had joined stop and goes to other stop and goes via detours via via - we were riding dirt far more on the tar than we could ever imagine possible. And so we reached Val. I was beginning to suffer from serious breakfast deprivation but just clung on to my happy smile because the lady of Val welcomed us so warmly she made up for all the aesthetic hardship we had endured for the past 4 hours. We were now aesthetically traumatised.

Well if Leandra got award for fugliest, Val wins most spectacularly surprising and impressive small place of 2013 award! I know many bikers, and specially the BMW riders (they don't like being called bikers) know of the Moeggeploegkroeg, but for me it was a first and I was so impressed I could hardly contain myself.

There was a fire burning and a fabulous breakfast buffet for lunch! It was perfect. In the little museum attached to the Moeggeploegkroeg, I found a really beautiful wash bowl and water jug. The story attached to it made me smile and I needed not to lose faith after Leandra. A young lady called, Christina Johanna Sophia Steyn, had taken this jug and bowl and buried it in a poplar grove on the farm Paardefontein when she heard the British soldiers were burning farms and homesteads in the area during the Anglo Boer War. She must have loved and cherished it and the fact that it is today on display in Val, long after she is gone, just gave me such hope – for many things not least the enduring spirit of beauty. It also mentioned that her grandfather, Jacobus Nicolas van den Berg went on Commando at the age of 81! We have our own octogenarian Commando rider in Oom Ken! What an inspiration they are.

Oh wow now I've gotten beautifully sidetracked again! After our splendid breakfast for lunch, we read the walls in the dining room before we got back in the saddle to ploeg a little further. Just loved the following quote by Freddy Mercury: ‘Excess is part of my nature. Dullness is a disease.’ There is also a little sign promising a ‘Free Ride to Holder of the Brass Ring’.

Leaving Val much uplifted with our faith and humour restored, we rode on to the next part in our journey to get to Glencoe.

Not too long after leaving Val, we arrived in Standerton to fuel up. Standerton still ranks second in the fugly category on my list. But now I need to tell you about the worst road in SA. Usually I like exaggerating, just a little, not a lot! But when I tell you what the road between Standerton and Volksrust was like, you'll agree with me you'd rather stand in the Post Office queue in Swartruggens end of the month Saturday morning, than ride this road. Doing battle on this road  gave the whole ‘battlefields’ thing new meaning.

We needed councelling when we stopped in Volksrust. Apart from the big coal trucks and the physical condition of the road surface, it was the legion of insane little cars that passed us in trains happily driving into oncoming traffic on blind rises that really scared me. Can people actually be that stupid?

You know you have problems when you start being preoccupied with what kind of fence is on the left of you. After a while of riding in these conditions I started thinking best I have an exit strategy. Going left and hitting off road would be most viable for me and my little monkey in the event of a head on collision to the right in front of us. When I started worrying about how much damage what kind of fences would do and there was absolutely no music playing in my head, I knew it was bad.

After Volksrust we drove into KZN, interesting - the roads physically changed along with the attitude of fellow drivers!!

After a very long day on tar we finally arrived in Glencoe - weary but happy that we were alive. Oom Ken and his riding buddy had arrived and Tes and Kobus as well the Copes would all arrive through the evening. Our group was complete.

The meal was good and everyone was tired so it was a real case of: ‘magie vol, ogies toe’.

Friday morning dawned nice and cold. We were riding to the site of Blood River. Just after breakfast  Ken had given us a quick summary of what we were about to visit along with some other insights.

I have never personally visited the place where the Battle of Blood River had been fought. As a product of National Party Afrikaans schooling I had certainly done it every year in history, but I had never had it brought to life by standing on the spot and given information relating to the events. Riding through the landscape before we arrived also gave me a good sense of place. I don't know what I was expecting but this seemed so ordinary?! We arrived at the Museum complex and in the distance I could make out some wagons, still thought it quite ordinary.

Must be very frank - by the time we had walked to where the laager of 64 cast iron wagon stood it did not feel ordinary anymore. Sometimes just for a split second, one glimpses the incredible tenacity and fearlessness that made the Boers such headstrong and wilful creatures.

After we had all watched the little film in the museum and had our lunch on the steps of the ox wagon at the museum it was time to visit the museum opposite the river,  Ncome. This is the alternative view and story offered and funded by our new government. On our way there our own battle took place. One of our sidecars did some damage to a pole and vice versa!

Personally I really enjoyed the ride home to Glencoe – the afternoon shadows were stretching and the sun was not too low to be in your eyes, just warming you nicely as we galloped through the country side with our Soviet steeds.

Saturday evening Mike Sankey had a very special presentation ready for us.

Dressed in full English uniform, he gave us his account of Rorke’s Drift as if he were an eye witness. It was fascinating and I was most impressed that he had gone to this trouble.

Saturday morning and we were riding to Isandlwana after which we would visit Rorke’s Drift. On the way we drove through Nqutu – gloriously entertaining with tights on display next to the road mixed with many people and cattle and taxies – mayhem! The 4 way stop is an education in itself.

 We turned at same said  4 way stop and headed out to Isandlwana. The Visitor’s Centre is informative and spotless. Once we had reached the battlefield we all eventually found each other and Ken directed us to where he wanted to take us to show and tell us the terrible story of what happened that awful day.

It was just wonderful to have someone put the run up to the events  into perspective. Ken explained the unfolding of the day. Reading about complicated historical events is like trying to work a difficult piece of technology with the manual. It doesn’t work for me, but having someone show and tell is just better than the movies!

It was also the first time it dawned on me that the battle ground inevitably becomes the burial ground. Hmm this fighting business doesn’t really get us anywhere?

We rode out and on to Rorke’s Drift. Ken had pointed out where Fugitive’s Drift was so we had an idea of the lie of the land and under what conditions these guys were arriving with news from Isandlwana.

As I mentioned, the previous evening Mike had described in great detail, as if an eye witness account, the events that took place at Rorke’s Drift. Seeing the real building and understanding the relation to other buildings and the setting in general really brought the horror home. I reckon what happened there would be most sane people’s idea of hell. The relentless noise, the stench of cordite and fresh blood and smoke and the fire being the only light when it got dark truly must have been terrifying.

As we we drove home in the late afternoon sun, I thought how strange it felt  to return to real life – warm baths and showers  and a very good braai with warm beds after. Our concerns so different from the individuals whose history we caught a glimpse of over the weekend.

Sunday morning broke VERY crisp! Coldest riding I’ve ever done. Eventually my fingers burned so much I could hardly think. We had a warm your extremities stop and then swung back into the saddle for the rest of the long ride home. It was 1 degree Celsius when we left Glencoe and climbed steadily up Van Reenen’s to a balmy 5 only to fall back to 1 degree again by the time we stopped in Harrismith. I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I was to unfold that Wimpy menu when we stopped in Harrismith. After we had a hot choc stop in Villiers we all said our goodbyes and another incredible sidecar trip was almost over.

As soon as one sees the cityscape on the horizon the traffic changes and things get hectic. As always I was thinking about the trip and what my expectations had been when we set out. I had to conclude that I had gotten a lot more than I had expected, on all levels. I would go so far as saying the Battlefields are very similar to the Okavango Delta  –  a must on the bucket list!

Written by:  Alpha Greeff