By Jac Dowling
Cresting Sir Lowry’s Pass with its breathtaking view of False Bay, and never ending traffic, the moonscape of flattened fynbos, granitic rocks and scrubby grassland comes as something of a surprise. Suddenly a whole vista of trees and orchards, brilliant with roses, opens up: the Elgin Valley, Appletiser country, where the hills are alive with fruit trees as far as the eye can see, and where The Overberg begins. Spring in this area is blossom time; trees covered in a froth of white and pink. Vineyards in early buttery leaf and roses everywhere, climbing along fences in a riot of colour while late snow ices surrounding peaks. Simply put – it’s stunning.
Three popular farmstalls, well known to locals and regular users of the N2, are situated between Sir Lowry’s and Houwhoek. First up – Orchard farm stall, restaurant and coffee shop where climbing roses and vines offer shade on hot days to thirsty travellers. A car and bike wash is on hand, clean restrooms and a safe playground for children to let off steam. The bakery and deli offer fresh farm breads, local honey, homemade jams and preserves as well as local teas. Locally produced wines are on sale, some at cellar prices, which complement their farm-style pies and old fashioned apple tart. Local artworks are on display in the Orchard Gallery. From time to time Wildekranz holds wine tastings on the premises.
Recently partly rebuilt after a tragic fire in 2014, Peregrine Farm stall has become an icon of what can develop from a humble roadside fruit stall in 1964. Their new restaurant, open to the original deli, echoes apple barns of the past with blonde Austrian spruce beams, screed floors and a great contemporary light atmosphere. Quite a change from the old structure built in the 1980s. But the quality of fare has not changed; their game pies are legend, stone ground unbleached flour used for baking and artisanal bread baked in a wood-fired oven.
For those who need to exercise young children, the collection of old tractors and playground offer an alternative to the restaurant. There’s an al fresco take-away and coffee shop, Peregrine Pop-up for knicknacks and a wide selection of top local wines, ciders, craft beers and preserves from the original farmstall shop.
Houwhoek Farm stall nestles in a green valley opposite the historic Houwhoek Inn and a good choice for a shady stopover on a hot day. The white farmhouse-style ‘padstal’, renowned for its baking , especially the chicken pies, has a pleasant restaurant and farm shop which stocks fruit and veg from the Elgin Valley farms, local wines all at cellar prices and all manner of jams and preserves. In summer creamy apricot Crepiscule roses clamber over the trellised verandah where the view across acres of wood and grassland to high mountain peaks succeeds in blocking out the rush of passing traffic. Autumn mornings break leisurely through early mist hanging in late ambered oak; while three trout dams are stocked with rainbow trout and open for fly fishing from June each year. Rods may be hired from the shop and picnic baskets ordered in advance to make for a pleasant, relaxed day in The Overberg.
Over Houwhoek Pass is almost the centre of The Overberg where there are picturesque, historic and peaceful places to explore, not far away. Rolling wheatfields, silver-green in sunlight, rush across hills and along valleys, chased bt shadows and a gentle prevailing wind. Geese follow ploughed swirls across an Impressionist’s palette of colour. A panorama of valleys, mountains and rivers where blue cranes and guinea fowl peck the furrows. Springtime brings brilliant daisies, fields of yellow canola, purple lupins and lush grass where Merino sheep graze, peering through thick creamy fleeces. The original stock, legend has it, came from Spain two hundred years ago. They thrived; the news reached Spain which ordered that the ‘original stock’ be returned forthwith…This is sheep country, farmstall country, the cradle of the wool industry and surely its Fields of Gold one of the most treasured parts of our country.