It seems almost surreal to be writing a blog from Nieu Bethesda in the Karoo, where I find myself Guest of Great Karoo Cycling, riding the Sneeuberg Trail with 14 other cyclists.
Steppes Travel invited me to be part of their travel festival at the Royal Geographical Society in London end of September. What a privilege it was sharing stages with Saba Douglas-Hamilton, Doug Allen, Hanli Prinsloo and Ranulph Fiennes. Steppes arranged 50 speakers to be part of their two day extravaganza, highlighting travel and the great outdoors, encouraging listeners to “get out there”.
The travel festival was the start of our annual UK lecture tour, arranged incredibly, as always, by Karen. Needs must, so we hired a Fiat 500, and travelled far and wide including Snowdonia and central Wales. It was possibly our best tour yet in terms of itinerary and the final talk found me flying up to Edinburgh. Savills and Brewin Dolphin managed to get 400 guests to an event in Lincoln, on a Monday evening, raising valuable funds for the Lincolnshire Air Ambulance.
What a blessing it is to have support as we do in Britain, all 18 lectures hosted by wonderful people who have hosted us previously. We are already working on the UK lecture tour for October 2018.
We returned home to talks at Nottingham Road and Kamberg. Both wonderful events, but I do find it far more daunting speaking to peers and friends who have known me all my life, rather than strangers in England. One feels the level of scrutiny and evaluation is far greater amongst those familiar, than it is amongst strangers?
Great Karoo Cycling kindly invited me to ride their Sneeuberg Trail, and speak to the other cyclists nightly. The route basically comprises riding through the Sneeuberg Mountains from Middelburg to Graaf-Reinet. On day 1, the warm-up ride was 67km from Mt Melsetter to Karoo Ridge Conservancy for tea, and back. We rode into a strong headwind making conditions very challenging indeed. Thankfully the wind blew us home in one third the time the outward journey had required. Karoo hospitality and cuisine at its very best. I shared Scott and Shackleton to 45 guests at Temple Farm near Schoombie, then two great evenings since at Ganora and Weltevreden Guest Houses.
Karoo homesteads are veritable oasis’s – the verdancy contrasting starkly with the barren, drought-ridden environs beyond. This area of the Karoo has had no rain to speak of since February, exacerbated by lack of heat units to create nutritious growth.
We are having an incredible experience, with lots of laughs and fantastic camaraderie.
An exceptional way to reconnect with our beloved country, which seems to sink inexorably into a morass of corruption, graft, ineptitude and dreadful governance. Cycling with folks all determined to find a safe, positive way forward makes for sparkling company. I shall be sad to bid them farewell in Graaf-Reinet, before tackling the long drive home.