Tulbagh is one of those places that ushers in a flurry of sweet childhood memories for me.
It has always been a reminder of glorious days filled with camp fires, caravaning, baskets of Easter eggs from family friends next door and kayaking beneath weeping willows.
I recall helping my parents set up the tent (or pretending to), spending endless days floating in the pool, scouting out the new teenage boys to arrive and my first kiss beside a field. So when I finally returned to Tulbagh years later with my husband and son it was time to reacquaint myself with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years.
Usually it was me who slept on the drive from Cape Town to Tulbagh.
I’ve always been one of those travellers who can pass out as soon as the bus, boat, car or plane gets going. My brother and I somehow found a way to simultaneously sleep horizontally on the back seat of a sedan but not without many a fight.
'Wondering why we road trip at all with a classic sleep resister'
Now it was me who was willing my son to sleep. Sadly he is a classic sleep resister and follows his Dad’s sleeping patterns plus he hates his rear-facing car seat. I bet you’re wondering why we road trip at all. I asked myself that question over and over again as he just carried on screaming despite being fed, given snacks, teething syrup and toys.
After I ran into Wimpy for a road trip staple breakfast, I returned to the car to find Vaughan pumping his running music at full volume and Caleb finally asleep. What do you know? Seems loud, upbeat music did the trick and was just the thing to send this guy to sleep, finally.
Instead of a tent, it was a sweet two-bedroom self-catering cottage on Vindoux Guest Farm that awaited us.
Fireplace - check. Corner bath - check. Vineyards sprawling across the dusty path from our stoep - check. Bacon and eggs in the morning sunshine surrounded by the Winterhoek, Wittenberg and Obiqua Mountain Ranges-check - could we just not check-out.
By day we played on the grass with Caleb and trailed around the farm with him on Vaughan’s back, spotting animals and birds. By night we enjoyed the crackling dance of the fire and a braai beneath a myriad of stars.
We looked longingly upon their treehouses on stilts (they were reserved for couples only), sat on the deck in the forest and watched their zebra, springbok and wildebeest enjoy their wide open space sans predators. The palest of pink nectarine flowers bloomed amongst the visiting bees, brown cows lazed in the shade and the tiny chapel stood proudly on the hill of Montpellier’s Farm.
I don't think I’d ever realised just how beautiful Tulbagh really is.
During the week even the busiest street in this tiny town was quiet. We sampled chocolate from a less-than-friendly chocolate churner, we were served a babortie jaffle from a non-enthused waitress and just when we were about to give up on receiving a smile from anyone here, we visited ‘Things I love’ restaurant where the cheerful Robyn and pregnant Avril moved about with great enthusiasm and zest making all the guests in this treasure trove of antiques feel welcome.
We rented bikes from Vindoux with a baby seat for Caleb and set off down the sandy path beneath naked trees and off to neighbouring Saronsberg. Far from the cars and roads we circled the sleepy lake, rock statues and oaks. This was one seat Caleb seemed to love and he relaxed back into his chair, afternoon sun in his face, eyeing every tree, body of water and bird.
'A scenario no mother in her fatigued mind was going to miss'
We didn’t have enough time on the bikes as I had to rush back for a massage at Vindoux’s Spa. Biking was fun but the promise of 30 minutes in a dark room on a massage table? A scenario no mother in her fatigued mind was going to miss.
The introductory conversation with the masseuse ensued and confirmation of perfect pressure was established. Some 25 minutes later I woke up in a comatose blissful state. I could swear that I recall the massage part or the fact that I really enjoyed it. But to be honest, she could've gone to get coffee in the neighbouring room and I would be none the wiser. True testament of a healing hands and a mom’s insatiable desire to sleep at all times.
Stopping along the dirt path, we jumped a farm fence and stood in absolute silence beside a silent lake taking in the Tulbagh basin we called home for two nights.
Once again I found myself beneath a weeping willow, bird nest’s hanging from its lithe branches. Only this time I was nearly twenty years older, without any teenage angst, but way more responsibility and a little family of my own.
I toyed with the idea of visiting that caravan park of my childhood but after hearing of its demise and dilapidation, I decided against it. The campsite of my childhood would forever remain unsullied, the perfect playground of tented conversations, riverside dreams and a memory of treasured family time.
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Disclaimer: Lauren Manuel-McShane was hosted by Vindoux Guest Farm. Lauren and Vaughn McShane are the creative couple behind the travel blog, the Travel Manuel. Follow their adventures with their son Caleb on Facebook and Instagram here.