The Holkrans

Having heard over the years about a cave not to distant from Clarens that during the Boer war had provided refuge to Boers and their families alike, I decided that perhaps it was time for me to pay the cave a visit.

There are 2 ways to get to the cave

1. A two-hour hike crossing the back of the Swartland hills and then trespassing on private land.
2 Calling the owner of the farm and asking permission to go to the cave.

I opted for option 2 and called Marius Naude to see if I could get permission to go through the farm and then on to the caves. Marius said yes and I met him at his farm Welgelegen that just out of interest has been in the Naude family for generations. Marius kindly showed me the way and left me to explore.

Prior to me arriving at the farm all I knew about the cave was that it was well hidden, had commanding views of the countryside and had been used as a hideaway during the Boer war of 1900 – 1902. So armed with backpack and camera I trudged through the veld and over a semi - dry river course and in front of me was a kloof with a rather large sandstone overhang. Marius had advised me to keep left when I got to the over hang and when the path petered out to just keep going. Stooping to get under low hanging branches and keeping an eye in the long grass for Puff adders was about as strenuous as it got, although the path was well concealed and I could see why people looking for the caves could have thought that no one would have been hiding in that area. As I stopped to look back across the veld a small herd of Wildebeest and Waterbuck gave me a hint of what the open Free State plains may have looked like in the late 1800’s.

Walking up to the overhang I saw that there was a kraal of sandstone and stopped to catch my breath and look around. The stones had been lying around and from what I can gather from Marius’s 4 children who had decided to come and help the “Oom” find the caves may have been built by the Boers to either keep sheep or coral horses. I must say I was glad to have them with and they forged ahead towards the hidden cave. The path petered out and just as I was about to ask “what now” like rock rabbits they bounded across a expanse of rock that seemed to disappear over the edge of the krantz. I gingerly followed and the rock merged with another path that seemed to stop at a wall of bush, again they disappeared into the vegetation and as I battled to get the back to go that low I managed to come out the other side unscathed, now I was in a small area again with large rocks blocking the way following the kids a large expanse unexpectedly opened up some 80 meters long and 30 meters wide.

“Wow” was my initial reaction as I realised how well hidden this cave had actually been, and how difficult it would have been for British troops that were not used to the wide open spaces of the south African veld to have found it. A large rock in the cave has many names carved on to it, most that I could make out were however from after the Boer war one date was 1917 and the other that I could make out was 1943. Two large excavations in the cave were pointed out to me as places that the Boers hid their arms and ammunition and the children told me that they had in fact found doppies (spent cartridges) at one stage. The cave also has a number of what would have been stone huts, long since fallen into disrepair.

A small crack in the rocks that I could barely squeeze through led to another well concealed ledge that a lookout would have been able to see not only the veld and part of the old road leading from Bethlehem but also keep an eye on the path that leads up to the kloof. As I sat there looking across the farm Welgelegen my mind wandered as to what life would have been like for those women and children that made this cavern their home to keep out of the hands of the British who if they had caught them would have sent them to the nearest concentration camp. It cannot have been easy, for one thing I was there at 11am and the cave was freezing so in winter they must have suffered and would have had to be careful that they did not alert the enemy by allowing smoke to rise from the caves entrance.

From research it would seem that Boer Commandos would regularly hide cattle and sheep as well as other supplies in well-hidden areas as a supply depot and it is possible that this very position served the same purpose. The area itself I believe would have been used by both Bushmen as well as early black tribes that had moved in to the area as the site has water, protection and commanding views of the countryside.

It was a privilege to see another part of Clarens that not many get to see and experience. There are a couple of places that I have been lucky enough to see over the last few years when researching stories and there are a few that I still need to see before I sadly leave the village at the end of the year. Whatever I do get to see however I will gladly share with you.

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