The Story Weaver Ramblings…                                                                         

teacher ~ storyteller ~ writer

The van Colff family stayed at the Klaarstroom Guest House in the Victorian hamlet 50km from Prince Albert

1 March 2018

February brought lots of storytelling and walks. An enthusiastic Dutch group added a little sweetness to my story about the spitting coach driver, perhaps I should tell you that story before I go any further…

In Swartberg se Mense, Sue van Waart speaks of the coach driver who took passengers over the Swartberg Pass when it first opened in 1888. He chewed tobacco and we are told that he could spit further than any living man. He would entertain passengers by knocking basking lizards off rocks at the side of the road with well-aimed shots.

He would have done well in a more recent local competition. For many years an Olive Pip Spitting Competition has been held at the Olive Festival. The record of 11.2m was set by the late Clive van Hasselt whose widow, Gay, presented a trophy in his memory. Five years ago his record was broken by a local policeman who spat a pip a full 12m.

In 2017 a visitor, Mars van der Colff, spat a pip a smidgeon further and was awarded the trophy and a huge variety of olive products. His young sons were exceedingly proud of their dad’s spitting prowess but his mother was rather surprised, how on earth had he become such an expert?

One of the couples on the walk became excited: “In Holland we spit cherry pits, our son held the Guinness World record for cherry pit spitting!” Sadly his record has now been broken. You might be interested to know that the World cherry pit spitting champion is Brian Krause who shot a cherry pit a full 28.51 metres at the International Cherry Pit-Spitting Championship in Eau Claire (USA). Our olive pip spitters have a long way to go but help is at hand - there’s a ‘training’ video here!

The van Colff family stayed at the Klaarstroom Guest House

in the Victorian hamlet 50km from Prince Albert click here for details


On a more refined note, Prince Albert can add another feather to its cap with the news that Camilla and the African Relish team have won an international award as the Best Cooking School/Class from the World Food Travel Association. The runner up was Food Playground in Singapore. The association is represented in 139 countries with more than 50,000 members. Camilla offers a variety of cookery courses for individuals and groups, using local produce. Part of the fun is a Foodie Tour in the African Relish tuk-tuk to gather ingredients at Gay’s Dairy and The Meatroom, Prince Albert Olives, Pete Reinder’s organic veggie garden and other suppliers. For more details visit their website.

Camilla & Donovan, foodie tour guides at African Relish

P.S. African Relish also offer a Ghost Walk as part of the Prince Albert experience!

There’s lots of creativity in Prince Albert. I have just set up a Facebook page for my friend Brita Nathan who makes Brita Dolls. Each of her soft dolls, with their luscious eye-lashes and long, long legs, is unique. There are shwe-shwe dolls, dolls dressed in bright colours, dolls wearing grecian sandals, cream dolls and her latest line, Yoga dolls who assume different asanas. A whole bevy of Brita Yoga dolls are on sale at the Spirit Yoga Fest in Swellendam from 1st - 5th March at the NUDE CLOTHING stall. Brita Dolls, were inspired by a dream and are made with love in Prince Albert, if you’d like to order one, contact Brita on 07274 44037 or 


Brita Yoga dolls 


A misty morning on the Swartberg Pass. Imagine travelling the road in a mule-drawn coach! At the foot of the zig-zags the driver would sound his bugle to warn on-coming traffic he was on his way up. That traffic would pull to the side of the road and wait, since once the mules started the ascent they could not stop for fear they’d never start again. All the passengers would clamber down and prepare to walk up the side of the mountain, climbing back in at the top of the curves. The combined weight of coach and passengers was too much for the mules on such a steep road. The mule team was changed at the stables at the foot of Droë Waterval and again at Levy’s Kango Hotel en Kombuys with the bugle sounding loudly upon arrival and departure.

A misty morning on the Swartberg Pass. Thanks to Yolande Singery for the photo

A mail cart crossed the Swartberg Pass too and one cold, misty morning the driver taking the mail to Oudtshoorn went into the Toll House near Die Top for coffee and emerged to find his cart had vanished. The horses, Kolbooi and Ronzo had headed back to the warmth of their stables in Prince Albert.  

March is always a quieter month as our visitors from the Northern climes head back to their Spring and we move from the heat of Summer into the gentler days of Autumn. However, I have already received some bookings and we are looking forward to the Annual Conference of the Photographic Society of South Africa towards the end of the month, then the school holidays will bring LOTS of visitors… if you are planning to visit us find your accommodation here.

Prince Albert Accommodation now has its own Facebook page - follow us here.



1 February 2018


Rain… a blessed relief from the heat which always assaults us in January and February, yet seems particularly intense this year. Rain… desperately needed by our farmers. The thunder storms we experienced during January brought relief to gardens here in town where we are now subject to water restrictions of 90 litres per person per day. We are still very fortunate when you consider friends in Cape Town are limited to 50 l per day and some are using only 25 l per day. It has become a challenge for Andrew and me to see how little we need each day. 

Why would Prince Albert have water restrictions? The fires on the Swartberg Mountain watershed eighteen months ago destroyed vegetation which holds and filters rain and mist, directing it into the streams and aquifers which provide our community with water.  Sue Dean of Renu-Karoo Nursery says it will be years before the plant life regenerates. Now water rushes away instead of being caught - the flood in April 2017 is a good example. That destroyed two of the boreholes which supply the bulk of Prince Albert’s water, one has been repaired but the second was completely destroyed. We must expect the water restrictions to continue, even though we have received some welcome downpours.  I did some research to see what people in Cape Town were suggesting and came across Helen Moffet’s blog - wonderful writing! 


I buy my eco-friendly washing powder and eggs and plants from Sue Dean and manage their Renu-Karoo website and the one we developed for the Wolwekraal Nature Reserve they established on the outskirts of Prince Albert - a walk there with Sue or with her intern Yondela Nqadala is a real treat.

Yondela Nqadala at Wolwekraal Nature Reserve

Another local initiative I’ve been involved with for some time is the annual Literary Festival, our Prince Albert Leesfees. Marlene Malan has run her bookshop at the Leesfees venue for two years and it now continues throughout the year, keeping the festival name in the public eye. The Facebook page provides a weekly post, usually a link to literary news from around the world and as plans take shape each year, regular updates on the festival programme for the first weekend in November.  

My young friend who thinks I am Batman's wife!January was a busy time for Ghost Walks and one evening, on my way to meet guests I stopped for a chat with a young friend who lives along the route. This was his first day at school… he loves it and is lucky enough to have his mother as his teacher - there are thirty four other children in his class!  

This is the young man who, when he was four, went rushing into his mother one winter evening as I floated down the street towards him in my long, black cloak and announced (in Afrikaans) “Mum, come and see, Batman is coming!”  He insisted she accompany him into the street and she told him, as he peered around her skirt and hid as I drew near, that I wasn’t Batman, but Batman’s wife.

From then on he would often be there to watch me go by, peering from behind his dad’s car or over the verandah wall and eventually he plucked up enough courage to venture into the street and tell me: “I know where you live.” 

 “Do you,” I said, “where is that?”

“In a cave in the mountains!”

“Yes, that’s true, but it’s a secret, we don’t want people to know where Batman lives, can you keep a secret?”

“Oh yes!” And he has, because when I spoke to his mother and granny about his first day at school they said he has never told them where I live.

However, being Batman’s wife does have it’s complications. Sometimes ‘Batman’ accompanies me to the supermarket and one day we turned into an aisle and there was my young friend with his little brother. They stopped and looked at me.. and then looked at ‘Batman’… quick thinking saved the day:

“Sshh,” I said, “we are in disguise.”  Big brother nodded sagely and we beat a hasty retreat. 

‘Batman’ and I have been married for twenty years this month and I have been telling the local stories for sixteen of them. Long may both continue!

Recent news...

I had a surprise visit from Dirk Kruger on 24 January - he is Marie Kruger’s nephew. In my January newsletter I told her story of Oom Hennie Velsambreel. Dirk brought me some photos! Click here for the story and the photos.

Great news - and I’ll remind you again nearer the time. The Open Studios event was so well received that it will be held again 5 - 8 July 2018.

Birthday celebrations for the Swartberg Pass - on 10 January it was 130 years since the official opening in 1888 - the Pass is open to traffic after repairs following the floods - come and experience one of the finest dry stone walled mountain passes in the world!

To finish off, here’s a recent ‘experience’ on the Ghost Walk

Hi Ailsa, thanks again for a most enjoyable walk and talk around Prince Albert, Dean and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dean asked me to let you know that he had an "encounter" with one of the ghosts in the Fransie Pienaar Museum… we were in the bedroom,  standing next to the dressing table directly on your right when you enter the room. Dean says his legs suddenly felt really cold and goosepimply and the door on one of the cabinets swung open on its own… and they were both securely closed... he also said he felt a presence at the other building when we were walking with you, the one where the chap killed himself... so maybe some stories to add to your repertoire....  Tara.


1 January 2018

December was a busy time for Story Weaving,  I made lots of new friends and had the pleasure of welcoming some former guests on my walks. The Cronje family visited Prince Albert ten years ago and returned so their son, who was twelve years old then, could introduce his girlfriend to the Ghosts of Prince Albert. Candice van Jaarsveld experienced the Ghost Walk in 2014 and returned to take her extended family, including her 11 month old daughter Ila, on the Historic Ramble. The Tipsy Gypsy returned too, bringing friends on the Ghost Walk and I spent an evening telling local Anglo-Boer War stories to friends visiting their daughter and family in Prince Albert.  I am touched when guests return and there are always new stories to add to old favourites.

 Under the old fig tree on Kredouw Olive Estate

Last month I mentioned the Prince Albert Open Studio project during which 22 artists and crafters opened their studios to the public. The exhibitions on two farms were wonderful opportunities to appreciate the combination of art and contemplation in Nature.  


The meditation house and the Mandala of four directions

At Kredouw Olive Estate Louisa Punt Fouche took me on a tour of her work and we were joined by others at the Mandala of the four directions adjacent to her meditation house, which was built from old windows and wood found on the farm. It stands on stilt legs, in the tradition of the Baba Yaga stories common to so many communities around Europe. There are several walking routes and a rich variety of art to see at Kredouw - find out more here.

Heleen de Haas had five art offerings on Aswater, all Biblically based. Her calligraphy and that of friends and fellow artists has found its way onto canvas and rocks. Interpretations of the Psalms were displayed in what is advertised as the smallest exhibition space in the Karoo - the old mill. The hand carved stone route designed by Heleen and carved by Ley Mboramwe Makakele offers time and space and inspiration for meditation, ideal for a Quiet Day experience.  

Granville Claassens from Klaarstroom   Carved calligraphy on Aswater

One of the young people taking part in hospitality training on Aswater, Granville Claassen, accompanied me on the Stone Route and the Riverside Trail to see some of the land art installations. The cool, shaded walk and Granville’s knowledge of the trees and birds, his commentary on the installations and the pleasure of walking the family dogs made this a deeply rewarding afternoon. You can find out about accommodation at Die Letterhuis and Heleen's calligraphy courses here.

Both farms offer accommodation for visitors seeking space and time to think. 


On the last Saturday of the year the sight of a man carrying a huge umbrella, protecting himself  from the sun, reminded me of a story about Oom Hennie Velsambreel, recorded by Marie Kruger, ‘Suster' Kruger, as she was known, in her ‘book of memories’ for her grandchildren. 

As a little girl in the 1920’s Marie often visited Oom Hennie and Tant Karolien on their small holding just beyond the Albert’s Mill, beneath the gum trees on the old road to the Swartberg Pass. Oom Hennie was born in Gamkaskloof and suffered a severe attack of sun stroke as a teenager, after which he never ventured outdoors without his pith helmet and an umbrella – but not a shop-bought one. Oom Hennie made his own parasol from sailcloth stretched over a sturdy wooden frame. It must have been awfully heavy, but he was never seen without it. 

His partner in life, his ‘symaat’ Tant Karolien, seemed always to be kneading bread or stirring preserves in the kitchen, a source of delicious scents and tastes. Marie would greet her on arrival and before she left Tant Karolien would fill her little hands with dried figs. 

Oom Hennie’s photo can be seen in the Fransie Pienaar Museum - which was voted the best in the Western Cape during 2017. 

For more of his story, which includes his first ever visit to the sea, click here.


 “Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful.

               There is always more to tell than can be told.”                      Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow




On the school front I am rejoicing with Johanna Mokoaqo, a friend and colleague at Albert College, who has completed her BEd degree. We worked together on her English Literature analysis course, which was really exacting, especially for a second language English speaker. Congratulations Johanna! I have also watched my 2017 A level student fly off to a new life in Australia - go well, Sarah. 


I have been beavering away with preparation for the 2018 Cambridge AS English and History courses I’ll be teaching at Albert College and on-line, and creating a Literature enrichment course and a Writing course for Teens - more about those as they develop.



Grootwaterval farm

Narina and Ismari la Grange visited me recently to update their Grootwaterval farm website. Set in the middle of nowhere, 45km from Prince Albert, the farm offers simple accommodation, incredible hiking and mountain bike opportunities and the chance to experience the silence, beauty and grandeur of the Karoo landscape and sparkling night skies. It’s an ideal Karoo venue for bird watching and photography clubs… read more here.

If you are looking for accommodation in Prince Albert, I recently set up a website for a group of independent guesthouse owners. They offer room-only, B&B and self-catering accommodation, across a range of prices, in town and on local farms. There are plenty of photos and all the contact details you need:  

I hope that your festive season was one of companionship and good cheer.

A new year lies ahead with opportunities and challenges yet unseen.

My word for the year is OPEN - may we all be open to the challenges

and relish the opportunities that lie ahead!


1 December 2017


For fifteen (or was it sixteen?) years I wrote a newsletter called The Olive Branch for the Prince Albert Tourism Association.  Now their marketing strategy has embraced the notion of integrated on-line media, including a blog. That newsletter is no more and it seems a suitable moment to resurrect the Story Weaver newsletter which will provide me with an opportunity to write from a personal perspective.

Here is the first edition of my Story Weaver Ramblings… thoughts and ideas, news from Prince Albert and a story or two…


Siemon (2nd), Joseph (1st), Gabriel (3rd) Leesfees prose writing for u/18

Siemon (2nd), Joseph (1st), Gabriel (3rd) Leesfees prose writing for u/18

The Prince Albert Leesfees took place at the start of November and three of our Albert College students did us proud by taking all three prizes in the prose section of the u/18 writing competition. They produced an interesting variety of texts: a narrative about a plague doctor in medieval Europe; a vivid description of the Great Karoo and an eco-documentary piece on the provenance and travels of a plastic bottle.  These were planned, written and edited as part of their writing experience during English classes. Lots more of that ahead in the next two years as we work towards Cambridge A levels. I’ll be starting a Literature class for their friends in the IGCSE class in January too.


O for Olive 5km from town on Swartrivier farm

We drove out to O for Olive for a relaxed lunch with friends at Café O on Sunday and lots of locals had the same idea. Henriette is having fun making new desserts in the kitchen and her latest creation, an elegant jam roly-poly with custard, went down a treat. I have just discovered that the staff at O for Olive have been providing a meal for the Beading Project teenagers once a week for the last seven months. Another example of Prince Albert generosity! These youngsters make beaded ‘Prince Albert People’ brooches, fridge magnets and Christmas decorations to earn a living - find out more here.


Karoo gold on the Wolwekraal Nature Reserve Photo: Sue Dean

The drive home, looking towards the Swartberg, offers a wonderful view of the mountain range and because a little light rain fell recently, the Karoo Gold (Rhigozum obovatum) has been coaxed into flower, producing splashes of bright yellow across the veld. While the town is nourished by water flowing from springs in the mountains, the farms in the Great Karoo are suffering drought, in desperate need of soaking rain. A gift of fodder to the local farmers was welcomed earlier in November.


The river crossing at Eerstewater in the Swartberg Pass

Townsfolk are much relieved to know that the Swartberg Pass has re-opened to traffic after a six month closure due to massive flood damage in April. The Provincial Road Services have done a sterling job. Huge boulders, larger than a combi, had been washed down and the road alongside the riverbed had been reduced to its foundation, laid in the 1880’s. Local labour assisted in raising the level of the road by more than three metres and in repairing the badly eroded section above Malva Draai. The re-opening, with some stop/go halts at times, is vital to Prince Albert with the Christmas school holidays upon us and many visitors eager to drive across the Pass with its magnificent views. 


When I first arrived in Prince Albert I met Dr Jan van Heerden, born in 1926. He remembered many of his mother’s stories and how, when he got up to mischief as a child, she would wag her finger and threaten him with dire consequences. "As jy nie ophou nie sal die musbiekers jou vang!" (If you don’t stop the Musbiekers will catch you.) Musbiekers? Dr Jan's mother spoke of the Mozambican labourers employed by John Tassie to construct the Swartberg Pass in 1881, when his tender of £18 120 was accepted by the Cape Parliament. Within a year he was bankrupt and work came to a halt, with just 6km of road completed. Thomas Bain took over eighteen months later to build his Pass and Tassie's name faded from local memory, but that of the 'musbiekers' remained.


Open Studios event December 2017

One of the Christmas holiday events coming up is the Prince Albert Open Studios week from 15 - 22 December. A number of artists and crafters are opening their studios to the public, enabling us to see how and where they create their land, letter and ‘found object’ art, water colours, ceramics, stone carvings, oils, acrylics, carpets, bags… I am particularly looking forward to visiting Die Letterhuis, 30km from town, where calligrapher Heleen de Haas will host an exhibition and I can wander along the prayer walk on the river banks to see some land art installations.


I’ll be taking visitors on the Ghost Walk during the school holidays and my Historical Ramble will be available in the mornings. 

Booking is essential, so call 023 5411 211 or e-mail: to arrange your walk.


If you are looking for accommodation in Prince Albert, I recently set up a website for a group of independent guesthouse owners. They offer room-only, B&B and self-catering accommodation, across a range of prices, in town and on local farms. There are plenty of photos and all the contact details you need:  


In the rush towards Christmas, relaxation sometimes eludes us, but it needn’t. Here are a few of the ways I unwind that you might like to try when you visit Prince Albert:

My dear friend, Brita, has set up her Reiki studio in her ‘Healing Cave’ here in Prince Albert. A reiki session with Brita is a relaxing and nurturing experience. Contact her on 072 744 4037.

Peace is profound at the yoga classes at Simply Saffron - visitors can join locals to experience a class with Hermon or Ridwaan and when she is visiting, Sandra Heider offers Forrest Yoga sessions. Tel: 023 5411 040 for details and times. They offer massages, reflexology and reiki too.

Another friend, Lynne-Marie Behr, offers Amazing Massages - and that's true! Contact her on 083 277 8027 for total relaxation. Her 'massage on the move' service takes her to guesthouses to treat three or more people: perhaps a wedding party or family members attending a re-union. 

If you are not in Prince Albert then here is a suggestion for finding relaxation on-line: I recently came across a beautiful blog called STILL, created by Mary Jo Hoffman, who posts one image, daily, of gathered natural objects found near her home in Saint Paul, Minnesota, or on her travels. Then she adds a thought. She says: “Still blog is a place to stop. A place to look at one thing at a time. A place to be still.” 

Blessings from Ailsa


The Story Weaver

Prince Albert

Tel: 023 5411 211  e-mail: