One of the principal passes through the Langeberg range is the Tradouw Pass, named by the Khoisan people who originally discovered this ancient route. (Tradau = the way of the women and dau = way through)
The Tradouw Pass which is situated on the R324 between the towns of Barrydale and Suurbraak or alternately, Heidelberg, in the Western Cape province, by design, follows the precipitous sides of the Tradouw River, and is renowned for its wild flowers in spring, clusters of blazing red aloes in late autumn, breathtaking waterfalls in winter and magnificent swimming pools in summer.
Bushman paintings in caves along the way are evidence of its use by prehistoric man and is all that is left of the Khoisan era. Fortunately or unfortunately, these are not sign posted. Near the Bushman caves a track leads to a swimming pool in the river.
The modern road through the pass was built in 1873 by the engineer, Sir Thomas Bain and is but one of 13 passes that he master engineered in the Southern Cape during the 1800's. Bain applied the logic of river courses, and their preference for the path of least resistance to this pass, and so adopted the same winding course as the Tradouw River down in the gorge below.
The camp used by convicts who comprised his labour force, can be seen half way up the pass. As you drive along, enjoy the beautiful surroundings and admire Sir Thomas Bain’s genius for carving a pass through such rugged terrain, without the help of modern technology.
Look out for places with names like Drupkelder, Piekniekbos and Suurplaat where you can stop - and try and spot the ruins of Anglo-Boer War blockhouses.
The request for a pass was first raised in 1858. The farmers wanted Port Beaufort (Witsand) at the mouth of the Breede River made more accessible for their produce. In 1867 the Colonial Secretary, Robert Southey, proposed in Parliament that the pass be built, using convict labour, “as soon as such was available”. (The Pass was first named after him, but the name did not achieve popularity and after a few years it reverted to the traditional “Tradouw Pass”.)
Thomas Bain was instructed to do the planning and estimating. The Bain family moved into a lovely old farmhouse, Lismore, that belonged to the Barry family. Today the house still stands at the foot of the 14km 315m high Tradouw Pass and still belongs to the Barry family.
In 1869 a work force of many convicts was transferred from the completed Robinson Pass between Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay. In the end of that year, four kilometers of difficult road, entailing a good deal of blasting, had been completed. The following year the number of convicts was drastically reduced and work slowed down accordingly.
In 1873 Bain was transferred to plan and build a railway through Tulbagh Kloof. The qualified foreman, Mr Stephens, was left in charge. The Pass was declared open on 27th October 1873 by the Governor’s wife, Lady Barkley.
Soon after its completion the farming community built a church at the northern end of the Pass and the town that grew around it was named in honour of the Barry family. Barrydale developed into an attractive and productive fruit farming area.
In 1974, after years of planning, the Pass was rebuilt, widened in places, hairpin bends removed and the road completely tarred. 4000 aloes and 2500 indigenous trees and shrubs were planted and in 1980 the Tradouw Pass was re-opened.
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