Montagu: a fine and plain place

Born out of the farm Uitvlught, today’s Montagu still allows and provides for, the eternal and philosophical quest for escape. The town’s western advance only adds to this feeling of seclusion and departure when, after travelling Kogmanskloof’s spectacular glowing formations, the road abruptly doglegs, then barrels through the fort castled rock face.

Just like that, the refinements of the Peninsula and the Overberg are left behind, and one has entered the once secret and still protected valleys of the Klein Karoo. A kilometre or so further the road rounds the last bend and crosses the confluence of the Keisie and the Kingna, Montagu’s variable rivers. An identifying sign says welcome, but there is no habitation in sight. The road flattens and widens, and slowly signs of settlement fill the immediate landscape. This is Long Street, considered by many, with its intact mix of vineyards and historic buildings, to be one of the most important historic stretches of road in the country.

Montagu is foremost a working town; a supply point to the far-off labourers and farmers who work the broad stretches of vineyards and orchards that form the town’s immaterial backbone. It is a modest, practical place not spoilt by pretence or unbending dictate. More than most pleasing South African towns, Montagu has retained its near perfect mix of imperfection and rightness, and an amenability to all. In the streets young families can ride their bikes without restraint, as do grey-haired ladies file from their neat 60’s modernised abodes and walk to bible study, their good black books shielding their firm hearts.

Like the distillation reduction in the process of dried fruit or a muscadel, Montagu’s singleness is condensed out of the high-drama of its sheltering mountains; the density of its hunkering greens in winter, the cut-glass light, and its Arabian night skies. These wild contours with all their plants and creatures, perpetually framed in doorways, or which sweep out and up before the walker, are a daily bank of reserve for each inhabitant.

Montagu is a fine and good place to live. A place just large enough to disappear in or to be seen, and not so small as to feel like a member (or a failed one) of a sorority. It’s a demi-Eden where all the fruits are edible, that has a Lover’s Walk and a romantic name with no unnecessary ‘e’. Add to these affections the sweet or harsh language of birds and the tinkling temple murmurs of Strongylopus grayii, the clicking stream frog princes, and one is hopelessly lost—or found.