Plonk a Scotsman in the middle of the Karoo and he’ll turn his hand to almost anything.
Here’s John Norval in the mid-1800s, fresh from Glasgow and presently residing in the frontier town of Colesberg.
What’s Colesberg got a lot of, thinks John. Tortoises, comes the answer from somewhere. And what are fancy ladies’ combs best made from? You guessed it.
So John Norval begins collecting tortoises and, luckily for the local padloper population, no one in the rough ’n ready settlement really cares for a tortoise shell comb.
What do folks around here really need, thinks John. Again, the Universe or at least someone in the bar obliges: hats. To protect the head from the Karoo sun.
John Norval proceeds to make some of the finest woollen hats South Africa has ever seen. Even buys a farm on the Orange River and sheep for a constant supply of wool.
But he doesn’t stop there. Norval gazes longingly across the river at a potential market he can’t readily reach.
A pont. I’ll build a pont, muses John Norval. Then my hats can travel freely to markets anywhere in the country. And I can charge others to cross here.
Norval’s Pont was established. It was a wonderful boon to both the Great Trekkers, the diamond-fielders and just about everyone during the Anglo-Boer War.
Of course, one crosses the Orange here by bridge these days. But don’t forget to fall in for a drink at the Glasgow Pont Hotel, rest your elbows on the longest bar counter in the Northern Cape – and see if that crocodile is still smoking his cigarette under the old-time telephone.
This is an excerpt from Karoo Keepsakes II – The Journeys Continue, by Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit (MLM Publishers, 2013).
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