A Taste of Cradock Part III

By Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit

 Cradock, where the Great Fish River surges past like a water python on a mission, is bigger than a village, smaller than your average upcountry town. And, like the old Cheers TV show, it’s a place where almost everyone knows your name.

The previously parched Cradock was given a new lease on life in 1976 when the Orange River Project began to pump irrigation water from the Gariep Dam to the Eastern Cape via the Great Fish River that flows through the town.

Paddler Dave Alexander and Water Affairs engineer KO Bang came up with the idea for a challenging local canoe race.

Nearly 80 entrants took part in the first Fish River Canoe Marathon (known by everyone as The Fish) held in 1982. It has since developed into one of South Africa’s prime river races, with an even mix of fun and athleticism.

The springtime event begins at Grassridge Dam and follows a route that includes exotic names like The Knutsford Drop, the Baroda Weir, The Toast Rack, Keith’s Flyover and The Marlow Chute.

Thousands of young river athletes descend on a bemused Cradock and paddle like gangbusters through chutes, over weirs, in reverse at times or upside down, for two days over more than 80km of this glorious watercourse that, flowing at no less than 26 Cumecs for the event, feeds the farms and the people all the way down to the sea.

The normally sedate farming town resembles an Olympic athletes’ compound (complete with interested bystanders) and for the fit and the faithful, it would be an absolute sin to skip The Fish for any reason.

The Fish River Canoe Marathon – one of the October highlights in the Cradock calendar.
Expert horsemanship on display at the Cradock Agricultural Show.

The Cradock Show

Showtime in Cradock arrives on a weekend in October at the height of summer.

The riverside showgrounds are abuzz with wandering farmers, families chewing on sosaties, well-groomed livestock on their annual town jaunt and, in pride of place, a truly elegant selection of horses on display.

The Cradock Agricultural Show is one of the oldest of its kind in the country. Running since 1864, it never skipped a year through all the periods of conflict: the Anglo-Boer War, WWI and WWII, with the Great Depression sandwiched between them.

The ‘leanest’ Cradock Show on record goes back to 1948, when only 17 beasts (horses, cattle, sheep and goats) were in attendance. But the show went on regardless.

However, the monster flood of 1974 broke the previously unbeaten Cradock Show years by simply washing away the grounds until almost nothing remained.

“It was uncanny. There was not a sound, just total destruction,” a bystander commented at the time. “There was nothing we could do about it.”

Five years later all was rebuilt and the Cradock Show was on again, with the main attraction being the staging of the Monty Gadd Trophy. Cradock has always been a stud breeding area for the Boerperd and the Saddle Horse, and the best of these compete at the show.

Marathon Man Lucky Adams and his son Xavier, who still runs with his dad.

The Marathon Man

Lucky Adams (pictured here with his son Xavier) carries the people and the incidental history of Cradock in his head.

He can tell you who lived where, who married whom, how many children they had, and where they find themselves these days.

Lucky remembers when the first 1000th car was registered in the town, where the municipal dip tanks were and where one sourced the best wire for the crafting of draadkarretjies en windpompe – wire cars and windpumps.

Lucky runs a private delivery service on his bicycle, which he often leaves unattended on the street as he enters a building to hand over a letter.

“If someone steals it, I’ll just go to that person’s house and get it back.”

His clients receive a handwritten ‘Lucky Card’ every Christmas, wittily summing up the craziness of the year just past.

Lucky Adams is also Cradock’s Marathon Man. By 2015 he had completed 19 gruelling Comrades Marathons, 17 Two Oceans Marathons and more than 30 local marathons.

As a youngster, he built his strength and stamina running up and down the seilklippe, the smooth, rounded stones of the local hills that children have used as slides for more than two centuries.

A snuff horn that once belonged to a Scottish Highland sheep – now a prized possession of the Cradock Club.

 The Priceless Horn

One of the most treasured items in the Cradock Club is a sheep’s horn. Fair enough, you might say. This is sheep farming country. What’s weird about that?

Well, the thing is that this horn comes from a Scottish Highland sheep. It is generously studded with silver and amethyst crystals and once contained a large dollop of really sneezy stuff. This snuff horn was donated to the club by the departing Sherwood Foresters Regiment after the Anglo-Boer War in 1901.

They also left behind a fabulous Burmese teak leather-topped table, which now has pride of place in the reading room of the 134-year-old gentlemen’s club.

In March 1974, the Great Fish River burst its banks and the Cradock Club in Bree Street was flooded. Its identical twin down the road, known today as The Albert House B&B, was also affected. Both survived the rising waters, however.

First order of business at the club was to rescue the beloved 12-seater table. Displaying their typical Midlands farming ingenuity, the members rushed in with 44-gallon drums and used them to float the table and other bits of furniture above the floodwaters.

One of the more eccentric Cradock Club rules is that everyone entering the bar must shake hands with everyone else at the bar.  And you may not talk politics, religion or business without buying all the blokes a round of drinks first.

This is an excerpt from Road Tripper: Eastern Cape Karoo by Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit. The authors are offering a two-book special of Moving to the Platteland: Life in Small Town South Africa and Road Tripper: Eastern Cape Karoo at only R520, including courier costs in South Africa. For enquiries, contact Julie@karoospace.co.za. DM


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