Mount Stewart ...we had never heard of the place!

We were in the Eastern Cape, midway between Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth, shooting publicity photographs for a client, and decided to spend a few days at Steytlerville on the way home, to do some riding in the area. It looked good on the maps and on Google Earth, with lots of (hopefully) quiet back roads to explore. We weren't wrong there! Distances, as is often the case in these remote areas, can be extensive but one can always do an out and back ride .

Many of the flags used in South Africa's past are painted on the rock faces in Noorspoort just outside Steytlerville. It's become known as the Valley of Flags.

Many of the flags used in South Africa's past are painted on the rock faces in Noorspoort just outside Steytlerville. It's become known as the Valley of Flags.

We checked into our B&B accommodation (Steytlerville Villa Guest House) in the early afternoon and started looking for a shortish ride that would take us into the evening and dinner at the Royal Hotel (which is everything you'd expect a Karoo dorpie Royal Hotel to be). I forget where we saw the recommendation to visit Mount Stewart, 26km to the north of the town, but I'm pleased we did.

We peddled out on the tar road, cruising past the rather fascinating Valley of Flags and turned left onto a marvellous gravel road heading towards the R338, Jansenville and Mount Stewart. The road snakes through a narrow valley, the rather fascinating 61m high Draaikraans on the right. It's worth stopping here for a moment to consider what forces created this convoluted rock formation, especially considering these rocks were hot enough (and pliable enough) to be twisted into these weird shapes. The road continues north, through the Grootrivierberge, up onto the edges of the Camdeboo Plain, finally arriving at Mount Stewart at its junction with the R339.

The turnoff on the R329 towards Mount Stewart

The turnoff on the R329 towards Mount Stewart

There's not much information available about Mount Stewart. It seems it was established as a station on the Klipplaat/Port Elizabeth railway line but, with the demise of the railway service, the little hamlet is pretty much a ghost town. Aside from a few railway houses, there's a little chapel on a hillock on the edge of town and the Cawood Store, close to the station. (What am I saying? Everything is close in Mount Stewart). From what I can make out, the Cawood Store was named after one William George Cawood who as a "strong Methodist was interested in and largely responsible for the Wesleyan Church at Mt Stewart" (as mentioned in his death notice). He passed away from pneumonia after a bout of flu in 1935.

The old church at Mount Stewart. A little tatty now but imagine it on a Sunday morning in its heyday.

The old church at Mount Stewart. A little tatty now but imagine it on a Sunday morning in its heyday.

Cawoods. Built some 2 years after William George Cawood passed away...

Cawoods. Built some 2 years after William George Cawood passed away...

We paused a while, imagining the place at it's peak. Steam engines pulling trains laden with wool and produce, the store bustling with farmers doing good business, and lots of laughter and chatter. Alas, now? Just a few old, crumbling buildings. What secrets, I wondered, do they hold?

This is the main line between Klipplaat and Port Elizabeth. The tracks are rusty now, clearly a train hasn't been past in years!

This is the main line between Klipplaat and Port Elizabeth. The tracks are rusty now, clearly a train hasn't been past in years!

As we headed back to Steytlerville, the gorgeous afternoon sunshine flooded over the parched land. A slight tail wind eased the journey somewhat but didn't help much when the occasional car or bakkie passed, the dust cloud lingering for longer than was comfortable.

Things were quite gesellig at the Royal, it being a Friday night and all. It was some oomie's 80th birthday and so the whole family had arrived, even some from Cape Town and Johannesburg. We sat on the stoep, sipping our wine and enjoying both the babootie and small town social life.

Heading back to Steytlerville from Mount Stewart, the Baviaanskloof mountains sticking out in the far distance.

Heading back to Steytlerville from Mount Stewart, the Baviaanskloof mountains sticking out in the far distance.

Route Distance: 52km in total

Route conditions: The first and last parts of the ride are on mildly busy tar roads . Once you are on the gravel section, things quieten down considerably and it's just the occasional vehicle towing a cloud of dust that you need to contend with. All in all a pretty easy ride!

Steytlerville Villa Guest House: Google Maps

Steytlerville Villa Guest House GPS: S33° 19.725' E24° 20.586'

Mount Stewart GPS: S33° 08.788' E24° 26.227'

Download the GPS track for the Mount Stewart ride here.

Click the map to go to the route on Google Maps