The seed of the idea of the Swellendam Winter School was sown by Swellendam resident John Paisley earlier this year, and it germinated, grew, and blossomed so fast, it began to take over the whole town and community.
Not wanting to prune it at such a tender stage, it was decided to let it continue to grow organically and as a result a proliferation of hybrid courses means there is literally something for everyone.
So SWS decided to invite bloggers and journalists with exceptional numbers of followers, who represented the various fields on offer at the Winter School. Lifestyle, health, food, family, art, travel and news – SWS had it covered! 14 of them accepted the invitation and on March 25th they arrived, from Jo’burg and Cape Town, to participate in a taster preview of the Swellendam Winter School.
Despite a range of dietary requirements, (halaal, vegetarian, pescatarian, nut free, gluten free, no pork) each restaurant was able to provide exactly what was required and over 20 guesthouses offered accommodation.
Tuesday 25th pm
After an incredible spread at Woodpecker Pizzadeli, where Belinda and her fantastic team had gone above and beyond what could have been expected of them, (what an ambassador for Swellendam this lady is!) the group was taken to check in to their various accommodations. It was hard to drag them away as there was much ooh-ig and aah-ing, each pair believing that they had struck lucky and had been given the best accommodation.
(Aan de Oever, Battenbergs, Bloomestate, Cypress Cottage, Schoone Oordt and The View)
After persuading them to climb in their transport, we arrived at Kwetu Guest Farm. Here they participated in two courses, A Walk on the Wild Side with Jonathan Booysen, followed by True South African Culinary Arts with Morne Oerson. The walk was so informative, (Jonathan really knows his stuff!) and the media group could not believe the variety of wild life they could experience as well as the birds and plants endemic to the area. Despite our huge lunch, we were all looking forward to the next thing on the agenda – Morne’s demonstration of South African cooking, followed by a picnic on the island, with food prepared by him. Sadly the wind was too strong to eat outside, so the newly bonded group socialised over the delicious nibbles in the gorgeous conference room, which had been stunningly decorated by Sonjia Dias.
You would think that after such an early start (flights from Joburg at 5:30 a.m.) and a long day that BED would be top of the list – but by now the group was fully bonded and wanting to party, so off to Barrel and Blues for nightcaps! Dave Shackley who had picked up the group from the airport, had had a very early start himself and was visibly wilting, but – the show must go on and we country dwellers had a thing or two to prove to those city folk.
An absolutely awesome breakfast spread was lying in wait for the group at Tredici. The group was astounded by everything, by the building and style of the place, by the extraordinary food, the fantastic service – and the (surprisingly nervous) but thoroughly entertaining NC Bekker. As he told them about his plans for extension, they were rapidly scribbling down details and pleading with him to move to Jo’burg.
Two bloggers spent the whole day at Bontebok Park, along with some locals, where they undertook a course in cooking traditional South African food; Kos of course, Lekker Kos! What a treat they had in store in such beautiful surroundings. Jamie Le Roe and Lawrence Scheepers had gone to extraordinary lengths to provide an informative, fun and hands-on experience, with bespoke recipe books for each participant to take home. Jamie is a born entertainer and had them eating, literally, out of her hands.
Some members of the group started with a visit to Swellendam’s favourite coffee roastery, Clockpeaks. This module is just one part of a larger course, Variety – the Spice of Life, which involves tea blending and cheese making.
Learning about different coffee beans, roasting them and tasting 10 coffees of different origins – this got everybody wide awake and raring to go! Mo, Gershwin and Bert were as welcoming and entertaining as always – and the packets of coffee were soon flying off the shelves ready to be packed into suitcases.
Onwards to Wildebraam, where Natalie introduced the group to the liqueurs, pickles and jams which have become one of Swellendam’s most successful exports. On the actual Winter School Course, Lekker vir Later, participants will be learning how to make some of the products, and possibly even be able to winkle some of Natalie’s secret recipes out of her! For this shortened version though, it was a walk through the kitchens – we met the wonderful Eunice who labels every product by hand and has been doing so for 12 years, using the simple and brilliant expedient of a piece of corrugated metal to keep the jars in place. Mathematical attempts to work out how many jars she must have labelled in 12 years failed the assembled company, particularly when South African public holidays were added into the equation.
Others went to a course currently entitled The Art of Ageing. Initial concerns about the suitability of the course to the youthful bloggers who attended, were proved utterly unfounded.
“Absolutely brilliant content. Facilitators are knowledgeable and interactive. The name of the course does not give it justice. Perhaps a more encompassing name as its not only aging but more of holistic health/ longevity etc.” Hayley Malan
They found the course astonishingly informative, and spent much of the subsequent lunch break excitedly describing gut-functions to anyone who was prepared to listen.
Lunch at Lilly’s where everyone could choose what liked from the menu, was delightful – and all the more welcome as, when another venue dropped out unexpectedly the day before the event, Gerry the owner had stepped in at the last minute to save the day. It is this kind of ‘can do, will do’ attitude which makes Swellendam such a special place, and which underpins the attitudes of nearly everyone involved in the experiment.
While some bloggers opted to learn how to align their bodies using simple breathing and core activation with the diminutive bundle of enthusiasm otherwise known as Sami, on her course Pilates Posture Rite, (Samantha is just so enthusiastic! She loves her topic and shared so much knowledge) others chose to get their hands dirty by exploring clay with David and Felicity at Bukkenburg. Some discovered hidden talents, others – not so much – but what was true for all of them was that they had a wonderful experience, and really appreciated Davids skills as a teacher and his kind personality.
“I am not an artistic person, but found this course therapeutic and David absolutely fascinating!” Laura Sealey
A trip on the Boat at Umshanti is always a winner, (especially when accompanied by liqueurs from Wildebraam) and after risking life, limb and dignity on the fast track to the waterfall, the group returned to a welcome by the whole SWS faculty, who brought samples of their goodies from the various courses – and everyone enjoyed a friendly, informal feast at Harvest Table, the star item being 2 amazing potjies prepared according to the complicated dietary requirements, by Gert Booysen and Lawrence Scheepers.
Three of the media group went on an early guided run, accompanied by Jurie Fick and returned, (sweaty, but stunned, by Swellendam’s beauty) to their guesthouse for a yummy breakfast which was provided by the guesthouses to all the bloggers.
Everybody joined up together to compare their morning treats (each still convinced they had the best deal) – and then off to experience a glimpse of a course being facilitated by Debra-Leigh and Jenni – Horse Human Harmony. This course is very unique – it is not a ‘how to ride’ course but about learning the basics of the nature of horses, horse-human communication and partnership, and how to care for your horse holistically. The principles of human-horse interaction are embodied and practiced through human-human interaction, in Biodanza sessions, using movement and music to develop the capacity to relate sensitively and compassionately.
The exploration of a sample of Swellendam Winter School courses ended with a trip to Suurbraak to meet the legendary Donovan Julius at the Zinc Gallery. Donovan’s course is not yet finalised but will probably combine an artistic component – creating art from recycled objects – and a look at cultural and heritage development of the Khoi people and their descendants in Suurbraak. Elders had arrived to tell stories and there was some lekker examples of traditional food.
“A special #SwellendamWinterSchool experience was the visit to the Zinc Gallery in Suurbraak known to the locals as Xairu ‘paradise’ in the Khoi language. The land is finally back in Khoi inhabitants hands and the energy and beauty is truly paradise.
The most heartwarming part of my visit to Suurbraak was this gorgeous angel who walked up to me as we were leaving and hugged me so tightly. She didn’t want to let go and all I felt was the most incredibly happy little soul.
It brought tears to my eyes because even though the Suurbraak community has so little what they do have is a passion for their Khoi heritage, plenty of love and joy and pride. An inspiration to all of us!
Thank you @se7en_hoods for capturing this unexpected and so meaningful moment. Also thank you @swellendamwinterschool for showing us the passion and sense of community your town and surrounding areas like #Suurbraak have to offer to visitors” Abby Buchanan
Finally the media were introduced to one of Swellendam’s newer restaurants along with the story of the town’s rebellious past!
And if a taste of rebellion is as good as the food they served, I’m all up for starting a revolution!
|And so it came to an end.|
And yet, we hope, this is just the beginning.
Thank you to all those who supported the event and to the
Yazeed Kamaldien Cape Argus newspaper
MeeA Parkins Casa MeeA
Hayley Malan Hayley’s Joys
Fiona Rossiter Inspired Living SA
Lana Kenney Lanalou Style
Laura Sealey Lauras World ZA
Fayaad Hoosein Photographer
Richard Joffe One Stiletto At A Time
Abby Buchanan One Stiletto At A Time
Anna Sanfilippo Out and About with Anna
se7en se7en se7en
Christel-Michel Kruger The Nocturnal Wenchy
Photographs provided by above people, as well as Cathy Hommes,
Saskia Van Leeuwen, Amanda Shackley and John Paisley