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Nick Norman's road trip | Second week's highlights

Nick Norman's road trip | Second week's highlights

Nick Norman, author of Geology off the Beaten Track, is currently traveling the routes covered in his book and you can follow him on his road trip. Visit www.randomstruik.co.za/geology to see the route map and click on your area to RSVP to one of the events.

We mentioned in our last post that Nick is also blogging along the way, keeping us up to date on his travels and explorations. Here are some highlights form his second week of his road trip where he passes through Aliwal North and Smithfield on his way to Bloemfontein.

Nick Norman's second week highlights | 13 November 2013

Two launches later, one in Aliwal North, the other in Smithfield (both on the N6) last night.

In Aliwal North I met with about 15 members of the community at the country’s third oldest gold club. The meeting had been organised by my old school friend Oliver Newton, whom I have known for 60 years, so we go back a bit. I particularly wanted to revisit Aliwal North because it was such a special stop-over as I covered the routes for the book, with a rich legacy of fossil discoveries in those parts. This heritage was thanks mainly to the extraordinary exploits of a man named ‘Gogga’ Brown, who scoured the rocks there many decades ago in search of the next important new discovery.

The interest during the meeting was lively, with some penetrating questions afterwards. Oliver and his wife Marianne and a few other stalwarts stayed on enjoying the Porcupine Ridge wine, as the discussion turned to diamonds. The Orange River flows close to the town and long ago there was some working for diamonds nearby, washed down from the fertile kimberlite pipes in Lesotho. Since I had brought some copies of The Extraordinary World of Diamonds with me, these were duly brought out. It has never been my intention to distract attention from the focus on the two travel guides, particularly the recent Geology off the Beaten Track, so I do not routinely show the diamond book, but I did so on this appropriate occasion since I found myself the target of gently cynical conspiracy theory centred on De Beers. How much was my silence on the subject worth was the question. In the end my emphatic denial of any underhand business was - grudgingly – accepted, and the talk returned to geology.

So much so that one of the local entrepreneurs took me out on the Barkly East road the next day to look at some roadside exposures that had aroused his curiosity. We saw some wonderful geology, including lowermost Drakensberg basalt interlayered with sedimentary rock, and my new-found friend learned that geologists do not always have all the answers. As a civil engineer he was quick to point out that they are equally fallible.

In Smithfield last night the gathering was smaller but equally enthusiastic and I was graciously accommodated in the B&B establishment of fellow author Carmel Rickard, who doubles as journalist and the town’s impresario. In June this year the first local festival – the Platteland Preview - was held in the town, boasting a number of shows by performers en route to the Grahamstown Festival and Carmel is already busy preparing for the second of what is to be an annual event.

After breakfast I’m on the road to Bloemfontein, where a meeting is being hosted by representatives of the Karoo Development Foundation at 10:00 at the university, and then it’s on to Pietermaritzburg, where a launch is being hosted by Bookworld in the Cascade Centre tomorrow evening. More news over the weekend.

Go to www.randomstruik.co.za/geology to see my whole route.

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