Keiskammahoek, Amatola

Not many people know where Keiskammahoek is.

Those who do travel the lesser-known roads of the Eastern Cape between King William's Town or Fort Hare, and Stutterheim - up the Red Hill and Dontsa passes - to reach it, before taking the crook of the R352 east.

The mountain passes to Keiskammahoek suggest hills and, indeed, the village rests in the foothills of the Amatola Mountains. The little, mainly Xhosa stronghold, lies in an otherwise drought-stricken part of the country. But here the Keiskamma and Gxulu Rivers meet, meaning the town is never without water.

The name Keiskammahoek is a combination Dutch and Khoikhoi name that, when translated, literally means 'corner of shining waters'. Before 1847 this former Ciskei community was known as Qobo Qobo, or 'fragile thing'.

Most people who visit Keiskammahoek come here for the history. There are still remnants of incredible architectural heritage that date back to a time when the village was known as 'the camp in the mountains' a British military outpost during the border conflict of 1846.

For a short-lived period after the conflict Keiskammahoek became a Scottish mission station (known as Uniondale, interestingly), but further border hostilities put paid to the venture as the British once again established a camp here.

After erecting a fortified tower the colonial government declared the area a Royal Crown Reserve and settlers began building homes at Keiskammahoek, joined by German legionnaires and their families in 1857 and 1858.

Today as many as 50 of the initial churches, chapel and buildings remain, part of an architectural heritage worthy of preservation and restoration.

Most of these buildings line the main street through town, a group of architecture colonial in character. Another cluster lies around the old mill. Seven churches, a library, a hotel, a village hall and shops, a little pioneer cottage and larger homes date back to the 1920s and even as far back as the late 19th century.

Blueberries are grown around Keiskammahoek on farms like Thornhill farm, a private-public sector initiative whose goal it is to establish a blueberry belt in the area, and provide employment to those who otherwise, live predominantly on grants from the State.

Stay: Cata Lodge at Cata Village, 17 km from Keiskammahoek, is a community-owned and run initiative that includes chalets and homestays with Cata Village families.

From there you can hike the Cape Parrot Day Hiking Trail, mountain bike, bird watch and flyfish. A highlight is the Heritage Trail that includes a visit to the only museum in the country that tells the story of rural land dispossession.

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