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Day 11

Sunday 14 August 2005

Drakensberg Sun Hotel, Drakensberg - Stilwater Hotel

What a day!

After Raymond Heron made us all experts on the history of the region, we were all able to appreciate visits to places that before now had only been names in history books. The sites were made famous in three different conflicts: between Zulu warriors and white Boer settlers in 1838; between the Zulu and the British armies in 1879; and between the Boers and the British in 1899-1900.

We visited the sites in reverse chronological order, starting with the hill of Spioenkop. In January 1900, a Boer force fought an inconclusive battle with the British, both sides retreating, before the Boers finally took the hill unopposed. The graves and memorials are poignant reminders of those who died. It was very humbling to stand at the top of Spioenkop and see how young the soldiers were. The hill also, however, had tremendous views, especially of the Drakensberg in the distance.

Before we visited the next site we had a quick lunch stop at the Talana Museum in Dundee, which celebrates many different aspects of local life, agriculture and industry. In particular, Dr Greg had kittens over the model railway exhibit.

The next two sites were made famous in the movies - the first in the Michael Caine movie, Zulu. On 23 January 1879, 139 British soldiers successfully defended a small mission station at Rorke's Drift against 4,000 Zulu warriors, with a loss of only 17 men.

Early visitors to Rorke's Drift, including John and Elaine Chambers, were fortunate enough to be able to attend a young choir's practice session in the church and we know that Elaine will confess to shedding a tear at the beauty of the singing in such a setting.

The day before the battle of Rorke's Drift, it had been a different story, which has been told in another film, Zulu Dawn. On 22 January, at Isandlwana, a well organised Zulu army of 20,000 took a small British force of 1,000 men by surprise. Now, piles of white rocks fill the countryside and symbolise the places where British soldiers fell.

The last site of the day was Blood River. On 16 December 1838, the Boers were attacked by 12,000 Zulu warriors. The 465 Boers drew their covered wagons into a tight circle (called a laager) and held off the onslaught, miraculously incurring no loss of life but killing about 3,000 Zulus. The site has two ports of call: firstly the nCome Museum, which offers a Zulu view of the site; the second, and perhaps the most impressive sight of the day, is the amazing Blood River Monument, a slightly larger than life-size circle of 64 bronze wagons created in 1971. A truly breathtaking site to end a memorable day, before heading to our over night halt in Stilwater, where Sir Terence English wowed the locals with his knowledge of drinking tricks.