There’s a sense of freedom when taking a roadtrip alone. Being able to decide where to stop, how long to stay, what music to play (he’s into trance, I’m more of a 70s child).
En route south from Kommetjie to Scarborough on the tip of the Cape Peninsula, I have a chance to exercise this liberation when I see a slab of turquoise ocean dotted with brightly coloured kites. Throwing caution to the south-easter, I swing the car into a nifty U-turn and park on the strip of dirt that masquerades as a parking place.
I’m not alone. The spot is alive with foreign accents, as enthusiastic kiteboarders and windsurfers prepare for the steep walk down the cliff, and an expression session on the ocean. There’s amazing aerial action as I grab my camera, brace myself against the howling south-easter and click away.
The spray of the sea
I am a lover of the ocean, a thalassophile, an aquaholic and, right now, there’s no better place to be. I know this area and its treacherous currents. There’s a lack of wind on the inside, just when I’m pumping my sail frantically and need its power to propel me through the crunching surf. It’s rather like dealing with an urgent deadline and along comes load shedding.
While I’m snapping away, a Rastafarian crosses the road to offer me some of his home-grown. I decline. Unsurprisingly, he does not want to be photographed. Time is ticking by and I need to get to Scarborough, along what must be the most beautiful seaside drive in South Africa.
Misty Cliffs, on the outskirts of the village, lives up to its name as clouds swirl through the gap in the mountain to be met by the spray of sea. Declared a conservation village in 1996, it’s not difficult to understand why people have made Scarborough their home. With its rocky headland, numerous pools, kelp beds, stretch of beach, excellent surfing spots and arguably the best place on the Peninsula between the Slangkop and Red Hills mountains to watch the sun set, I am hooked.
Previously known as Schoesters Kraal and Kogelfontein (two farms), the name of the village evolved into just Shusterskraal when the farm boundaries fell away. In 1923, (no one knows why or by whom) the village was named Scarborough. The name originates from the place of the same name in England, so named because when the Vikings took over the area in 966, a certain Thorgil Skarthi built a fort there. He had a harelip, which in Norse is skarthi. ‘Borough’ means ‘fort’, so the name Scarborough translates as ‘Harelip’s Fort’ or Skarthiborough (or back in the day as Skarðaborg).
Artists, hippies and free-thinkers
When in Scarborough, do as the ‘Scarbarians’ do, (I’m told this is what the locals call themselves), so I head to The Hub Café and Foragers Deli. Crowding into the downstairs café is a large group of cyclists enjoying mid-ride cappuccinos and smoothies. Upstairs, I meet co-owner Natasha Tait in full waitron/manageress mode, whose partner is Kyall Goodman.
“We watch what the wind is going to do, so we know if the kiteboarders are going to stay in the area for the day or head north. It helps us with catering,” she says. “During the summer months, we have many Europeans who come here to enjoy the great wind and surf conditions. Recently we’ve also had loads of Eastern Europeans.”
The Hub has a coffee shop, deli and restaurant and, as I enjoy a latte, I feel as if I’ve just stepped into a café in Europe.
“It was never our idea to open a restaurant,” says Natasha. “We started preparing meals and organising dinners in peoples’ homes. With so many foreign visitors doing self-catering, it was a great opportunity. Then the house that is now The Hub came up for sale and we thought why not?”
Scarborough is the bohemian heaven of the Cape. ‘Behind the lentil curtain’, as they say, where artists, hippies and free-thinkers, with children who have names like ‘Ziggy’ and ‘Indigo’, settled. They were joined later by surfers, kiteboarders and ex-yachties, who washed up onto this shore together with city slickers, looking for fresh air and a better lifestyle.
I meet up with Marianne Furlong, an ex-estate agent who sold everything she owned, bought a yacht and travelled the world. “In the end, though, we were tired of yachting. Some pretty hectic incidents helped make the decision to come back to South Africa and set up home again. We just love the friendly vibe here. It’s very sociable. As locals you know practically everybody.”
Picnics on the beach
Fiercely determined to maintain a small-town ethos, the residents won’t allow street lights, or their confusing network of higgledy-piggledy roads to be widened and tarred. A small house near the beach offers honey for sale but, other than that – and the more recently opened Foragers Deli and a small kiosk adjoining Camel Rock – you won’t find shops in Scarborough.
Marianne and her husband Russel invite me to do as the locals do, and take a sundowner stroll to the beach. It’s buzzing with dogs, walkers, a ballgame, and surfers squeezing the last few rides from the sea.
“It’s what we do most nights. A lovely end to the day,” she tells me. “Sometimes we meet friends and go to their home for a drink afterwards.” (Soon I’m enjoying the same, sprawled on someone’s stoep.)
It’s here that I meet Anna Lawson, a British yachtie turned landlubber, whose French partner owns a house in Scarborough. She enthuses about the town, “On New Year’s Eve, two men play bagpipes to herald in the New Year, while we all picnic on the beach. It’s festive and friendly.”
What I soon learn is that there are two sides to this village – above or below Main Road. The steep hillside offers wonderful views but, to those below Main Road, it’s just not close enough to the beach. We debate the ‘above or below’ position, until it’s time to stroll home.
Next morning I’m up early, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Cape clawless otter, (although they apparently do have three on each hind foot), which, I’m told, frequents the area bordering the Cape Point Nature Reserve at Schuster’s River. I don’t get as much as a glimpse of a tail.
Later, I conduct an informal poll and discover that most of the residents never have spotted an otter, which is comforting. And Scarborough’s iconic Camel Rock isn’t about to go dashing into the sand dunes so I appease myself by taking time
to photograph it from every angle.
The magnificent view and smell of the sea
Despite its sleepy stature, Scarborough is home to many entrepreneurs and creators. One practical innovation is the Scarborough and Misty Cliffs Fire Unit of more than 100 volunteers, using equipment purchased by the community via local fundraising activities and donations.
Just out of town, I meet Bruce Bells, entrepreneur, potter and owner of the Redhill Pottery studio. He greets me while dipping plates into a glaze, for export to Dubai. “Thirteen years ago, I had the opportunity of taking a corporate package. I knew nothing about pottery then, but wanted a better lifestyle, so bought the business. Brother and sister team Jason Page and Glenda Klein were already employed here, and they have been with me ever since.
We developed the original ‘enamel’ pottery look and now also supply across the world, as well as sell from here.”
I cross the road and hike up the hill to meet artist Eleanor Turvey, one of South Africa’s most innovative collage artists. “I always wanted to live next to the sea and paint,” she says. “It was my dream and now here I am.”
Ambling back down towards the beach, I watch the low sun shimmer on the sea. I’m greeted casually by people along the road – the long-haired surfer, the enthusiastic gardener who waves a spade, the Eastern European kiteboarder nods, two elderly chaps idly passing the time of day. Someone I met on the beach stops to chat, a kid with a bodyboard looks surly, but on seeing me grins broadly… I feel at home.
Once again, I ponder the ‘above or below’ viewpoint. The magnificent view above, or the smell and feel of the sea below? Both appeal because, either way, happiness comes in waves.
The Hub Café 071 342 5210
Foragers Deli 071 342 5210
Redhill Pottery 021 780 9297