Here be Dragons or Boers

I was a child. Of course, every good story start with this line and sometimes it ends badly and all too quickly but this slice of my childhood was a particularly good one - my memories of my father's fondness for Danny Kaye movies.This Scottish brogue line"'Tis a bright and brillig moonligt nigt t'nigt!" must have come from his movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty but I'm not sure.Be this as it may, it was forever imprinted on my young mind and it was my first introduction to the sweet, accordant, and melodious ear of the Scottish lilt. At the tender age of seven or eight all I wanted to do was emulate that earthy sound. Well, many Bravehearts later I still love the Scots. A hippie at heart, I long to one day go to this mystical land and experience the passion, nuance, drama, music, history and charm of Scotland.In the meantime, a tiny, tenuous sliver of that magical place would have to suffice in the form of the Cape Town Castle - Cape Town being my home town - where echoes of the Scots are heard and sometimes seen. The Castle, as it's simply known, has an interesting and checkered history.According to the official website, the Castle of Good Hope is the oldest surviving building in South Africa. Built between 1666 and 1679, this pentagonal fortification replaced a small fort of timber and clay built by Commander Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 upon establishing a maritime replenishment station at the Cape of Good Hope for the Dutch East Indian Company; better known as the VOC (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie).On 26 April 1679 the five bastions were named after the main titles of Willem, the Prince of Orange. The Western Bastion was named Leerdam, followed in clockwise order by Buuren, Catzenellenbogen, Nassau and Oranje. In 1936 the Castle was declared a National Monument. As a result of an extensive, ongoing restoration and conservation programme launched in the 1980s, the Castle of Good Hope remains the best preserved of its kind built by the VOC in regions where it had interests in previous centuries.Today, the Castle of Good Hope house the famous William Fehr Collection of historic artworks, the Castle Military Museum and ceremonial facilities for traditional Cape Regiments. It is a very popular tourist attraction and invites visitors from all over the world to experience its rich history and unique place in the development of the country.The Cape Town Military Tattoo is held in the beautiful Voorplein (the front bailey or courtyard) of the Castle on an annual basis, the latest of literally thousands of military parades and ceremonies to be held inside South Africa's oldest functional building, Cape Town's watchdog in the past 320-odd years. The Castle firmly bridges the centuries: a regiment of the modern Army is headquartered just outside its walls, but the old early-morning parade is still carried out on weekdays - although at 10am and 12pm, for the benefit of tourists.Of course, no castle worth its salt would be complete without ghosts. The first sightings of a two meter tall, luminous figure that apparently disappeared into thin air as soon as anyone came near, were reported in 1915. It was next seen more than 30 years later in 1947, seemingly leaping over the battlements. Footsteps are also frequently heard in the same area of the castle.The ghost stories, if one believes in such things, would make sense to some seeing as the Castle was also the infamous location of many imprisonments, frequently accompanied by torture and subsequent death of prisoners. There are cells still eerily sporting graffiti within the Castle but the most dreaded was known as the "Donker Gat" or Dark Hole, a windowless dungeon which doubled as a torture chamber.During the winter floods, the water rose three feet within minutes sometimes, drowning the inmates chained to the dungeon walls. Escaped slaves, bandits and outlaws were frequently executed within the Castle walls. But the Castle is also home to more benign, human forms, though no less timeless; it houses the Cape Town Highlanders' regimental headquarters. To be more specific, it is located at Castle Barracks, a cluster of historic military buildings next to the Castle.Patriotic Capetonians of Scottish ancestry raised the Cape Town Highlanders in 1885. Their services were accepted on April 24 - celebrated ever since as the regimental birthday.During World War I the CTH served against the Germans in South West Africa, then combined forces with the Transvaal Scottish to form a service battalion called the 4th South African Infantry (South African Scottish) for Brigadier Tim Lukin's immortal 1st S A Brigade, which fought in the Senussi Campaign in North Africa and then went on to France, where it won undying fame at Delville Wood and many other battles between 1916 and 1918.Although the CTH mobilised in September 1939 on the outbreak of World War II it did not serve in the Abyssinian Campaign of 1940-1941. In mid-1941 it went briefly to Egypt to escort thousands of Italian prisoners of ear to internment in South Africa, then returned in late June to join the newly arrived 1st South African Division in the Western Desert.Many of the men who served in the Cape Town Highlanders over the past century have obviously been of Scottish ancestry. However, people of other origins have always been welcome, provided they accept the CTH's customs and are willing to do their bit. In 1955 the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Denzil Loveland, was asked about this. His reply was: 'Once they put on the kilt, they are all damn fine Highlanders'.The Cape Town Castle remains the personification of history - if her walls could talk she would get a ghost writer to write the equivalent of War and Peace - a metaphor on all possible levels. The squat old grey lady remains part of the heart of Cape Town. Thousands of Capetonians have a family connection with the Castle. Some of their forebears helped to build it, some guarded it, some worked in it, others were imprisoned inside it, while yet others simply stared at in wonder. But all these ancestral strands lead back to the Castle.By Jo Kromberg
Cape Town Hotel Accommodation
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