…a magic corner of Eden in the heart of the Overberg.
Nestled in the foothills of the Riviersonderend mountains is a peaceful, romantic village that has preserved the tranquillity of a bygone era, and the sense of really living. Greyton owes much of its special character to its humble roots; as agricultural small-holdings for ordinary folk. When Herbert Vigne laid out the village in 1854, he carved the gentle hillsides and fertile river floodplain into a harmonious crescent-shaped series of very long, narrow plots, through which a network of gravity-fed “leiwater” canals flowed to provide irrigation. The pioneer farmers built humble labourers’ cottages right next to the roads, to better farm their erven and provide vegetables to the larger towns. The small-holdings remained working farms right through to the 60s, yet the leiwater reticulation system still flows gently to this day, feeding gardens and new-vogue organic vegetable patches.
Whereas most colonial dorps originally had wide roads so one could turn an ox-wagon, Greyton, hemmed in by the mountain on one side and the river on the other, was laid out with narrow lanes, flanked by leiwater canals, utilising as much of the fertile soil as possible. Then, generation after generation, oak trees were planted, produce was marketed, and smoke gently rose from the abatjies and chimneys, mingling with the gentle mist that settles in the valley. Artists, poets, potters, architects and academics, as well as free-spirited eccentrics, began to adopt as theirs this quaint little village, which slowly morphed into the colourful cosmopolitan tourist node that it is today.
As the labourers’ cottages were renovated into retirement homes for seasonal ‘swallows’ and weekenders who escape to the village to ‘re-charge their batteries’ and rediscover a quality of life that is fast disappearing, the like-minded community grew, to cherish Greyton’s old-world charm and bucolic tranquillity. The village owes much to the courage, vision, determination and sensitivity of a small but feisty group of far-sighted villagers who, over the years, have fought to try and preserve the fragile character that gives this village its rare aura. Some of that is due to the very nature of Greytonians themselves. At the many coffee shops that dot the village, time and again one hears the story: “I came for the weekend, fell in love with the place, and stayed!”; or: “My family used to come here, so when I decided to kick back and smell the roses, I came back here.” It is that special, un-named, and elusive something that defines Greytonians. They all, individually, recognised the chilled-out, tranquil lifestyle that is to be had in this picturesque corner of the Overberg, and made the decision to opt for that, as opposed to the material hurly-burly of the malls and suburbia in other urban centres.
Greyton, in the foothills of the mountains, is at the end of a tar road which goes nowhere else, so the village isn’t strategically important. Consequently, it only has a smattering of precious old buildings, like the Moravian Church, the Post House, the Ou Pastorie and the Smouswinkel, that are in themselves heritage resources worthy of preservation. It is the complete holistic composition that gives Greyton its unique charm – the character of the humble cottages, with their steep-pitched corrugated and thatched roofs, the diverse gables and dormer windows, the colonial verandahs and leafy pergolas, the human scale of the outbuildings, the luxuriant gardens, the shady, narrow tree-lined lanes, the babbling lei-water canals, the lush commonage, the mountain backdrop and the nature reserve, with its fynbos-covered hills and flowing rivers – and the silent Milky-Way sky that blankets the village after dusk – is what makes up the precious whole that is Greyton – a magic corner of Eden in the heart of the Overberg.
TEXT Michel Rouillard
Experience Overberg #7