It was back in 1975 that I visited the amazing gorge between Wolesley and Ceres in South Africa’s Western Cape region. The Mitchell’s pass is one spectacular gorge, and now courtesy of a new company you can again ride through the gorge behind steam In fact, I believe it was freight only back when I photographed there.
We had just finished an exciting few days photographing what was to be the last Cape Fruit Season featuring 14CRB and GEA Garratts, and took the time to visit this branch line on our way east.
I distinctly remember siting Baboons on the hill above the gorge and we got some magnificent shots of the 24 class on the local mixed train.
The gorge has to be seen to be believed, rising rapidly from the Veldt.
Now the line has been revived as a tourist railway, meaning you can now travel through the gorge and imagine what it was like 30 years ago when steam was a regular occurrence. I will leave you with one more of my images from that time, and the story of the new operation, started last December. The operation includes diesel hauled freight traffic during the week, and steam hauled weekend excursions finishing at the Mount Waverley Hills organic Winery. Well worth a visit if you aven’t been there and brings back fond memories for me.
Plenty of Baboons in those hills as the 24 class climbs through the Ceres Gorge in April 1975 Photo John Gaydon
These days they use a 19D and a 19B as you can see in the video at the end of this post.
Here is the story on the new operation courtesy of capetownmagazine.com
Travel by rail through one of the most scenic routes in the Western Cape
Sitting pretty in the Cape Winelands approximately 135km from the CDB, Ceres is well-known for producing some of the finest fruit in South Africa as well as for its dried fruit, fruit juices and natural spring water. Now, adding to the region’s repertoire is Ceres Rail Company, a railway business that restores historic steam trains to not only bring new life to the old locomotives, but also to the beautiful Ceres Valley in which they run.
“It is basically one of the most scenic routes you can travel by train in the Western Cape,” says Derick du Toit, co-founder of Ceres Rail Company together with business partner Simon Beckett. The train officially puffed into life in November 2015 and runs through the Ceres Golf Estate which the duo collectively own. “Because the railway line ran through a tunnel onto our estate, we decided to rejuvenate the line and to then form Ceres Rail Company. We own and operate the steam trains,” explains Derick.
The objectives of the Ceres Rail Company are twofold. While the authentic train service is uses diesel locomotives on weekdays to transport fruit and other agricultural products to Cape Town from Ceres, the steam trains are available to the public on weekends for scenic railway trips. Using the railway lines for freight during the week helps Ceres Rail Company subsidise the tourism side of their company, as well as helps to maintain the railways.
What’s more, the company has a concession agreement with Transnet for the railway line between Wolseley and Prince Alfred Hamlet, as well as a freight agreement with Transnet Freight Rail. “We run freight Monday to Friday from Ceres to Cape Town harbour,” says Derick. “Ceres is a major fruit producing area that generates a large amount of foreign dollars via exports. What we are trying to do is move the freight that is currently travelling by road onto rail.”
Currently Ceres Rail Company offers a return train ride departing from Demeter Station at Ceres Golf Estate to Waverley Hills, an organic wine and olive estate located just outside Wolseley. The complete trip takes approximately two and a half hours and passengers have the opportunity to disembark at the winery and enjoy some time there. The train then proceeds to Wolseley, where it turns around and returns to Waverley Hills. Unfortunately passengers are not permitted to disembark at Wolseley.
At Waverley Hills, passengers have about an hour to explore the stunning grounds as well as enjoy a pre-ordered meal hamper and wine tasting before the train departs again. Passengers may not bring their own food or drinks onto the train and all meal hampers must be pre-ordered through Ceres Rail Company upon booking. There is a cash bar available on board.
“Later on”, Derick continues, “we wish to extend this return trip to run between Ceres Golf Estate, Wolseley and Prince Alfred Hamlet”. Not to mention, come March 2016 Ceres Rail Company aims to officially launch their Cape Town to Ceres return trip. Once the route is running, Ceres Rail Company intends to do transfers from Ceres Golf Estate to Tulbagh and Matroosberg Nature Reserve, as well as to other surrounding areas.
“Ultimately, we are aiming to build a tourist destination that is very close to Cape Town for locals and internationals alike,” explains Derick. “We want the whole tourist industry in Ceres to benefit from the train.” Once the Cape Town to Ceres railway is open, Ceres Rail Company is planning on building a station at the V&A Waterfront, which will make it easy for passengers to embark on a railway journey through the Cape Winelands region.
“We are linking the whole Ceres Valley (along with its fruit and snow) to Cape Town – it is truly such a great destination. Also, the nice thing about Ceres,” laughs Derick, “is that when the South Easter wind blows in Cape Town, it doesn’t blow here”.