The Wartrail & New England areas are steeped in history. The region was originally inhabited by the San who lived in nomadic hunter-gather family groups. Their legacy remains with us today through abundant rock art sites in the district. See below for more information. Later, 1820 settlers and Trekboers moved northwards from the Grahamstown area and created the farming districts of Wartrail & New England. In fact, many of the guest farms in the region are owned by their 3rd or 4th generation descendants, many of whom have fine stories to tell about days gone by. The region was first surveyed in 1861 by Joseph Orpen, an Irishman, whose descendants still live in the area today. The names of the farms in the region including Ben Nevis, Glen Gyle and Pitlochrie indicate that the area reminded him of the Scottish Highlands. There is even a Loch Ness dam below Tiffindell, and although no living monsters have been spotted as yet, there are dinosaur fossils in the area dating back over 180 million years ago to the Jurassic Period.

The community is warm-hearted and close-knit – it pays to be friends with your neighbours in these remote mountains. Each Saturday at the Wartrail Country Club there is an opportunity for the local farming families to get together for a social game of tennis and enjoy chatting over a delicious tea. Guests staying in the Wartrail & New England districts are very welcome to join in the fun and it’s a great chance to meet the locals.

Wartrail is not, as many people think, a ‘trail’ but a farming district. The name derives from skirmishes between the cattle raiding parties of King Moshesh, and the Xhosa people living nearer to Barkly East. New England is famous for its narrow gauge railway line, and in particular the zig-zag railway reverses of which there are only 3 of their kind in the world. Until relatively recently this railway line was a vital link with neighbouring towns and was used for transporting stock and supplies. There is an excellent viewing point of the reverses on the pass above Loch Bridge, itself a national monument. One of the original steam locomotives can be viewed in Barkly East and nearby you can visit our local museum. Further afield, the pretty Victorian villages of Rhodes and Lady Grey offer a wealth of history and there are interesting tales about the 8 passes connecting the region, including Naudes Nek, the highest pass in South Africa.

The Eastern Cape Highlands was originally inhabited by the San who have left an abundant legacy of rock art sites which we are proud to conserve. San paintings are not only known for their beauty and detail but for what they can tell us about the San culture and beliefs. As hunter-gatherers, the San people’s lives revolved around external elements such as weather, seasonal availability of vegetation and movement of game. They believed in the power of their shamans, or ritual specialists, to help control these natural forces and to heal the sick. To practise their traditional rituals, the shamans would enter a state of trance and it is thought that many of the paintings are a way of visually reflecting their hallucinations to the rest of the group. Although rock art is most often associated with the San people, Eastern Caperock art sites also include paintings and inscriptions by the Khoi, Nguni and European settlers. It is thought that the last shamen-artists were found in the Maclear region at the turn of the 20th century. Rock Art in South Africa is therefore a non-renewable resource and must be respected and protected as such. It is sad to say that nowadays the biggest factor in the damage to rock art sites is the ill-informed and unguided visitor.
In order to protect this heritage for future generations, please act responsibly and observe the following guidelines at sites:

  • Always remember that rock art is fragile and is protected by law.
  • Move carefully at sites so as not to generate dust or disturb the special atmosphere
  • Never touch or wet rock art – it is damaging and illegal
  • Leave all archaeological artefacts as they are – don’t take them away or move them from their original site
  • You may take as many photographs as you like – use natural light for best results.

Wartrail & New England recognises that rock art is not a commodity and in advertising our rock art sites we do so with respect, for the art’s future conservation and so that all people within South Africa and elsewhere can experience more of this precious heritage.

Over many years Cedric Isted of Halstone Guest Farm has collected an incredible collection of hand-operated machinery and tools, as well as other local artefacts. The items are housed in a beautiful sandstone building that Cedric built by hand. By special arrangement and subject to his availability, it is possible to view his collection. Ask your hosts to make arrangements if you are interested in visiting this fascinating look back in time.