The Owl House in Nieu Bethesda

Nieu Bethesda is hidden in the Great Karoo and perhaps best known for The Owl House so I planned a circular drive from Graaff Reinet. Google Maps said 119 kms and 2.25 hours but did not mention the potholed dirt road and almost complete lack of signposts!

We set off on the R63 out of Graaff Reinet to Murraysberg, driving through the Camdebo National Park. It was a fine day and after the Oudeberg Pass we turned on to a dirt road marked ‘The Owl Route’ – almost the only signpost until we eventually found Nieu Bethesda – 2 hours later!

Sky over the Karoo
Sky over the Karoo
Nqweba Dam (van Ryneveld's Dam)
Nqweba Dam (van Ryneveld’s Dam)
Tortoise on the edge of the road
Tortoise on the edge of the road
The R63 going off to Murraysberg
The R63 going off to Murraysberg

The Karoo

The Karoo

Water - an unusual sight
Water – an unusual sight

And finally we arrived in Nieu Bethesda.

Finally - New Bethesda
Nieu Bethesda main street
Quinces in Nieu Bethesda
Quinces in Nieu Bethesda
Restaurants near The Owl House
Restaurants near The Owl House

Helen Martins, or ‘Miss Helen’ as she was known locally, was born in Nieu Bethesda and returned to look after her elderly, ill parents. After the death of both her parents she stayed on, turning her home into ‘The Owl House’, surrounded by strange figures.

Helen Martins' Owl House

Helen Martin's Owl House

Helen Martins' Owl House

Helen Martins' Owl House

Helen Martins' Owl House

Helen Martins' Owl House Helen Martins' Owl House

Much is written about a house filled with light and colour, and this is true, but I felt uncomfortable – the walls are covered in ground glass, untouchable unless you are prepared to hurt yourself – there was nothing soft, welcoming, or safe – it wasn’t what I would call ‘home’. To me the figures in the yard seemed more of a subconscious nightmare than a magical fantasy world, and I wondered about the father who she confined in a room painted black with no windows when he was terminally ill, leaving his care to others.

We retreated to a cup of tea, which we found accompanied by pancakes at The Stoep. 

The Stoep, New Bethesda
The Stoep, New Bethesda

On the road back to Graaff Reinet.

Compassberg overlooks Nieu Bethesda
Compassberg overlooks Nieu Bethesda
The Karoo
The Karoo

That night I needed something more than tea!

South African Wine

You may be interested in
Helen Martins, and here and here
Nieu Bethesda, and two interesting articles on the village

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