Birkhall, Branksome and Gateshead
By Greg Carstens
If you find yourself lucky enough to visit or indeed stay on Birkhall, Branksome or Gateshead farms in the North Eastern Cape highlands you can count yourself amongst the lucky few to leave footprints on the streambeds and take home a host of memories that will haunt your quiet time, not to mention catch wild spawn trout that are as feisty and pretty as any the world has to offer, there is a lifetimes worth of fishing without ever touching a tar rod ever again.
I have been fortunate enough to spend many an Autumn draped in golden Poplar leaves on the banks of the Sterkspruit or vividly green Spring seasons stalking the Bokspruit up on roads end at Gateshead, over time I have become friends with the custodians of these wonderful farms and their wild streams, Basie and Carien Vosloo, and you would be hard pressed to find two nicer people across the length and breadth of our land, they simply love their world, and it’s easy to appreciate why.
The very first time I met Tom Sutcliffe was on the Veranda at Birkhall homestead, Basie and Carien’s private home, Tom was smoking his pipe whilst tying flies and drinking tea, gathering inspiration from the view that looks out over the Dam and down into the Sterkspruit valley, Tom is an inspiration not only as a fly fisher, but indeed as a man, and you only need read any one of his wonderful books to enjoy stories told as well as any I have ever heard about these farms, their streams and the people that love them, indeed when I find myself here on the streams or travelling the dirt roads that connect them I can’t help but feel the greatness of the footsteps I follow in, the authenticity of the place is immense, it is fly fishing’s nirvana here on the tip of the African continent.
Each of the farms has their own unique features and the fishing is varied, at times challenging but always rewarding, I always try to stay at Branksome house, this is a proper old sandstone farmhouse with high pressed ceilings, Oregon pine floors and walls so thick I’m pleasantly insulated from snoring companions, I read in one of Tom Sutcliffe’s books that the sleep and beds on these farms are some of the finest you are likely to encounter, I must agree as they ensure sleep so deep and rejuvenating that each day is equivalent to a week elsewhere.
I always rise fairly early, and sitting on the veranda drinking my coffee enjoying a quiet smoke I wait for the eastern sun to peep over the mountains. I listen to the sounds of the farm and I wish this old house could talk as you can feel the history worn into the walls, this is not one of those fly fishing resort type weekend condos adorned with fly fishing paraphernalia, this is a working farmhouse, a place in which lives were lived and history was made, people were born and died, like I said the authenticity is immense.
The Vosloo farms are blessed with some of the finest fishing streams, the water varies between deep tank pools that are emerald green and riffle stretches with undercut banks, with Gateshead being a near untouched paradise, I have a favourite bend on the Sterkspruit at Birkhall that is my banker, I always catch fish here and generally start out my trip with an afternoon testing the trout to uncover their secrets, this sets the tone for the rest of my trip. You can arrange fishing on any of the Wild trout association waters through Carien, dozens of farms on over a half a dozen streams, it would take months to start where you began.
Basie once told me that when he wants to just unwind and get away from it all he heads up to Gateshead cottage with a couple of books and a fly rod, bear in mind that his nearest neighbour is miles away and you’ll start to get a feel for peace and quiet that’s rarely found elsewhere. Indeed of all the farms I’ve fished in all the valleys I visited in these parts Gateshead is as wild and untouched as it gets.
I imagine that if you are reading my view of the farms and their streams that either you’ve been there and you get what I’m on about, or you are considering taking your first trip up to these mountains, valleys and streams and if it’s the latter I seriously envy you, for a discovery like this comes once in a lifetime, it changes the way you look at fly fishing, the region is vast and there are runs and riffles that you may perhaps only visit once in your time on earth, it is a rare and wonderful place and Birkhall, Branksome and Gateshead are amongst the finest in the whole region.