Nieu-Bethesda: Owls, Pilgrims and explorers

The attractive little town of Nieu-Bethesda, established in 1875, lies in the southern foothills of the Sneeuberg. Over it towers Compassberg, which at 2 502m is the highest peak of the range. This mountain was named by Governor Joachim van Plettenberg and Colonel Jacob Gordon in 1778 because from its summit they could “encompass a panoramic view of the whole countryside.” The availability of water – generously flowing from perennial mountain streams – led to the choice of this spot for a town in the otherwise arid countryside. These streams inspired Graaff Reinet’s Dutch Reformed minister Rev Andrew Murray to choose the name Bethesda (“place of flowing waters”), from John 5: verse 2-4, for the fledgling village. When he named the town in Dutch, he said “Laten sy dese plaats nu Bethesda noemen. (Let us now name the place Bethesda), but locals mistook his meaning and instead of translating “nu” into “now”, they took it to mean “new” and so for ever after the village was known as Nieu-Bethesda. Just getting to this delightful village is an adventure of sightseeing along a winding mountain road which affords breathtaking views around each bend. One of the prime attractions is the Owl House, stark, disturbing, haunting, but unforgettable.


© Rose’s Roundup, vol. 2, no. 52, January 2008.

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