Nicky Cloete Hopkins shares her memories of growing up in Constantia.
Living in Constantia was a happy accident for me, dating from the time when my ancestor, Hendrik Cloete bought Groot Constantia. My branch of the family moved away, first to farm the land in Stellenbosch and then in Durbanville.
Dirk and his wealthy wife, Katarina Reneira Cloete then decided to buy Alphen, a small property of 11 acres, near to their Groot Constantia cousins. Dirk had inherited the ability to farm from Hendrik and increased the size of the farm until it spread over most of the northern end of the Constantia Valley. It was here the family stayed.
I was born when much of the farm remained intact and was able to run as a child barefoot through the warm summer vineyards or the squelchy mud after a proper winter downpour. My brother and I, the children of the “Groothuis” along with the farm children all paddled and swam and built dams in the Diep River that now runs along the popular Alphen Trail. I rode my pony through pine and poplar forests and my bicycle along the quiet roads on and around the farm.
My grandmother lived nearby on the farm, and we visited her every day while she worked in her five-acre garden. (The two lone gateposts on the Constantia Road were the entrance to her house). We could pick the strawberries and figs and ask if we could be invited to lunch so we could eat the peas and beans and carrots she would gather especially for us. No-one knew about organic then. That was just the way things were grown. My mother tried to keep chickens for eggs, but my Daschunds put a stop to that!
The scent of crushed grapes from the harvest lasted in the ground outside of the cellars until the first rains of winter. Perhaps it is scents and tastes that evoke the most vivid memories of childhood. We had no fear. Doors and windows were left open overnight. We went to sleep secure in the knowledge that it would only be the sound of old Louis ringing the bronze bell that hung in the fork of the oak tree outside of my bedroom window, that would wake us and the farm workers.
In the 1960’s other people discovered that Constantia was a magnificent place to live. Our farm and others around it were subdivided, and new roads and freeways made it easy to travel to town for work and so the wealthier citizens chose to move here. Simple houses and farms became “gentrified” and the heart of the old Alphen farm, reduced to its original 11 acres, where we still live was changed forever.
When my father died, my husband, Dudley and I decided that we would and could make the best possible use of the old property. Much of what we have done has been done to generate funds to maintain and improve the buildings. Much else is just for Alphen.
Our reward is to see the beauty of its forms and spaces being revealed and adding to the vision of my ancestors.