Scott Balson's trip to South Africa -
9th September 2006 - Champagne Castle

Perth : Johannesburg : Pretoria : Pietersburg : Pilgrim's Rest : Ladysmith : Champagne Castle : Estcourt : Durban : Ixopo
Kokstad : Port Elizabeth : Plettenburg Bay : Cape Town : Victoria West : Griquatown : Mafikeng : Johannesburg : Perth

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9th September - 10th September

Was up at 6am and set out under a full moon in search of the historic Boer War battlefield known as Spioenkop. It was here that the far-from-perfect British General Sir Redvers Buller, with 19,400 men, led them in a surprise attack on just 100 Boers holding Spioenkop's crest - after failing to breach the siege of Ladysmith through the main route of Colenso. He needed a win and thought the dominating hill would be easy pickings. In one day he lost 343 men killed, 563 wounded and 187 who were taken prisoner. The Boers lost just 68 dead and 134 wounded.

My trip of search and discovery ended at a small deserted lodge - the Tugela River Lodge which lies on the road to Bergville below twin peaks near Spioenkop. Here I met with an African worker who agreed to show me how to get to Spioenkop in my car. By 8am I was back at Ladysmith and decided to visit this site of the battle of Wagon Hill before returning to the Royal Hotel for breakfast.

Missed breakfast but did not care - then went to the Ladysmith Siege Museum which , at just ZAR2 was`excellent value.

It was 11am before I set off for Spioenkop  over 60 photos below - and then two hours later onward to my destination - Champagne Castle.

It was a full day and by the end of it had taken several hundred photos.

Main Ladysmith battlefield links - Wagon Hill/Platrand - Spioenkop

Sunrise over the Natal Inlands.

Scenery in the Natal Midlands

Battle of Wagon Hill/Platrand

Useful reference booklet on battle of Platrand/Wagon Hill: 105th Commemoration of the Battle of Wagon Hill/Platrand - available from Ladysmith Siege Museum.

It took me nearly two hours to see all the forts, gun emplacement and monuments at Wagon Hill - an amazing place and there is no entry charge!

The rough track up Wagon Hill from the road leading out of Ladysmith - towards the link road to Bergville is tarred and excellent. The hill itself was the site of an important defence of Ladysmith during the lengthy siege. At this time over 13,000 British soldiers were trapped at Ladysmith - encircled by Boers who had taken up positions around the town in November 1899. On 15th December 1899 General Buller had been beaten back with significant losses at Colenso - about 20 kilometers to the south east and the Boers were now intent on capturing the small British outpost of Natal. This was an important region which had been earlier annexed from the Boers by the British against their will and they were now set on recovering what they considered to be their homeland.

Image right: The plan of Wagon Hill - then known as Platrand

The Boers were led by General Piet Joubert who, like his British counterpart, Sir George White hesitated when he should have earlier attacked. On 1st January 1900 President Kruger stirred Joubert into action as more British troops were arriving in Durban to lift the siege and fight the rebel Boer nation in the Transvaal. His attack on Wagon Hill/Platrand was launched on 6th January 1900 - with attacks on the main camp known as Caesar's Camp, Wagon Hill - see plan above right, and the flank on the left of Caesar's Camp.

Now if the Boers had taken Wagon Hill Ladysmith would have fallen as the dominating hill overlooks the old historic part of town - which would then have been within reach of artillery fire. While the Boers had 4,000 men Lieutenant General Sir George White VC had only 1,000 men - not enough to hold the entire 4 kilometer crest  so he built a number of forts. Five VCs were awarded after the battle which resulted in 175 British soldiers being killed and 249 wounded. The Boers lost 68 men and 135 wounded. See interactive map below.

Interactive Plan - click on marked areas for images

Images taken on Wagon Hill side of entry road above:

The attack by the Boers began on 6th January 1900 in the region marked "Wagon Hill" above.

The rugged terrain

Wagon Hill signs

The location of the first shots

The main Boer force climbed up

these slopes and attacked British


The British positions on Wagon Hill

The sign at the entrance

Wagon Hill as seen from below

Images taken on Caesar's Camp side of entry road above:

The typical aloe vegetation

Mono planes now take off nearby

Caesar's Camp from below

The graveyard near Caesar's

Camp and some of the monuments

Caesar's Camp signs

The Burghers

Monument where many Boers lie


The view from Caesar's Camp

Monument at

Manchester Fort

Manchester Fort

42nd Battery Gun Emplacements

My intrepid rental car

Fort Deakin

Fort Hamilton

The view of Caesar's Camp

Fort Hamilton

Monuments and grave stones

View from Fort Hamilton

 On the way back to Ladysmith I came across this appalling situation... rubbish all around the grave yard of a brave British soldier who was awarded a VC!

After checking out of the Royal Hotel I visited the Ladysmith Siege Museum... as mentioned before great value.

Images in the Royal Hotel

The Siege Museum

The Boer assault into Natal

Historic headlines

Direct hit by Boers

Town Council bldg today

Wagon Hill and Ladysmith

Where the battle began

I drove to the Spioenkop Battlefield and then at about 1pm left for Champagne Castle - where me farm lay.

Spioenkop Dam wall

The road to


Drakensberg tourist map

My old Barclays agency at

Approaching Champagne Castle

My old farm lies at end of trees

Champagne Castle

Champagne Castle Hotel

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