Bell River, Lower Beats
15 min - 1 hour from Rhodes
This hallowed stream rises on the escarpment near Tenahead Lodge. The high-altitude portion of this water is characterised by shallow, fast-flowing water over bedrock streambeds. Occasional boulders, that had their origins on the surrounding peaks, lie in the streambed and influence the flow. The well-grassed banks often have very productive undercuts. No trees survive here, but you will see alpine flowers in season. Closer to its source, the Bell River flows through a valley with a relatively small, one-sided flood plain with a few contributing wetlands. The river then flows into a gorge and through a schism in the landscape, losing altitude rapidly over a relatively short distance. The Bell picks up a few tributaries on the way downstream, namely the Kloppershoek, Carlisleshoek and Maartenshoek streams. Further downstream, where the gradient flattens out, the river widens its meanders and flattens, now with sand and gravel bottoms. The banks used to be shaded by crack willow trees (Salix fragilis), but a government sponsored “Working for Water” program has eradicated most these. Although most people fish the Bell for trout, yellowfish is occasionally encountered, as they move up towards the source to spawn during the warmer months. Beware of the sun and elements when visiting the higher beats; in the mountains, prevailing conditions can change rapidly.
Earlstown Upper (Eirwyn) (WTA)
The shallow, sandy-bottomed stream flows down past the irrigated fields below the cemetery. The river braids and narrows, with deeper channels and a cobbled streambed. This relatively short beat is accessible on foot from the village and can be great fun with dry flies, at particularly at dusk. This is also a great idea for a first afternoon’s fishing after a long day behind the wheel.
Monard (Fred Steynberg)
Here the river flows through pastures. The substrate is generally sandy and fairly shallow. There are a few deeper pools, especially just below the homestead.
In this beat, the Bell has a predominantly sandy bottom and some form of structure on every bend. Fishing is a lot easier now that the crack willow skeletons have been removed from the streambed, although it has seen some loss of habitat for the trout: these tree skeletons created a lot of habitat by channelling the flow to scour out holes. The longer, flat-looking pools have a slightly deeper channel against one or both of the banks and there are a few undercuts. Some aspects of this water are small and intimate.
Glass Nevin (WTA)
The Maartenshoek stream joins the Bell just above the bridge and this could be considered the beginning of the lower Bell River. This beat fishes upstream from the bridge. Here, the slower flowing Bell has long pools that vary from sandy-bottomed upstream to sandstone bedrock downstream. There is riffle water to be found at the heads of pools and on bends. The stream flows between a cliff face and pastures and sometimes has steep banks, making it difficult, at times, to get your fly to sighted fish. There are still a few weeping willows that survived the eradication program. There are a lot of trout to be found here, as well as yellowfish during summer.
Lower Glass Nevin (WTA)
In this beat, the Bell flows through a valley, with cliffs on one bank. There are some long, shallow pools with riffles in between. Downstream, the river narrows, with deeper holes on river bends and some riffles at pool heads. For some reason, this beat is rarely fished.
This is a very beautiful farm. The river is generally on the shallow side, with sandy or cobbled bottoms. At times, the river flows between a pasture and a cliff. There are riffle areas on bends. The bank-side vegetation varies between trees and pastures. There is a campsite as well as a cottage for hire on the property.
Bell Fly Fishing, Tuschielaw Gate
Bell Fly Fishing, Earlstown Upper Gate
Bell Fly Fishing, Earlstown Lower Gate
Bell Fly Fishing, Monard Gate
Bell Fly Fishing, Claremont / Upper Glass Niven Gate & Parking
Bell Fly Fishing, Glass Nevin Bridge
Bell Fly Fishing, Lower Glass Nevin Gate
Bell Fly Fishing, Steepside Gate
The Friendly N6 route runs between Bloemfontein and East London, connecting the provinces of the Free State and the Eastern Cape. Aliwal North is at the border of the 2 provinces. South Africa is famous for horizons that stretch for kilometres, so wide open spaces and endless skies are a traveller’s constant companions on the N6. The route takes one through about 600km of peaceful, diverse and beautiful land, giving one a sense of just how vast the country really is.
The N6’s attractions include everything from sea to snow, interspersed with charming towns. These are only slightly off the beaten highway, and are intriguing and pleasant places to explore. In the Free State, Bethulie and Zastron are within easy travelling distance of the N6, while Reddersburg, Smithfield and Rouxville are main stops along the route.
In the Eastern Cape the towns of Dordrecht, Molteno, Elliot, Rhodes, Burgersdorp, Barkly East and Lady Grey are all worthwhile diversions for curious travellers with time on their hands. For those sticking to the highway, Aliwal North, Jamestown, Queenstown, Cathcart and Stutterheim are along the route. These provide a sufficient diversity of interests and activities for guests. The highway is also relatively close to the Gariep Dam, Oviston and Hogsback Nature Reserves.
Sprawling sheep farms are probably the most obvious and frequent feature of the landscape, but the area is rich in cultural significance and interest. Apart from San (or Bushman) history and rock art, there are also interesting museums and art galleries, and fine local arts and crafts. The route’s proximity to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho means that Basotho culture is an important and unique influence on the culture of the area. Xhosa culture is proudly and strongly entrenched in the Eastern Cape.
The hills and towns of this area were witness to the Great Trek. This was the migration of the ‘Trekboers’ from the Eastern Cape across the Gariep River, (previously the Orange River) further into the central interior. It is often mentioned as an example of Afrikaner rebellion, perseverance and endurance. This same Afrikaner resilience cost Britain an unanticipated £190 million in the South African (or Anglo-Boer) War, which is commemorated at many sites and towns along the N6 route.
Travelling south to East London from Aliwal North, tourists are afforded a majestic view of the Maluti mountains of Lesotho, as well as a sample of the Great Karoo in Stutterheim and Queenstown. East London itself is a lovely city which really lives up to the ‘friendly’ N6 brand. It has some interesting tangible links to prehistory: the East London Museum displays the last remaining dodo egg, as well as the body of a coelacanth, one of the oldest species on the planet. This fish was thought to be extinct until one was found alive on a fishing boat in the East London harbour in 1938.
When to go
Relax and rejuvenate in Aliwal North’s hot springs and appreciate its beautiful old buildings.
The Kologha Forest and the Kubisi Indigenous State Forests are less than 10km from Stutterheim. Large swathes of ancient indigenous forest are home to yellowwoods, ironwoods, white stinkwoods, Cape holly and Cape chestnuts with montane grassland cresting the slopes. Six well-marked forest trails, from 3-17km long, start and end at the Kologha Picnic site. They lead to waterfalls and good trout fishing and birdwatching spots. Rare birds found here include the endangered Cape parrot, grey-crowned crane and white-starred robin. Mountain biking and horse riding are allowed on certain trails. Maps are available at the forest kiosk.
The Thomas River Historical Village is in the Amathole mountain region on the 31 000ha Thomas River Conservancy between Stutterheim and Cathcart on the N6 highway. The area was named after Thomas Bentley, a deserter from the Van Der Kemps Missionary who was shot dead with an arrow while crossing the river. The conservancy offers a variety of outdoor activities including hunting, hiking, rock art talks and trails, fishing, birding, and paintball. The village dates back to the 1870s, has a popular restaurant and houses museums themed on wagons, rock art, pubs and vintage motor cars. Tel: +27 45 843 1504.
Mgwali Cultural Village near Stutterheim showcases Xhosa culture, with crafts and traditional food on sale.
Tiffindell Ski and Alpine Resort near the picturesque village of Rhodes is South Africa’s only ski resort. It offers snow adventures on the slopes of Ben McDhui, the tallest mountain in the Eastern Cape.
Lady Grey and Cathcart are quaint, peaceful towns to visit. There is a Cape vulture sanctuary 12km from Lady Grey at the Karringmelkspruit gorge. Cathcart is known for its wildflowers, San rock art, excellent hang-gliding launch sites, fishing, birdwatching and adventure activities.
Malaria-free game viewing is possible at the Lawrence De Lange Nature and the Longhill Nature Reserve near Queenstown, as well as at Tsolwana Game Reserve near Tarkastad. Big 5 game viewing is possible at the Mpongo and Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserves, both within 35km of East London.
At the N6 route’s end, East London, visit the Python Park and Lion Park, the Queen’s Park Zoo, the East London museum and the aquarium. Enjoy the shopping, restaurants and, of course, surf the waves. The Calgary Transport Museum (5km north of East London on the N6) has a quaint collection of carts, wagons and buggies. It is open daily from 09h00 to 16h30.