There are two boulders hidden deep in a Drakensberg forest which tell a near-Shakespearean tale of obsession, genius, and revenge. Completely unsign-posted, they feature magnificent, life-size sculptures of the same nude, full-breasted woman, painstakingly carved by her lover 50 years ago. The story begins when Willie Chalmers, a wandering artist with a wildly unkempt beard, came to the area from the Kalahari in the 1930’s to learn more about Bushman paintings from a farmer’s daughter, Doreen Coventry. He fell in love with her and spent 14 months carving her likeness into a flat sandstone rock on her farm, adding a halo and the face of a child alongside. He called it Spirit of the Woods.
But some of his younger in-laws saw him as a con man and a parasite at the family homestead, and at the height of the row, Coventry’s nephew hiked up to the sculpture in a rage and smashed off the nose. So, some say, Chalmers began a second Spirit of the Woods, this time in a secret location almost completely enclosed by other boulders, sometimes working for weeks without a break.
– Rowan Philp, Rediscovering South Africa: A Wayward Guide
As part of our stay at the Cavern Resort, we were invited to participate in a short hike to see a stone sculpture hidden away in the Drakensberg, the Silent Woman. The hike was described as an easy 90 minute round trip – tea and biscuits served mid-hike.
We began with an ascent through the Fern Forest. I am really not sure how it got the name – there were no ferns that I recognized. Still, it was a beautiful walk through the woods and we listened as robin-chats called from the trees. We soon emerged into a high grassland with incredible views of the surrounding mountains.