Just over 50km inland from Port Alfred, GRAHAMSTOWN projects an image of a cultured, historic town, quintessentially English, Protestant and refined, with reminders of its colonial past in evidence in the well-preserved architecture.
Dominated by its cathedral, university and public schools, this is a thoroughly pleasant place to wander through, with well-maintained colonial Georgian and Victorian buildings lining the streets, and pretty suburban gardens. Every July, the town hosts an arts festival, the largest of its kind in Africa, and purportedly the second largest in the world (after Edinburgh; see The Grahamstown Festival).
As elsewhere in South Africa, there are reminders of conquest and dispossession. Climb up Gunfire Hill, where the fortress-like 1820 Settlers Monument celebrates the achievement of South Africa’s English-speaking immigrants, and you’ll be able to see Makanaskop, the hill from which the Xhosa made their last stand against the British invaders. Their descendants live in desperately poor ghettos here, in a town almost devoid of industry.
Despite all this, and the constant reminders of poverty, Grahamstown makes a good stopover, and is the perfect base for excursions: a number of historic villages are within easy reach, some game parks are convenient for a day or weekend visit and, best of all, kilometres of coast are just 45 minutes’ drive away.