It’s getting dark. The main street is almost deserted. Out of the quietness emerges a dramatic figure in a long black cloak, seeming to float above the pavement rather than walk on it. We’ve asked to meet the ghosts of Prince Albert in the Karoo and if this is a way to set the scene on this cold evening, it’s working.
Ailsa calls herself the ‘story weaver’ and she knows her stuff. She may not have met all the ghosts of Prince Albert personally, but she knows their stories and presents them with a flourish. ‘I heard this story from two different people at different times … so it must be true,’ she says. Then she launches into a good yarn, with the appropriate sense of drama and timing – the creak of leather and the sound of footsteps, the scraping on floorboards as furniture is moved around by an unseen hand, the thud of a window slamming shut, the icy chill that local residents have felt when a ghost is near.
‘All the stories are light-hearted,’ she says. ‘Nothing sinister here. I think they just loved Prince Albert and didn’t want to leave.’
There’s a ‘ghost room’ in the museum too, where people have seen a ghostly girl in white. She’s thought to be the young niece of the Haak family who lived here, and who was killed in a cart accident just before her wedding.
‘Locals call it the “no name graveyard” and there are many conversations that go on here in the dead of night,’ Ailsa insists.
She tells stories from the Anglo Boer War and you can almost see the British soldiers peering out from the church tower. A ghost from those days is the uniformed soldier who patrols the area between the barracks and the bank, guarding the soldiers’ pay. ‘Watch out if you meet him,’ she warns, ‘because he’s always armed.’
A short walk away at the house of Dr Mearns, we hear tales of squeaking in the loft. If we investigate, it will turn out to be a girl dressed in white, with lace at her cuffs, jumping on the bed. No one knows who she is or why she jumps on the bed, but she’s a playful ghost and no one minds.
Anyone who has driven the Swartberg Pass between Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn knows how steep it is. In the days of donkey carts, people used to get out and walk uphill to lighten the load. One day Chrisjan Swanepoel and the other passengers were walking alongside the donkey cart when they met a constable taking a prisoner to Prince Albert for trial. ‘Aren’t you worried he’ll make a break for it?’ they asked. ‘No,’ said the constable, I’ll just shoot him dead.’ He waved his gun in the air – and it went off and killed poor Chrisjan Swanepoel. Today his lonely ghost still haunts the mountain.
Anyone who has visited Prince Albert knows there are lots of things to do in the area. On your next visit, don’t miss the story weaver’s ghost walk around the village; you may not actually meet any of the ghosts face to face, but you’ll get an hour and a half of first-rate entertainment.
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