Nieu Bethesda is a mountain village 55 kilometres to the north of Graaff-Reinet, in a valley with the Kompassberg, South Africa’s highest free standing mountain as a backdrop. It was established by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1875 and given a biblical name by the Rev Charles Murray of Graaff-Reinet.
In the twentieth century it began to wither as people left the rural areas. It was so quiet with so little traffic that the council leased certain streets for growing potatoes. During this time one inhabitant, Helen Maartins, began creating fantastic concrete sculptures in her house and yard, often of owls. She changed the interior of her little house by embedding crushed glass into the walls to bring in more light. The community sometimes looked askance at her eccentric activities. She committed suicide in 1974 because of her failing eyesight but her creations saved her village.
The playwright Athol Fugard wrote a play about her life called "The Road To Mecca", which was later filmed. People then flocked there to see her house, known as the “Owl House” and discovered that there is a lot more to Nieu Bethesda, such as the stunning setting, the streets lined with pear trees, the beautiful church and the dry river bed where fossils can be found.