My brother, Richard Earle, stated that, regarding genealogy, he was only interested in the living, not the dead. Me, I think the dead give you far less hassle than the living and detecting their relationships and history is a fascinating and rewarding pastime. If you like detecting, that is.

And I do; witness my life-long ambition to be a writer of thriller and crime novels.

By the time I got to the UK to sort out my dear departed aunt’s possessions, churches had long since surrendered their parish records, firstly to dusty libraries in the county seats, then, as material exceeded space, and we edged into the digital age, to especially built centres to house these precious records and to transfer and transcribe them to microfiche and then to digital.

A lot of this material was free to the world until specialists started blocking it for their own financial ends where you have to pay for access. It is a mystery to me how these records were released to them in the first place and how the original holders were compensated in the second.

Be that as it may – what a wonderful expression; you can avoid an argument, not admit agreement or otherwise and still add you own opinion – I gave myself a week to explore the HAMPSHIRE COUNTY RECORDS OFFICE in Winchester.

Although I had/have a friend in Southampton who, it turned out, would have put me up, I established myself in the town of Stockport, eight miles from the city, being the nearest I could find, at Carbury House for the reasonable price of £25-00 a night. (Compare that to the equivalent of £5-50 I was charging at my Backpackers back in South Africa.) Stockport is a pretty little town with a long main street under which several trout streams pass. It made for a pleasant evening stroll to select any one of several diverse restaurants for supper.

Starting out at 09h00 every day to avoid the rush hour, I could choose a different route to vary the scenery to get to the CRO on the edge of Winchester, opposite of which was a convenient multi-storey carpark.

The front desk was very helpful on my first day, a Friday, where I paid a modest fee as a temporary reader and was given a pencil with strict instructions to use nothing else. A hermetically sealed door separates the reception from the main hall containing the help desk, then 4 computer terminals (at that time), relevant book shelves, banks of micro-fiche machines and parish record indexes. Indices? At the far end of the hall is another desk at which one can order manuscripts that are brought from even more dust-free, temperature and humidity controlled vaults. Gloves provided, of course.

Enham Place

Enham Place cc 1910

Stupidly, I had left all my previous Earle Family notes at home, so I had to work from Enham Place, the turn-of-the century family seat, Knight’s Enham, the parish involved, and Smannell, the church to which my great grandmother turned after a spat with the Knight’s Enham vicar. She donated the organ, stain-glass windows and pews and a monument to her youngest son killed in Cameroon in WWI. She, her husband and brother-in-law are buried there.

But Smannell was a dead end, excuse the pun. Her father-in-law, Henry Earle, had been a solicitor in Andover, died there and was buried there, but the question was: Where was he born and who were his parents? Henry’s eldest son, Benjamin, died in infancy. This I had discovered on my visit to UK in  1971. There was a Benjamin in the family bible which had come into my father’s hands, but no clue as to how he connected to us. There was, however, the tradition of naming one’s eldest son after one’s father, and I hoped that this had been the case as the dates did more or less fit.

Hearing my name called to look at some documents drawn up by my great great grandfather, Henry, led an elderly gentleman to approach me to ask if I was related as he knew a John Isherwood who had, until recently, been a partner in the same law firm. He said he would give me his number to phone to ask if he would like to meet me. It was arranged for the following Tuesday at the CRO.

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St Mary’s, Itchen Stoke

Benjamin Earles were thin on the ground. The next day, Saturday, I finally found one in the parish of Itchen Stoke, a village about seven miles away from Winchester, which I decided to visit on Sunday when the CRO would be closed.

Taking the general direction towards Winchester, I went under the motorway and continued eastwards on the pretty Arlesford road alongside the River Itchen, through such villages as King’s Worthy, Abbott’s Worthy, Martyr Worthy, Itchen Abbas to Itchen Stoke. The buildings tend to red brick and blue flint. Itchen Stoke consists of a few such cottages and a striking church seemingly plucked out of France.

St Mary's Itchen Stoke inside.jpgA little notice on the heavy doors told me to ask for the key at one of the cottages, which I did. It is as beautiful inside as it is out, but the sandstone is crumbling away and there were pamphlets for The Redundant Churches Fund for £1-00 on a shelf with a piggy-bank beside them. Trust is an amazing thing…

2 churches Itchen Stoke plan

The site of 2 churches, Itchen Stoke

I added some coins and grabbed a couple of them along with a photo postcard. Apparently, this church design was based on that of La Saint Chapelle in Paris.

There had been two churches built on this site, the second of which was not likely to have seen Earles on their knees there as even the earlier one had been built in 1831 and demolished to make way for the present St Mary’s built in 1866. The pamphlet tells of an earlier church in the damp meadow down the lane near to the River Itchen.  And, indeed, there were some relicts from it, like the font and two 1500 bronze plaques, in this church.

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wood carvings; the pulpit and pew ends.

Lurking behind the vestry I found a family monument to Benjamin Earle, who died in 1825 before the first church was built, and his wife Sarah Earle and some of their children, including a Henry who died young. This was a blow as I was now looking at the wrong Benjamin. But it did tell me that the monument had probably been moved, with or without their bodies, from the earliest church. But, these names were many of those in the family bible, so it was puzzling.

Monday, I spent the whole day researching surrounding parishes to see if there were any more promising threads. Nothing; but it was interesting, nevertheless. On Tuesday I met John Isherwood (70) a retired solicitor from a village near Andover. He was able to tell me the history of his legal firm.

It was started by a solicitor named Bird in 17-something, who took on a partner named Coles. Bird and Coles became Coles and Earle, (Henry arrived in Andover in 1828, aged 26), then Earle & Everett, then Earle & Smith, then after Henry dropped dead of a heart attack on the main street of Andover in 1867 it became Smith & Son, then Smith, Son & Barker, then Barker & Son, and finally Barker, Son & Isherwood. The Isherwood was John’s father, but the name remains so today, even though John himself had retired when I met him.

Family folk-law says our name derives from Arles in France where one or more of them came to England with the forces of William the Conqueror and finally settled in Hampshire where the name is pretty common and most parish records had mention of Earles who were mostly yeomen but also anything from labourers to magistrates.

The most telling find in the Itchen Stoke parish records was a second Henry born to Benjamin and Sarah, their last child, born in 1802! And also, he was the only one to have kids of his own, one son who then begat as well (and boy, did he beget; ten kids including my grandfather who only had my dad just before he himself croaked), and here we are!

(Since then, the Net has revealed that Ben’s dad was Joseph, whose dad was also Benjamin born in 16-something.)

Friday night found me a guest of Joy Evans, a wonderful old friend from Botswana, at her home in Southampton, who treated me royally for the weekend before I returned to my uncle’s brewery on the Monday.


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The Passing of EDITH ARKELL

When I was nine years old, my mum took my brother and me to the UK to meet our Granny, aunt and uncle. A Bush-child in England posted on April 20, 2012

We never called her anything but Aunty Puss, her school nickname taken from Oedipus, and as mentioned she was a nine-year-olds favourite person. I adored her. She gave me an air-pistol, and together, we shot at targets in the garden. She was a fanatic gardener; she could spot a speck of greenery under an inch of soil as a weed tried to hide away from het x-ray eyes.

She took us to all the local places of interest, like a Rare Breeds farm in the Cotswolds, and to the wetland wildlife reserve near Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, England. It is midway between Bristol and Gloucester on the eastern side of the estuary of the River Severn, a reserve set up by the artist and naturalist Sir Peter Scott,

She took us to several Point-to-Point races, the end of fox-hunt season races, which inspired me to set up a course over which I galloped myself, sometime throwing myself off into the nettles, patiently watched by my dear aunt.

I was so fond of her; I even tried to trade my mother in exchange. Poor Mum; that must have hurt.

Edith Helena Arkell was born on April Fool’s Day, 1922. She passed away on 31 May, 2006, aged 84. A very shy introvert, she never married and lived her whole life, bar boarding school, in her parent’s home called The Bay, alongside the family brewery at Donnington Mill. During WWII, she drove the Brewery truck to deliver beer to the pubs they owned.


Observer, Edith Arkell, cc 1980.

In 1947 she joined the Royal Observer Corps which manned various posts to spot and identify aircraft in the skies over Britain, a job she continued for 35 years, receiving the Gold Spitfire badge for passing  the annual master test at the highest level on more than 25 occasions. She held the ROC Medal and clasp, as well.


Edith Arkell (2nd from rt.) receives the Rotary Club’s Vocational Service Award.

Her service to her community was legendary, shopping three times a week for the patients and staff at Moreton-in-Marsh Hospital, (where I was born) for forty years.

She left her worldly possessions to my brother and I to share, specifying that Richard got her vast stamp album and I got her collection of Beswick china horses. The Net told me they sold at the time for £25 to £1000 or more for special pieces. I saw no point in taking them back to Africa to gather dust or be broken by careless dusters. We were to share her other collections of coins, cigarette cards etc.

I flew from Cape Town, to Jo’burg, to London’s Heathrow at the end of September, 2006. It was just getting light as we circled over the city. I could recognise the London Eye from the air, the Thames glinting like a silver snake. Richard, who had arrived in London from Australia almost simultaneously, was supposed to meet me, but there was a mix-up about which terminal to meet, so I missed him. I finally caught a bus to Staines where I had arranged to pick up my HSBC bank card, but the idiots had sent my PIN to South Africa! Fortunately I was able to cash a cheque.

At Avis, I hired a Ford Focus and set off for Leek, Staffordshire, then the home of my son Ryan. I had a map, but trying to read it with nowhere to pull over, and needing reading glasses to do so was challenge enough without the fact that it had started to rain, so road signs disappeared in a blur…

I finally made it; phoned him to guide me to his semi – already sold, prior to his return to South Africa in December – where I met my first grandson Thomas for the second time, now aged 2. Over that weekend, Ryan and his wife, Elaine, took me for a drive over the Peak District – craggy moorland, part farmland, part National Park; quite beautiful. Ryan was, at the time, working for JCB, so Thomas pointed out each and every “digger” we came across.

On the morning of Monday 2nd October, I set off down the M6, then the M5 via Evesham to Donnington Brewery in Gloucestershire, only getting a little geographically embarrassed on the way, not having been there since 1975. Richard, and his son Mark Earle from Melbourne, were already there. Our uncle Claude Arkell (89) was looking quite gaunt and walked with a stick, but was pleased to see us. He took us out to a pub lunch. Ryan and Elaine turned up soon after and we all returned to the Brewery. Richard’s other two children, Stephen and Jenifer arrived from London where they share a flat, so it was a merry family get-together. We had supper at The Queen’s Head, one of Claude’s pubs in Stow-on-the-Wold before all, except Richard, Mark and I, left for their homes in Leek or London.

The three of us spent the night at another hotel in Stow; this one belonging to our Swindon Arkell relatives where the brew is Arkell’s Ales. After a day of sorting through the chaos in Puss’ house, the following day Richard took Mark to the Moreton station to catch a train to Heathrow to connect with his flight back to Australia, then we got stuck into dividing up our loot. This included Puss’ collections of medallions, buttons, books and cigarette cards.

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The Mill Pond – Donnington Brewery.

At the Brewery, the autumn leaves were just turning, late that year as they had had no frost as yet. The mill pond, with its swans and wild fowl, was looking stunning, and the place was really such a spiritual home for me.

Richard went to stay with friends, who happened to be stamp dealers, in Malvern while I found a B&B in Bourton-on-the-Water, the next village from Stow on the road to Cheltenham. Claude would not hear of me camping in Puss’ house. (It’s just not done!)

I toured antique shops in Cheltenham to see what the market value was for my Beswick horses, cards, etc. but could not tell why the prices varied so much. Richard’s Malvern friends gave him £1000 for half his stamps, and gave me £50 for my cigarette cards. A couple of days later, I took some stuff to a boot sale at the world famous Cheltenham Race Course, which was a lot of fun and most interesting, for a writer, but I still returned to the Brewery with a full boot to have tea with Claude and tell him all about it.

I decided on using Humbert’s the auctioneers in Bourton to sell the horses and a few other things, so loaded them up and went to meet their representative. He was a surly man, very reluctant to walk to my car 50 metres away to see the stuff I wanted to have auctioned, until he saw the Beswick china, then he changed his tune, especially when he realised that I was related to Charles Arkell, his boss. The auction would only be on December 2nd, when I would be back in South Africa.

It was certainly sad, selling these things Aunt Puss had spent a life time collecting, but it had to be done. The exceptions were a few special items, like her ROC medal and silver coins which I later handed on to my son to keep for his children. I also boxed up a few small garden tools, paraffin lamps, ornaments and clocks for Ryan to add to his container in his move back to Pretoria.


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Back To The Future – 1.

The last census held in Myland, a one acre Earldom bordering on the city of Haarlem, South Africa, the total headcount was:

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Spy & Rita

Ruler (benevolent.) – 1. Earl Pete.

Department of Security. Canine Contingent – 3.

Roving ambassador, meat importer. Feline – 1.

Taxpayers: Hens – 18.

Tax inspectors: Rooster – 3.

Student taxpayer: Chicks – 1.

Refugee: Guineafowl – 1.

TOTAL: 28.

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Rusty, Head Tax Inspector.




I feed the dogs before letting the chickens out because they rush to the stoop to steal the Security rations. Normally, I’d not feed the Security Division twice a day, but I have to give young trainee, Spy, a meal and the other two seniors, Sergeant Fudge Staffy and Corporal Rita Ridge, don’t understand why they are left out. I cannot afford for them to go on strike.

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Ambassador Thor


Ambassador Thor spends a lot of his night out gallivanting for meat import contracts so sleeps a lot of the day, but if his hunting has not been successful, he demands food when I get up. A tin of minced pilchards lasts about three days if I share one between him and Spy, but too costly. There is no pets mince available in the local supermarket for import at the mo, but I got some chicken heads from Sheila the other day who gets them delivered from the abattoir nearby and that’s what I start the day, cooking for the dogs with yellow pap. Thor demands a head, too, if he can get away with it. None get raw heads; I’d hate for the ambassador or the security detail to get the taste and take the law into their own mouths. Imported morsels are allowed by the ambassador only.

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The Earldom

The single chick and his/her mom are still in their cage to keep the chick safe from hawks and other terrorist predators, but doing well. Thor was introduced to chicks as a kitten and when he took an interest got a good whack which has kept chicks off his menu. Spy insists on joining me as I feed the chickens and eats the crushed mielies as well, which should also save on tinned fish. The fowl population then head out to forage for the day, returning to their quarters in the evening after queuing for their rations. Then I collect the egg-tax on my way back to the castle (an Englishman’s home) to have my first coffee; from 8 to a dozen eggs a day at the mo, but a couple of hens are broody. I have to keep an eye out, therefore, for tax evasion and illegal offshore deposits.

In line with current immigration displacement policy, I have admitted one refugee. This one is from Guinea Fowlland and is fitting in with the local community quite well so far, and does not appear to be a radical, although she is consuming rations and does not pax taxes. She seems to talk only guineafowl, so communication is difficult.

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Haarlem in the Langkloof

  1. Still reeling from the 2004 Boxing Day Tsumami that lashed the shores from the East and the Indian sub-continent all the way to Africa, 2005 was peppered with natural disasters as well as the April 3rd death of Pope John Paul II. Late August – Force 5 Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, Mississippi Alabama & Florida; most of New Orleans was evacuated. There were 26 major storms that year, a record. 13 became hurricanes and 3 were Force 5. The major earthquake in Pakistan exacted a deathtoll of 73,000.

Haarlem church1Sheila needed some small tables for her Art & Craft shop, The Pumpkin, which was catering for teas, coffees, breakfasts and snack meals. We heard the Haarlem High School woodwork department were allowing school-leavers to make such furniture. Our first visit to the little village twenty-six kilometres from Uniondale on Route R62 was to view their work and place an order for three tables. Sheila fell in love with the rural community at first sight.


2013 Aug Art mill.jpg

Old Mill ruins


I thought of it as a friendly smile with a mouth full of broken teeth. Many of the poorly maintained cottages were falling down. Mostly built of sun-baked mud-bricks, as soon as the plaster protecting them fell off, they dissolved and collapsed. Which, because most of them were over 100 years old, was very sad.

The village lies on the southern bank of the Groot River and is accessed from the R62 by a low-level ford that is prone to flooding in the rainy weather. Reputedly laid out in one acre plots around 1850 by surveyors Heyns and Traut for colonial settlers, Welgelegen, the farm in which it lay, was bought by the Berlin Missionary Society and established as a Lutheran mission station with agricultural plots to be irrigated by furrows from a dam in the Tsitsikama Mountains nearby.

As the population was predominantly Coloured when the Nationalist Apartheid government that gained power in 1948, following its policy of separate development, it eventually proclaimed the town to be Coloured, and the white families resident there were removed, including several Jewish shop owners. Naturally, in 1994, with the coming of the New South Africa, this no longer applied and after the turn of the millennium, a few whites bought properties there. (Sheila and I were to be amongst the first re-Settlers when we managed to shed our Uniondale acquisitions, the following year.)

In June I had completed enough of my Backpacker Hostel to accommodate the first customers, and the numbers increased slowly as more rooms came available.

Much to my astonishment, on September 3rd I failed my driving eye-test. Advised that I could have my sight checked by a specialist, I went to an optometrist in Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape to have it done. Photos showed scarring on my left eyeball, but, provided I wrote a letter waving my heavy-duty licence, I could still retain my light duty one. Phew. And it was only when I tried shutting my right eye, driving home, that I discovered that the road centre-line disappeared! However, my peripheral vision in that eye was still okay.

Due to having to replace the engine in my bakkie with a new one, I needed to return to Maun in Botswana in October to register it on the licence. This gave me a good reason to catch up with the so many friends I’d made there. David Tregilges, ex-headmaster of Maun Senior Secondary School, was by then headmaster of Moading S.S. School in Otsi. I overnighted with him on my way past, both ways, and caught up on news. He was having a serious problem with overcoming a brutal initiation tradition by senior boys to juniors; only solved with the employment of a security team.

The year closed off with attending the wedding of Gay Sabatier to a Jewish fellow, Jonathan Silverberg in Johannesburg. Sheila was unable to get away, so my daughter, Nicci, kept me company. It was a curious mix of Christian and Jewish ceremony. I found myself acting as one of four tent poles to the ceremonial tent under which the couple made their vows! It was great to catch up with the Sabatier family who are lifelong friends.


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SANGOMA – Traditional healer, herbalist.

As the world gave birth to 2005 Sheila and I were being introduced to a man of great interest to us in that he was not only a fundi botanist, he was a trained traditional healer. He and his American wife lived on his farm, Jantjieskraal, about ten km outside of Uniondale where, besides farming sheep, he propagated material for his herbal business. In a lot of ways it was ideal as the surrounding hills and mountains are rich in naturally occurring medicinal plants.

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Kouga Mountains

When he invited us to join a small group of like-minded folk in learning more about medicinal herbs, we jumped at the chance.

Born in Johannesburg in 1948, Peter von Maltitz was only two years younger than I. He completed a B.Sc. in Natural Sciences (Agriculture) from the University of Stellenbosch followed by an honours degree in plant pathology. This involved a great deal of Theosophy, s leading to an interest in Anthroposophy and thus to Biodynamic farming.

Peter von Maltitz

Peter von Maltitz

Driven by a desire to relieve pain, in 1980 he discovered that he could give relief by using his “hot hands”. (Similarly, I believe that I have some small gift in that direction.)

In 1996 he registered as a spiritual healer and took part in a course in homeopathy with the homeopaths Berkley, Digby and Dr David Lilley. It was a natural progression to follow that with studies in African traditional healing with Philip Kubukeli from Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

“Zanemvula” (he comes with the rain) was the name he received because it rained whenever they performed a ceremony for his ancestors. His final graduation as a fully fledged sangoma took place at a 3-day ceremony during September 1999 on his home farm, Jantjieskraal in the Kouga mountains.

RideMix 017

A Bo-Kouga kloof

On most Wednesday evenings, we would go to Jantjieskraal to add three or four plants to our own scanty knowledge, Peter using groups that were beneficial to different groups of illnesses or body functions. We started with the organs of fear – wet yourself, shit yourself – herbs to alleviate problems in the blood, kidneys, bladder and peristalsis. Next were the bitter herbs that pertain to the gall bladder – the hottest organ, suppressed anger that erupts as boils, fever and rashes.

The following involved the opening of the mind. Cleansing toxins, decreasing anxiety. The following week, due to a visit by Sheila’s son Tim and pregnant fiancé, Juanita, the subject was fertility and pregnancy.  With Easter only two days away, we were expecting more family to visit by way of Sheila’s elder son Nicholas with his ten month old son, Ronan Simkin, and my daughter, Nicci. Although Sheila and I were invited to the ceremony on the Sunday at the bush hut where Peter’s wife Helen was to be initiated as a sangoma in her own right, it was Nicci and I that attended. Sheila had injured her back.

Besides the other couple that frequently joined our Wednesday evening botanical lessons, there were four women attending, one of whom was the mother of a patient who would be Ellen’s first, as well as a sangoma novice under Peter’s tutelage.

Ellen was seated on a mat. Peter was in full regalia of skirts, skin strips, ankle rattles and shoulder sash. The novice beat a drum as Peter welcomed us. Then Ellen received her new skirts; an underskirt with four stripes on the lower edge, and a shorter outer skirt with three. Following that were various bead necklaces with different meanings – green for the forest, red and white for fire, light blue for the sky and so on. He regaled her with headbands of beads and tassels, including the gall bladder from the slaughtered goat, the body of with which Ellen had spent the previous night in the ceremonial hut.

Ellen was contacting her ancestors, Peter explained, while his assistant whipped up a billycan of frothing ubulau herb, to raise her spiritual senses, which was held over her until the froth cascaded over her head.

Basically, that was it.

Now the patient was brought before Ellen for a diagnosis, which she hesitantly gave. She thought the young man had pain in his eyes and neck and a problem with his kidneys. Peter questioned him and his mother and established that Ellen was on the right track. He was given some kattekruie leaves and his mother took him home.

The rest of us feasted on the ceremonial goat meat with maize on the cob, beans and pumpkin. We also tucked in to the beers I had brought.

In April we had a few more herbal evenings with Peter and Ellen, but thereafter it fizzled out as Ellen suffered from depression. (Er…??)

Tim and Juanita’s baby was born on May 3rd; a premature but healthy girl, named Denicka Simkin.

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Backpackers’ Hostel

BP west facade74 Voortrekker Road was a shell when I bought it in 2004. The original yellowwood  (Podocarpus falcatus ) floors and ceilings had been ripped out as the short term owner had been under the illusion that he would make a fortune selling that beautiful, and now rare, timber. However, nails forged by blacksmiths 150 years ago have rusted into the wood and tend to snap when you try to remove them, leaving their ends embedded in the timber so that any tool such as a plane or saw gets wrecked as one works the wood.  And the effort to remove the nails often splits the planks. The value of the building would have been doubled if only he had left sleeping wood lie…

It was beyond my capabilities and my pocket to restore the Victorian building to its original state. It served my purpose to put in a new ceiling low enough to accommodate another storey and build in some stairs. At least the detached cottage still had a ceiling in Oregon pine, but I had to cast new concrete floors there as well as in the main house. Under the rotting floorboards of the kitchen, I found several solid yellowwood beams that the previous owner had missed. These I used to fashion a bar-cum-reception counter. I removed the bath that had been placed on the walled-off section of the veranda and partitioned off two en-suite shower/toilets for the dormitories.

There were the remains of a wagon shed with an entrance off the side street. I had that bricked up and rebuilt as a tiled flatlet with a kitchenette and adjoining shower and toilet.

BP dorm bunks 1The Kammanassie Backpackers opened for business with 22 beds available.

Uniondale had been surrounded by several stone-built British forts that saw service during the Boer War – see my previous post on General De La Rey and Gideon Scheepers – but there was only one that survived in reasonable condition and was now a national monument. This was an attraction, as well as the Victorian buildings on Voortrekker Road and Victoria Street. However, being only another one hour drive to the city of George on the coast, it was not a tourist destination as such. I would have to encourage more attractions for the town.

I joined the local Tourism Board; mostly owners of B&Bs and a couple of local businesses. I subscribed to a Backpackers booklet that was distributed country-wide.

KB SW elevInitially, I realised that I would also accommodate construction crews who were in town for small jobs which did not warrant them setting up their own camps, while awaiting the hoped for rush of tourists.

Naturally, it was booked out for the annual Karoo-to-Coast 100km Mountain-bike Challenge. That is an annual event, so did not exactly impress my bank balance. Still, I got a few interesting folk in; some Germans, some Canadians, some bikeys. Folk who arrived with their own transport, as there was, and is, no public transport service to the town. Ideally, being about half way between beautiful city of Knysna on the Garden Route, and the world renowned Kango Caves near Oudtshoorn, a kombi-bus service, from the one to the other via Uniondale and the stunningly awesome mountain passes that link them, would have put my establishment on the map.

But, no Kombi owner was interested, and I could not afford to buy one and hire a driver.


Still, I was more or less breaking even, if I managed the place myself. When Sheila fell in love with a village 25km away, on a trip there to buy tables and chairs made in the local school’s woodworking centre by school-leavers, we moved there. The succession of managers was a disaster. Let me say no more than that I had no idea how many guests actually booked in, except that each month was a loss. Then all my survey equipment stored there went missing…

Then in 2012 a construction company offered me a good rental for the whole place and that was the end of it as a true Backpackers. When their contract ended a year later, I hired out the rooms to four single people. Police, teachers and such. So, it still pays for itself, with a little over for my pocket.

I’m looking for buyers, now – 2017 – and will let it go for R695,000-00, which, if you have US$ or Euros or £, and would love to retire to a quaint little South African village in the mountains of the Western Cape Province, it’s a steal.

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The Pumpkin & Tsunami

Just before leaving for Australia and New Zealand, I had bought 2 properties in August, 2004, in Uniondale where we had settled. They were both on the main street, Voortrekker Road, next door to each other, despite the fact that they were nos. 74 and 78.

Pumpkin 1On my return at the end of November, I set to converting no. 74 into a Backpackers Hostel. No.78 I had given to Sheila to do whatever she wanted with it. It was in a far better condition than no. 74 so required far less adaptation to the Art & Craft Co-Op that it was to become. She got several local artists together as members of the Co-op so that all could display their wares and be on duty one day of the week while the others did their creative thing. Painted orange, it soon became known as The Pumpkin.

Naturally enough, it also became a coffee shop and began to serve light meals.

2004 tailed off with delightful visits from various friends and family reconnecting.

Tiaan Theron and his wife Sabine from Maun, Botswana, spent a night, so we caught up on the news from there. (Pieter Kat, the lion researcher, had had an awful road accident and, weeks later, was still in hospital in Johannesburg.)

We went to the city of George to meet up with Rollo Brent-Meek and his wife Naomi from Warmbaths, now Bela Bela, literarily meaning boil-boil in the local languages of Setswana/Sepedi, referring to the steam that used to rise over the bush from the hot water springs before the stream was capped.

My son, Ryan, wife Elaine and their little boy, Thomas, spent a night and bought a painting of Sheila’s from The Pumpkin the next day before setting off once again on their travels.

Our Warmbaths vet friend, Dr Marius Theron with his daughter, Antonique, spent a couple of nights with us and joined us for a festive Christmas dinner at Sheila’s brother, Neil Maling’s farm.

Despite our short stay in Uniondale, we were already getting the impression that we were not really welcome. Two of our neighbours were giving us pet-related problems. We had one cat poisoned and another one shot. Very few of the local white folk were supporting the Pumpkin, either. Those that were, were either artists themselves or newcomers, like us.

But, of course, the capping news of 2004 was the awful 8.9 Aceh earthquake off the coast of Malaysia on boxing day and the devastating tsunami that ensued. Even on the first day, the deathtoll was estimated as 7,000 people and it just shot up from there. By New Year’s Eve it was at 125,000. And the resulting tsunami was causing havoc as far away as the east coast of Africa.

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