Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Meandering Through the Midlands Part One

We were recently offered the use of a friend’s timeshare at Midlands Saddle & Trout just outside Mooi River and of course we jumped at the chance to get away. I phoned my Mother and told her she was going away and then voice noted my sister to see if she could join us as well. Everything happened so quickly and I soon found myself driving to the airport to fetch my sister from her flight from Jhb.

Monday 5 June I fetched my Mom and sister and we drove up to Midlands Saddle & Trout to start our 5 days of adventures. Midlands Saddle & Trout is run by First Group Management and they are currently embarking on a makeover of all the units on the property. We had units 29a and 29b but we decided to just stay together in 29a. The unit had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining area, kitchen, lounge with a fireplace and a patio. This particular unit can sleep 6 – double bed in main room, 2 single beds and the 2 sleeper couches. We had cooked some meals in preparation for our stay as we didn’t want to cook while there, only heat up and eat. It took approximately and hour and a half to drive there and we quickly unpacked so that we could go and visit a few places.

Midlands Saddle & Trout. I love the elephant and swan towel shapes

My husband Neil had worked out the route for us to drive so that we didn’t have to pay toll fees all the time. We decided that every day we would drive to the furthest place we wanted to see and then stop at other places on the way back to home base. The first stop for Monday was the wood and iron church of St. James in Nottingham Road. My Mom and I had been there before but we wanted Carryn to experience it. In order to reach Nottingham Road we had to drive into Mooi River (potholes galore) and then out again and onto the old road that was used before the freeway was built. It was a very pleasant drive and we passed the most fascinating old church on the way – you will see about that later.

It was a beautiful Midlands morning and we spent about 30 minutes walking around the St. James church grounds and taking numerous photos.

The wood and iron church of St. James

We then drove back under the bridge at Nottingham Road and went to Country Company which we had passed on the way. This shop is owned by Anne Colle and is filled with the most beautifully curated items. Clothes from Cape Town, decor items from around South Africa and of course the fabric swatch books so people can choose a fabric for curtaining etc. There is an Anne Colle owned shop in Hillcrest that I haven’t visited in years and I think I need to make a plan to go there again. We spent at least an hour oohing and aahing over the entire decor and my Mom had a good chat to the manager of the shop.

Country Company

The final stop for the day took us back into and out of Mooi River and onto the most pot holed road I have ever driven on. But the drive was worth it as we reached our destination – Hartford House. I have wanted to visit Hartford House for years but every time we visit the Midlands Meander we tend to go to places on Route 2, 3 and 4. A beautiful stone wall entrance greeted us and I drove slowly down a winding road and through more stone wall entrances until we finally reached the end. There was ivy covered Hartford House surrounded by green lawns, a big garden and fountain water features. We walked up onto the veranda and then into the house which is filled with beautiful statues, Ardmore ceramics, stained glass panels in the ceilings and other amazing decor. We felt like we were in a museum or library as we found ourselves whispering to each other.

Hartford House (photos taken by Carryn Paikin)

The decision was made to sit on a lovely comfy couch on the veranda and order our tea and cake. Yes I do know that I Run On Coffee but this occasion called for Earl Grey tea. The pastry chef came to tell us what cakes were available – coffee nut cake, cheesecake and chocolate cake. My sister Carryn and I chose the coffee nut cake and Mom chose cheesecake. The storm blinds were down on the veranda and the heaters were on, so we were very comfortable as we enjoyed our tea and cake. The coffee nut cake was amazing and there was no scrimping on nuts. In fact we were not able to finish and took home quite a large piece. After tea we took our time as we wandered around the garden and through the vine covered arbour. We also took a look at Tijnhuis which is a stone, glass and thatch building where guests can sit and enjoy a light meal or high tea.

Hartford House

It was now late into the afternoon and we had to leave before it got dark as I didn’t want to drive the road back to Midlands Saddle & Trout at night. We had put on the wall heaters in the rooms before we left so our unit was so warm and welcoming. Carryn and I went for a walk to the stables and to see the horses in the paddocks. It was a chilly evening and we made sure to zip up our jackets while we took photos of the horses and the sunset. Midlands Saddle & Trout has the best looking horses, stables and paddocks that I have ever seen at a resort.

We ended our first day with supper and chatting, and me having the task of starting the fire in the fireplace of the unit. I’m so used to my husband making the fire and I have never done it and actually found it hard. I was finally successful after using 2 firelighters and lots of newspaper.

The next day started dark and early when I was out on the veranda waiting for the sun to rise over the valley – very, very well wrapped up in a blanket. This became a daily event for us as the sun rises were so spectacular.

Misty valley sunrise

Panoramic view

After breakfast we headed out for another day of adventure. We drove into Mooi River and then onto the N3 to go to the Lions River Trading Post. We got quite a shock that the toll onto the freeway was R32 when we thought that it was R14. We took the turn off at Lion’s River and it was quite a teeth rattling drive on the dirt road to Lions River Trading Post. It was so teeth rattling that we changed our minds about driving back on that road to go to Groundcover Leather Company and Old Halliwell Country Inn.

Lions River Trading Post is filled with vintage furniture, paintings, crockery, cutlery and lots of other fascinating items. My sister was thrilled to find a Tala flour sifter in great condition and at a reasonable price. We spent over an hour at the Trading Post and there were so many items that I would have loved to buy for home.

It was coffee time and we all had a craving for scones and what a better place to find them than at Granny Mouse Country House & Spa. Carryn had also never been there before. Warm greetings + warm fireplace + hot coffee + delicious big farmhouse scones with jam and cream = Bliss. We spent at least 2 hours at Granny Mouse chatting to each other, chatting to the staff and then showing Carryn around. I have written many times about the beautiful Granny Mouse Country House & Spa so take a look on the blog.

Love, love the farmhouse scones

Before heading back to home base we went to take a look at Brahman Hills which is situated on Nottingham Road just over the freeway. I had been following them for sometime on social media and was interested to see it. They really follow their theme of Brahman cattle closely – metal Brahman shapes by the property entrance and numerous paintings throughout the reception, coffee shop, restaurant and veranda. There wasn’t space for us to have coffee together in the coffee shop so a member of staff showed us through to the veranda and the comfortable couches there. We loved the biscuits served with the cappuccino – a sort of choc chip shortbread butter biscuit. We were joined by one of the resident cats, there are four in total. It took a special liking to my sister and Mom and loved the attention it was getting.

Brahman Hills

This is the end of part one of our Midlands trip and in part 2 I will tell you where we went and what we saw on the other 3 days.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Umgeni Steam Railway

Steam train travel is from a bygone era and it is sad that we no longer seem to use trains as a means of travel anymore. Fortunately a dedicated group of volunteer train enthusiasts has formed the Umgeni Steam Railway, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation of railway heritage in South Africa. The Umgeni Steam Railway has taken on the task of repairing and maintaining steam locomotives and carriages for use on the Kloof to Inchanga rail line (I was interested to find out that trains cannot use the line to Durban as it is overgrown).

Before boarding the train. Stokers Arms in Kloof

The steam train runs on the last Sunday of the month and there are two trips. One in the morning and another in the afternoon. The train is also in use on special occasions such as Mother’s or Father’s day, but they usually use a diesel locomotive as it can pull more carriages. The train leaves from Stokers Arms in Kloof and also returns there.

On the way to Inchanga

On the way to Inchanga

Take a look at the Umgeni Steam Railway Website and Facebook pages to see the dates.

Ticket prices are :

R240.00 Adults
R170.00 Kids and Pensioners

All Aboard!!

"Wesley" the steam engine

Sad to see the terrible state that Botha's Hill station is in. My great grandfather was station master

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Hillcrest's New Restaurant : Jack Salmon Fish House

There have been many changes in Hillcrest over the past year and the opening of the Watercrest Mall caused a huge shift of stores away from Hillcrest Corner. It was sad to see all the empty shops but now I am glad to see the new ones that have moved in and the centre is getting very busy again.

Three new restaurants have opened at Hillcrest Corner with the latest one being Jack Salmon Fish House which has taken over half of the space where Mr Price clothing used to be. I believe that another restaurant will take over the other half. It’s a perfect place for a restaurant with ease of access and lots of parking.

The restaurant is spacious with a nice amount of tables creating a good flow. The decor has a few nautical touches but doesn’t scream “We serve seafood!” It is a relaxed decor that would fit perfectly in a seaside cottage.

Decor, ambiance, lighting, parking and ease of access are all very important features for a restaurant but the most important of all is of course the FOOD.  There are no mushy prawns or limp fish allowed at Jack Salmon. All seafood is fresh and freshly prepared.

There is an extensive menu and I took my time reading through it whilst sipping on a sparkling water as it was a warm day. For those people that are pressed for time they have a Light Lunch Menu for R98 which consists of a choice of starter and main. There are 5 starters to choose from and 5 mains. The Light Lunch Menu is available Monday – Friday from 12pm – 4pm.

Fortunately I did not have to decide which starter I would like on this occasion as Jason the restaurant owner made the choices for us. Us being Inge of Snap, Sizzle & Cook, Shirley and Gareth from Cuizine Africa and Nicola from Ask Ashe.

A wide range of starters arrived at the table including sushi and a sushi donut. Yes you did read that right – a sushi donut!  I never order sushi and it is definitely not on my favourites list but I found it very hard to stop eating and my taste portion of the sushi donut was superb. In fact all the starters were superb and so full of flavour. The calamari was soft and I loved the presentation of it on the skewer.


Sushi Donut

Jason recommended that we order our choice of platter and I decided to have the Captain’s Platter which consisted of catch of the day (Dorado) or Kingklip, 6 medium prawns and calamari. I chose to have the Dorado and chips but you can also have vegetables or a salad instead of chips. The platter was delicious and I found no bones in my piece of Dorado.

Captian's Platter

Nicola, Shirley and Gareth had to get back to work but Inge and I were not leaving until we had tried out a dessert. After all dessert is the most important part of any menu. Whenever I see Crème Brulee on a menu I order it but this time my eyes were caught and held by “Death by Brownie – decadent deep-fried brownie nuggets filled with a gooey chocolate centre.”  With wording like that who could resist and oh wow was it divine! It paired perfectly with the Illy cappuccino that I ordered.

Death by Brownie

Hillcrest is the newest of the Jack Salmon Fish House restaurants but if that is too far for you to travel they also have restaurants in Glenore  Centre, Glenashley and Tiffany’s Centre, Salt Rock.

Have a look at their Website and Facebook pages for more information.