Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Meandering Through the Midlands Part Two

Welcome to Part 2 of Meandering through the Midlands. In Part 1 I covered what we did on the Monday and Tuesday and now you will find out what we did and where we went for the rest of the week.

Wednesday started the usual way by waking up early to watch the sunrise over the valley and then we had breakfast and got ready to go. I drove the usual route into Mooi River and then along the old main road through to Nottingham Road. The first place we went to was Lilac Crane and it is very close to the bridge on Nottingham Road. The shop is filled with local arts and crafts and I found a beautiful necklace with the pendant made from a vintage ceramic plate and a handmade coconut coffee soap. I really wanted to buy a dish cloth with a coffee design printed on it. Unfortunately it was a bit too expensive.

Lilac Crane

We hadn’t chosen the next place to visit as we had decided to just take a slow drive and see what caught our eye. A sign with “The Shed – crafts and coffee” looked interesting so we turned off the road and drove up and over the railway tracks. My Mom chatted to the owner and discovered the building was a former chicken shed which they had now converted into a coffee and craft shop. A lot of the crafts for sale had been created by the owner and they were so well made. The train track was very close to the building and we saw 2 trains go by while we were there.

The Shed

Our next stop was suggested by Carryn as it is one of her favourite places to go to when she visits the Midlands Meander – Peter’s Gate Herbal Centre. We decided to look around the shop first before ordering tea. I bought a wonderful smelling lavender room spray and a cream that can be used on pets when they injure themselves. Carryn and I felt like having Rooibos tea and we really enjoyed the Laager Citrus & Ginger Rooibos tea that we were offered. Mom had her usual Five Roses tea. There was a cool breeze blowing but we enjoyed sitting on the veranda in the warm morning sun. In fact we found it very difficult to leave, but our tummies helped a lot by reminding us that it was nearly lunch time.

Peter's Gate Herbal Centre

We had decided on Caversham Mill as our lunch stop, but we first planned to look at the menu before a final decision was made. More dirt roads to drive on to get there but fortunately they were not teeth rattling and there was nice scenery. Ardmore is very close to Caversham Mill, practically a neighbour and we decided to go and see them after lunch – don’t forget the tummies were rumbling. The restaurant can only be reached by driving over a single lane bridge but there was no one around when I got there. Caversham Mill is not cheap but we were too hungry to go and find somewhere else to have lunch and the menu had delicious sounding items on it.

I am very pleased to say the servings were a very good size and the pot pie that I chose was delicious. The pie that day was chicken and mushroom and it came with vegetables and mashed potato. Carryn had soup with homemade bread and Mom had quiche and vegetables. Of course we had looked at the desserts before ordering our lunch and Crème Brulee was on it! So I’m sure you can guess what Carryn and I ordered. It was relaxing watching and listening to the water flow. Lots of old photos are on the walls showing what the mill used to look like and you can read its history as well. The mill wheel was washed away in a big flood many years ago. Definitely a place for a return visit.

Caversham Mill

After our delicious lunch we drove up the road to go and look at Ardmore. I’m sure you have heard and know all about Ardmore, but just in case let me tell you. Ardmore Ceramic Art was formed over 25 years ago and about 40 artists collaborate under the mentorship of the award winning founder, Fee Halstead. They create pieces that feature in fine art collections and exhibitions around the world. All I can stay is WOW! The intricate work, the animals and the sheer size of some of the ceramic pieces. It is part museum (dedicated to those artists who have died), part gallery and part showroom. The only problem is that you need very deep pockets or a strong credit card in order to buy one of the ceramic pieces. So we enjoyed looking and taking lots of photos.


On Thursday we decided to stay close to home base as I had done a lot of driving and we also wanted to spend some time doing more walking around Midlands Saddle & Trout. First on the list was the all important tea and scones that are served at 10am outside the restaurant. Oh my they were yummy – topped with just the right amount of jam and cream. Quite a few people came to sit in the warm morning sun and enjoy their tea and most stayed to play Bingo. We took a walk over to the Spa once we were done as we wanted to smell the perfumes they sell there and then checked what the night’s activities were on the board by reception. Carryn and I decided that we would go for the marshmallow braai at 6pm. We then walked back to our unit so that we could get the car and go to the first of two places that we were visiting that day.

Midlands Saddle and Trout

Remember in Part One where I mentioned that we had passed a fascinating church on the way into Mooi River? I had Googled and found the website and then emailed the owners to ask if we could visit and received a reply in the affirmative. I just needed to phone the caretaker and arrange a time. It was arranged for Thursday and we just needed to go and look before 12pm as guests would be arriving later. Guests? Guests in a church? Yes because this was no longer a church but a self catering guesthouse called St. Andrew's Retreat.

We drove through the original stone entrance and parked close to the added under covered parking with a building on top. We discovered later that this was another room and bathroom. The caretaker met us and said we were welcome to look inside, in fact everywhere. I had thought that we would just be looking around the outside of the building and was thrilled that we could see what they had done inside. It was amazing! The original stain glass windows and even the baptism font are still there while the stone pulpit hides a gas heater. There are 3 bedrooms inside the converted church and all have double beds and an en-suite bathroom. Two bedrooms are on the ground floor and the 3rd bedroom has been added above them. There are the most beautiful views over the garden and beyond from the windows of the 3rd bedroom and it is definitely the most luxurious. There is a fully fitted kitchen with a gas stove, two lounges and a dining room. All areas except the bedrooms are open plan. The church was built in 1906 and the owners have taken great care to keep original features and create a warm welcoming place to stay.

St. Andrew's Retreat interior

It was wonderful to walk around the beautifully layed out and maintained garden. A great place to sit and reflect on the beauty of the building and garden is under the lush arbour. After looking around the garden we took a look at the bedroom car port extension. It has a beautiful bedroom, bathroom and small lounge to relax in. St. Andrew's Retreat is definitely a place I would love to return to and stay at.

St. Andrew's Retreat exterior

After visiting St. Andrews Retreat we drove to Lords of the Manor which is next door to Midlands Saddle & Trout, it actually shares a boundary fence. Lords of the Manor was at one time called Oatesdale and was the home of the Oates family. My Father’s uncle married Muriel Oates and Dad stayed at Oatsdale when he was a little boy. The house had no electricity at that time and Dad had to climb the scary creaky stairs holding a candle. I’m pleased to say that is not the case now.

Lords of the Manor

We were very warmly welcomed and shown into the small lounge area and our order taken for cappuccinos (Carryn and I) and tea (Mom). They serve Terbodore coffee. While we were waiting the general manager Max Youngleson came to greet us and Mom asked if we could go up the stairs to see the upper level. Well it was even better than that as we were given a guided tour by a member of staff and even the owner of Lords of the Manor chatted to us. We were shown a family suite, classic suite and an executive suite which contains an original fireplace.  A joy to see another beautiful old stone building.

After Lords of the Manor it was back home to our cosy unit at Midlands Saddle & Trout. We had lunch and sat on the comfortable couch with blankets and watched a movie. Carryn and I decided to take a walk down to the trout dam and we were very surprised to discover how the weather had changed. A very cold wind was blowing and it had become very cloudy. It was a very “refreshing” walk and we watched while 2 brave fly fisherman tried to catch trout. After taking a few photos we headed back to the warmth of the unit. After supper Carryn and I ventured out again -  this time over to the bonfire area as we wanted to attend the marshmallow braai. Unfortunately they did not have enough people wanting to attend the braai so it was not happening. We were very sad as we had a craving for braaied marshmallows. A staff member told us to go and ask for some marshmallows at the restaurant. We did just that and were given enough to chase away the craving. The restaurant has been beautifully re-decorated and Carryn and spent quite a long time trying to get the perfect photo of their lighting. Then it was back to the unit and I started the fire so we could have our braaied marshmallows.

After another great night’s sleep we had to pack up and check out. It was quick and easy as I handed over the keys to the unit and we received a drive safely pack that contained small bottles of water for our journey. I drove out slowly so we could see the horses one last time. Midlands Saddle & Trout you were fabulous!

Just in case you think that the adventures were over – nope you would be wrong! We were driving into Mooi River to get onto the freeway when I heard a strange noise from the back of the car. I put my hazards on and slowly pulled over to the side of the road. At the same time a man in an Audi pulled up next to me. I wound down my window and asked him if it was my tyre and he said it was the back right. He asked if I could manage and I said I would not be able to. What a blessing to have someone right there when my tyre went flat. We had a chat as he changed my tyre and he said he worked at Hartford House and we told him about our lovely time there. It turned out that the man who stopped and changed my tyre was the Executive Chef Constantijn Hahndiek! We all thanked him profusely and gave him a hug. I then drove slowly into Mooi River to get the changed tyre pumped and we headed to Howick.

Howick and not home? Yip we had to end off our meandering adventures by stopping at ALL the charity shops in Howick and with coffee at the new Treatery at Yard41. A fitting end to our meandering through the Midlands adventures.

The Treatery at Yard41

I know that I didn’t mention picking up the keys at Midlands Saddle & Trout and that is because my family (husband and kids) and I went up on Saturday 3 June to fetch them and take a look at the unit. My daughter Laura and I took the opportunity to have an hour long horse ride. We rode very spirited horses and had a fabulous time. I have never seen so many horses at a resort before and I did confirm that all the horses belong to them. We had lunch in the restaurant (delicious curry, burgers and toasted sandwiches) and I was thrilled to discover that the coffee they serve is supplied by Skyline Coffee Roasters.

Restaurant at Midlands Saddle & Trout serves Skyline Coffee

Hour long horse ride on very spirited horses - great fun!

Yes this is the end!!

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.