In 1800, Andries Pretorius, Commander of the Boers, lived in a small farm. Letskraal. The nearest town, Graff-Reinet, was capital of the fourth colony in the country at that time, following on from Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Swellendam and named after the first Dutch Governor Jacob van der Graff and his wife Rejnet. It lies an hour’s drive away from the farm by car, five hours away in an 1800s horse and carriage.
In 1838, Andries headed off to defeat 5000 Zulus at the Battle of Blood River and establish a city in his name, now the capital city, Pretoria. His crusade was conceived here at Letskraal.
Leaving town, with directions provided by Johan Minnaar, the owner, and after 45 minutes up the N9 the promised sign directs us right on to the dirt track. The instructions explain that the gate to the property has no indication as to its name to protect our privacy, so it is vital to keep an eye on the odometer and to hoot when we get there. Post hoot, John or Rose will let us in. Neither speak English but Rose has a few words, just enough. Our daughter (9) has not been looking forward to this experience at all; three days with no electronic vices are incomprehensible to modern kids who are permanently plugged in these days. Letskraal has not a single electric plug socket.
As we pull up under a big old tree and park in the shade, eight eyes light up (we brought the puppy pug too.) It’s a picture. Whitewashed walls, all slightly crooked are dotted with glossy green shutters. Old wagons, shattered and with bleached timbers enhance the picture as do the old upturned potjies and the massive fallen tree trunk now bedecked with spring pansies in all colours. A red dusty clay area surrounds the house giving it an even more rustic feel and had been, in its significant entirety, raked by hand. One of those tall wild-west mini windmills squeaks in the early evening breeze, reluctantly pumping valuable water into a reservoir.
Rose wields massive ancient jail-like iron keys which open doors to the dining room, separate bathroom, and the front door, which is at the back. One bedroom has a four-poster, the other, two beds almost too high off the ground for a child to get on to. Old certificates and newspaper clippings adorn the inner walls, as well as grand antique furnishings and give up a little of the history. It’s serene and steeped in history.
The building is in a beautiful state; every room feeling authentically ancient apart from the slightly comforting gas cooker and fridge in the kitchen and one or two gas lights to cook by. Minimal necessities, morale comforts.
John comes at 6pm to stoke the donkey with massive amounts of timber which he has collected from the local woods. This should keep us in hot water until the morning and it does.
As the sun sets behind the Sneuberg Mountains comes the realisation that the paraffin lamps and candles need to be lit now or darkness will prevail.
I fumble with the lamps, either lighting them with tape too far out, causing black smoke to stain the lanterns’ glass covers, or turn the widget the wrong way making the tape fall into the liquid. Soon dim flickering flames cast mysterious shadows. There are no sounds. The stars light up the garden.
Having spent a lovely day with no electrical diversions, sleep comes easily and deeply in this magical place.
We visit the Mountain Zebra National Park, Cradock and very eccentric town of Nieu Bethesda with its famous Owl House and the Camdeboo National Park during our brief stay.
Our last night in the fabulous farm and three fires are lit. In the kitchen there is a large hearth, a grate in the dining room and the braai in the garden. There’s a lovely glow to the farm, a warm one; one you take away with you when you leave.
It’s a 5* experience.
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