In 1969, the small town of Tulbagh was hit by an earthquake that measured 6.3 on the Richter Scale. It killed nine people, mostly children, and left heartbreak and chaos in its wake. Fires followed and, as huge numbers of the town’s people were put up in emergency tents (some had to live in temporary housing for years), the rains came down. The town thought it was Judgement Day and, according to one of the interviews we watched at the fascinating Earthquake Museum – pop in, it’s well worth a visit – ‘Toe gaan die mense Kerk toe’ (Then everyone went to church).
Soon after, restoration began, including that of the beautiful Church Street, in which all of the 18th and 19th century houses were returned to their former glory. Wittedrift Manor House, which sits just across from Church Street, looks like it should be included in the family album of those old houses. Interestingly though, the manor, with its thatched roof, Cape Dutch gables, huge wooden windows and spectacular high ceilings is but a teenager – without the rolling eyes and duck-faced selfies, thankfully – compared to the old ladies of Church Street.
I generally consider myself a ‘do it yourself’ kind of traveler in that, mostly, I prefer self-catering and ‘off the beaten track’ places. Then I go to a guesthouse like Wittedrift and realise that I love the more ‘communal’ kind of travelling too. By communal I don’t mean sharing bunk beds in a backpackers – one reaches an age where that kind of thing loses its glitter, and I’m that age (and some) – no, this is as far from that kind of communal as the English rugby team is from getting their hands on the 2019 Rugby World Cup trophy.
Wittedrift Manor is the perfect kind of communal. The one where you have the cool, quiet sanctuary of your en-suite room in one of the wings at the front of the house where you can lazily enjoy your peaceful privacy and, at the back of the house, the huge, friendly kitchen welcomes you – in winter, I’m sure the communing takes place next to the fireplace in the lounge, adjacent to the kitchen. Therein, you can often find the fabulous hosts, PJ and/or Carol and/or other guests, chatting.
A moment for the kitchen, please, which almost deserves its own full post. It’s huge and is the poster child for kitchens. The walls are chock-a-block with art; from the ceiling hang an array of kitchen equipment, art pieces and an old wicker pram; it has an enormous wooden table (how I wish that table could talk … the things it must’ve heard and seen) in its centre at which breakfast is served, communally, and sundowners and, and … gesellig, that’s what it is; and, most importantly, the aromas that float gently out of it are delicious, thanks to Carol’s talents. She’s the owner and chef at the renowned Readers Restaurant, a hop, skip and a jump down the road (and a must-visit for a meal).
The enormous bedroom, fully kitted out with a four-poster bed, as required by a ‘Lady of the Manor’ such as I now see myself, is also beautifully cool due to its high ceilings (a necessity … Tulbagh summers are hot hot hot) and has enough space to have a small party, should you wish to do such a thing. Speaking of parties, the Manor has played host to a range of celebrations: think weddings, special birthdays and, my best, Murder Mystery weekends. I can’t think of a better place for such a thing. I spent a happy afternoon lying on my bed gazing out of the window onto the lush garden, reminiscing about the endless games of Cluedo my sister and I used to play. She always won, being four years older (I refuse to admit its because she’s cleverer than me, even though she is). Prof Plum in the Conservatory with the candlestick, indeed.
Basically, Wittedrift is a blissful place to be, capably run by Carol and hosted by PJ, who is Irish and has the charm to prove it. Bonus … we were spoilt with massages from Celeste, who comes to you, there, and has perfect healing hands. I was just post-exam, so knotted with stress and she massaged it all out of my back and sent it fluttering to the floor. What a treat. Extra bonus (we were treated and treated, lucky us), was Sunday dinner around the table, en famille: fantastic food by Carol and great conversation. The perfect Sunday night, really
*We were hosted by Tulbagh Tourism and Wittedrift Manor House.
The Manor House is built on a sloped property so the back entrance has stairs, but a little slope up the driveway leads to a level path straight into the wide front door and from there on in, it’s wooden floors, huge rooms and wide doors.
The four-poster bed, while gorgeous, is quite high, so if transferring is an issue, may be difficult. There is a perfect-height single bed in the room we had, though, so there’s that option. The room is beautifully big, with lots of space to move around and a large en-suite bathroom too. No grab rails but plenty of transfer room for the toilet and a step up into the shower – also no grab rails or seat, but a garden chair would fit easily.
Most importantly, Carol and PJ went out of their way to make it accessible and, why I was there, was to give them input on accessibility. As an example of their loveliness, the kitchen table was a little low for me to get under … at dinner, they had kindly put it up on bricks so I could get under.
The Earthquake Museum, which is well worth a visit, has steps at the front but, if you enter from the back, there’s a flat entrance.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like more in-depth info or have questions, I’m happy to help.