Eastern Cape bliss: Makhanda, the city of sinners and saints

After our splendid weekend in Plett, we trundled up the coast, me peering warily into the emerald depths of the beautiful Tsitsikamma forests – my sister told me wolves lived there when I was very young – waving at the enormous turbines of the wind farms, blowing kisses to PE as we drove through, and finally hitting the home stretch to Makhanda (previously known as Grahamstown), the place of my joy-filled ‘varsity years.

The landscape changes as you head into the Eastern Cape, green rolling hills, scattered with aloes, all aflutter in their spring colours. It sets my heart aflutter too, this land of my childhood holidays and varsity escapades.

Makhanda has been given a rough hand. Multiple rotations of crooked municipalities have left this once-flourishing, well-kept town struggling to stay standing. High Street is a mass of potholes, the water that came out of the taps was brown, the whole place had a dejected feeling. It was heartbreaking.

It was also 44-degrees when we arrived, so after a quick spin around town (thank goodness The Little Bluebird of Happiness has air con) filled with nostalgic whtterings as we rounded every corner, we headed to our hosts at The Cock House, its lush little courtyard garden looking blissfully green. At 44-degrees, though, the only thing to do was lie down under the fan, a wet scarf over me!

Built in 1826, The Cock House is awash with history. It’s a beautiful old building and the converted stables have been made into wonderfully comfortable rooms opening onto the garden. An added bonus while we were there was the jasmine prolifically flowering on the verandah outside the rooms. Heavenly.

At one time, it was home to author, Andre Brink, and his lounge and library remains. He wrote his most well-known book, A Dry White Season, here. Notable guests in The Cock House Visitor’s Book include our beloved Madiba.

After a fabuous dinner in the garden meeting new friends – it was still about 30-degrees, so much ice was consumed and many mosquitos were flapped away – a good nights’ rest was just what the doctor ordered after the long day travelling.

The temperature plummetted through the night and whipped up a wind that was so strong it blew a crane over in PE’s harbour. I’d forgotten how schizophrenic my beloved The Weatherman is in Makhanda! We headed down to Kowie for some more nostaglia, the place of my sandy-footed, salty-skinned childhood holidays. Early morning swims on Kelly’s Beach, sand-skiing down the massive dunes on East Beach and, when we were older, hot nights of dancing at Barnacles as the river twinkled in the starlight.

No trip to Port Alfred is complete without a stop at The Pig and Whistle in Bathurst for lunch. I was thrown back to those childhood days as we walked in, the smell of old wood and the brandy-tinged air of the pub, still with faceless voices floating out of its door, unchanged in 25 years. In fact, I’m sure unchanged in the hotel’s 186-year history. I was beyond happy that it is being lovingly looked after and the food was great!

If you’re in Bathurst, don’t forget to pop in at Stowe and so (diagonally opposite The Pig where, in my childhood, the little village shop was, that smelt of washing powder, paraffin and maize meal). Tori Stowe makes the most lovely things and you will, most likely, like me, want everything.

I was, in fact, not only in Makhanda to drive aimlessly around regaling tales of mischief and frivolity of yesteryear, but for the launch of my book, One Night Only, at the incredible National English Literary Museum. I was petrified, but a kind new friend did it with me and, if I’m allowed to say so myself, it was a roaring success. [Shameless self-promotion: if you want the book, contact me. It’s MUCH cheaper through me than Amazon.]

And so to our comfy beds at The Cock House, a Gino’s pizza in hand – what a treat they were when we were students, and they still taste as delicious! I slept more restfully that night, having discussed the heartbreaking state of Makhanda’s disrepair with both old and new friends … I had also forgotten the resilience and tenacity of Eastern Cape people. They’re fed up and they’re ready to fight the good fight for Makhanda, a small town with a huge heart, a gazillionty-twelve tales of high jinks and wonder, and a stubborness that won’t allow it to be felled. A luta continua, vitória é certa.

 

Lovely Makhanda and its lovely people deserve better. Our farewell committee as we left The Cock House, above right, agree. Aren’t they beautiful?


Wheelchair accessibility

The Cock House has a ramped pathway up to rooms 1 to 5. The rooms are nice and spacious, with plenty of room to transfer onto the bed. The bathrooms aren’t accessible, although you can get into the basin.

The breakfast room/restaurant is also up a couple of steps but they very kindly brought dinner to us in the garden and breakfast down to us.

Chris, the gardener, and the rest of the staff (who’s names I sadly didn’t get) were all wonderful. I wish Yvonne, the new owner, all the best. The Cock House has such wonderful character, it deserves to continue doing so well.

 

 

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