A Mosey around the Misty Midlands

In most of South Africa, we have bush. In KwaZulu-Natal, by contrast, there is countryside. It’s a fine distinction but it is a distinction nevertheless and it maybe goes some way towards explaining the quintessential Englishness of the KZN Midlands.
Rolling hills, spotted with high-eaved, thatched homes. Bright-white walls. Pergolas, latticework and rambling roses. Cackling streams meandering through colourful woodlands. Farms named after English villages and villages named, no doubt, after English farms (although The Dargle itself was named after the Dargle River in Wicklow, Ireland, by Irish settlers in 1848 and it is very like it).

I don’t know whether the Beverley Country Cottages were named after the East Yorkshire wool trading town, but if they were, the town was honoured. Beverley is in the Dargle Valley and, not unlike the Dales in some respects with its swirling mists, it is as pretty a place as anywhere in Yorkshire.

Just across the Umgeni River on a grassy knoll atop a rise stands a from-a-distance apparently ramshackle assortment of old sheds and dairy buildings. Above them presides a gracious hundred-year old home overlooking a long lawn which extends into the view itself and beyond and around them lie 20 hectares of lawns and paddocks with more farms stretching deep into the distance.

But if the buildings are ramshackle on the outside, the inside is another story. Swish, squashy sofas, huge beds, televisions and fully kitted-out kitchens are the order of the day. The fridge is stocked with fresh milk, there’s real filter coffee and a jar of shortbread. The linen is of the finest quality and for cool nights there are piles of blankets, log-fires and a braai around which to huddle.

The garden has all the English trappings, right down to the rhododendrons.

We turned up fairly ramshackle ourselves: adults, children, young and old. Kate and Garry came out to meet us, their infectiously delightful four year-old twins, Jade and Jasmin, hurtling behind them, squawking joyously like teletubbies. These two hove into sight and then out again, with my youngsters in tow. We would barely see any of them for days as they happily moseyed around the garden in successive searches for duiker, chickens, Frisbees, tame rabbits and lost balls, with intermittent leaps on the trampoline.

For the rest of us, Beverley was an escape from everything we knew. We stretched out along the gravel road on a straggle of mountain bikes in the drizzle. We fished for trout in nearby sunny streams and dams. We walked the hills and undertook more strenuous hikes in the foothills of the Drakensberg and below the majestic iNhlosane (maiden’s breast) mountain, which dominates this region of otherwise gentle undulations.

In between activities, we went exploring. The Dargle Valley is in a remote corner of the Midlands Meander which means that, while there is no passing traffic, you are still only a leather sandal’s throw from Lions River and Nottingham Road with their seamless supply of city refugees and artisans knocking up everything from footwear to fudge and pickles to pottery. A shopaholic’s dream, spattered with pubs and coffee shops for the less enthusiastic spender.

There are resorts abundant in the area but Beverley somehow seems to offer everything that a resort would have been able to provide for less money and with fewer people around. The children would happily have stayed there forever. I guess we all would. If home was like this, I’d never leave.

For Kate and Garry, who moved back down to her native KwaZulu-Natal from a lodge outside Bela-Bela a year or so ago, there’s no looking back. And from the way they have lovingly restored the homestead and its surrounding buildings, polishing up the yellowwood and Oregon and sprucing up the dairy, the hayloft and the stable, I don’t think they’ll be moving away in a hurry.

This, of course, is good news for the rest of us. After all, why beat about the bush, when you can enjoy a weekend in the countryside?

BASICS
Where it is: In the Dargle Valley, 45 minutes from Pietermaritzburg.
Why go there: For cool, quiet mountains and the peace of the countryside. And if you have kids at the nearby boarding schools, this is spot-on for those weekend visits.
What it has: Four self-catering cottages with plenty of bathrooms and lots of space. Two en-suite rooms in the main house.
What it’s like: Actually, it is quite plush, but you still feel you can kick off your shoes and put your feet on the furniture
And the food: Self-catering with an option to include breakfast and/or dinner. The Midlands Meander also offers countless food options from the wild to the wonderful.
Rates: R295 pp/night. Children under 12 pay 50%. Children under 4 free.
Getting there: S 29 deg 29.845 E 29 deg 58.351 Take the Impendle/Dargle turning off the R103 between Nottingham Road and Howick/Tweedie off ramps and travel until the road crosses the Umgeni. Beverley is over the river at the top of the hill on the left.
What there is to see on the way: Shopping. Beware!
Contact: Kate and Garry Kelly Tel: 033 234 4771 Cell: 082 895 4002
Fax: 086 616 0835 Email: info@beverleycountrycottages.co.za Website:www.beverleycountrycottages.co.za