The welcome could not have been warmer. I had popped into Clarendon Guest House in Ugie, Eastern Cape, wanting to check it out for a future stopover.
In the kitchen, Linie Gouws was up to her elbows in flour, preparing for a large family gathering the next day, but this did not stop her from giving me the grand tour.
Amid somewhat faded elegance, with furniture to suit the period, I found a blend of old and new and a comfortable, lived-in air. Then, although she needed to carry on with her baking, with typical small-town courtesy Linie invited me to join her in the large lounge. As we sipped tea and tucked into cookies, she told me some of the history of the guest house.
“The orphanages started in 1918 with the Spanish flu, when many parents died,” said Linie. Some black farmworkers took the orphaned children into their huts.
A Rev MTR Smit made the round of the farms in his parsonage on horseback and collected 12 children from four families in two days. He then arranged for a couple in town to look after them. By 1924 he had raised enough money to build a house for 120 girls, with the reverend’s wife unveiling a memorial tablet in December 1924.
In 1933 the Governor-General of the Union of South Africa, Lord Clarendon and his wife Lady Clarendon visited the orphanage. A memorial tablet to commemorate their visit can still be seen.
By 1937 the orphanage was the largest in the province. In 1961 it changed its name to the MTR Smith Children’s Haven. Under the guidance of the Rev Solly Ozrovedh, a new orphanage was built and in 1963 all the children, girls and boys, moved there. In 1987 they moved to Port Elizabeth.
A far cry from its spartan roots, Clarendon Guest House has en-suite facilities, DStv and microwaves. Some rooms have a lounge, and most a kitchen.
Step outside, and there is much to captivate the traveller. With many streams, the fly-fishing in said to be among the best in the country. Or take a drive to view dinosaur footprints, or a hike in the Prentjiesberge, or drive some of the scenic backroads where the Gatberg (a hole in the mountain) can be spotted.
San rock art can be seen in many of the caves in the district, the Ugie Tractor Museum houses old agricultural equipment and the Ugie Methodist Church is said to be a unique example of north-eastern Cape architecture.