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A golden getaway

Bloemfontein - These geese knew how to have fun. Heavy recent rains meant the stream was running higher than usual. They waddled into the fast-flowing water and sailed downstream over tiny cascades, honking and hissing their delight.

The humans were also living life to the full. A South African, currently teaching in Thailand, had come home to celebrate her 30th birthday at Sunnyside Guest Farm, at Golden Gate in the eastern Free State.

The geese have fun on a swollen stream.Rocky outcrop through a lightning-blasted tree. Pictures: Myrtle RyanSunnysides spectacular surrounds.Sunnyside's spectacular surrounds. Picture Myrtle Ryan

She said her family had been coming to Sunnyside since she was a child. Every Easter her father, Steven de Klerk, played the role of Easter bunny here, until he died.

A Durban man, Derek Staniland, for many years played Father Christmas at Sunnyside until he, too, died. Many guests have been coming here for decades, all as a result of word of mouth.

Little has altered since Denis and Ann Boland took over Sunnyside in 1957 (it had served as a holiday retreat since 1932, and they had already spent several holidays here).

The sandstone cottages are unchanged, though they have been upgraded. Children still play on the expansive lawns, fringed by colourful flowers.

A gnarled old wisteria still entwines a pergola, where guests take tea. Dogs, cats and geese have always been part and parcel of the atmosphere.

The Sunday braai on the banks of the stream, under willow trees (themselves no longer youthful) remains popular with visitors from the surrounding area. It has been going strong for 57 years and even the rising petrol cost has not deterred them.

Sunnyside’s big drawcard is the spectacular rocky outcrops which blaze red and gold at sunset. Many walks, climbs, tennis courts, bowling greens and a sparkling swimming pool with a great view of the mountains, keep guests active. The menu is made of up traditional farm food, with lots of fresh vegetables.

Ann, now widowed, has a wealth of stories to tell. During the Anglo-Boer War, a local farmer was taken prisoner by a Boer commando, who wrongly accused him of spying for the British, and shot him.

His widow Susannah and two of her sisters remained on the farm (which adjoins Sunnyside) but were struggling without a man to run things. So she placed an advert for a learner farmer in a Pietermaritzburg newspaper.

Young Richard Markham, who had been educated at Michaelhouse school, applied and was accepted. He rode on horseback all the way from Pietermaritzburg and one of the things he did was to plant a row of magnificent Lombardy poplars.

These still stand to this day, towering into the sky and providing a glorious palette of colour in autumn.

Ann said land in these parts was once used as a buffer zone between the Free State republic and Basutoland (now Lesotho). After the Basuto War, it became part of the conquered territory, and the government of the Free State republic gave tracts of land here to English, Afrikaans, Scottish and German settlers who had helped them during the war. They only paid ten pounds a year in rental.

Many settlers erected beautiful sandstone houses hewn from chunks of rock which had fallen from the surrounding mountains. The craftsmen were Scottish stone masons and Basuto (trained in the art by Catholic missionaries).

During World War II, the government asked farmers to provide board and lodging to Italian prisoners of war, in exchange for their labour. These men built Sunnyside’s main storeroom.

Over the years, the border with Basutoland changed many times. During one renegotiation, a huge black eagle flew overhead. Believing this to be a bad omen, the Basuto retreated behind the Caledon River, which then became the border.

Myrtle Ryan, Sunday Tribune

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