The cottage in the early sun on a frosty morning. Picture Myrtle Ryan
The cottage in the early sun on a frosty morning. Picture Myrtle Ryan

Cooling off in Croydon

By Myrtle Ryan Time of article published Sep 26, 2012

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Durban - Whether you approach along the R56 between KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape or travel from the Free State via Gariep Dam, Steynsburg is ideally placed for those who need an overnight stop.

Deciding to spend the night at Croydon Cottage B&B, on a farm 7km outside Steynsburg, proved a good choice for me.

Set in the garden of the main house, it was compact but had every amenity to ensure a comfortable stay. The double bed is plump with fine linen, and the fixtures for self-catering modern and shiny.

A heater was exactly what the accommodation physician ordered as Steynsburg was in the grip of one of this past winter's many cold spells.

Temperatures here can plummet quickly when the sun goes down; so, after I’d relaxed for a short spell on the porch, an exploratory walk had to be tackled quickly.

Nothing too adventurous or distant because the ground was still soggy from the heavy snow that had fallen just days before.

A rather wobbly-looking snowman was testimony to the fun-in-the snow of previous occupants of the cottage.

Not far away lay the pretty farm dam. The trees on its banks were golden in the last rays of sunshine, while the fresh country air proved invigorating.

Owner Glenn Burmeister had suggested I call on his wife Roslyn’s father, Austin Mills, whom he said was a mine of information on the history of the farm. So I set off down a muddy track, to be given a warm welcome by 87-year-old Austin.

Ensconced in a comfortable chair, I listened fascinated as the old man began his story. His great-great grandfather, Daniel William Mills, was among the 1820 Settlers and was awarded a farm in the Grahamstown area. When he left there, he and his family travelled to Graaff-Reinet by oxwagon.

As his two daughters knew how to read and write, they started a small school in the town before the family moved to Cape Town.

Later, almost the entire family went to Australia, leaving just one son behind (also Daniel).

This young man went into the milling business. Soon he noticed how farmers from the rich agricultural Swartland unloaded their wheat in the town square. While those who arrived early did well, the stragglers hardly found a market. Being enterprising, he bought up all the wheat and stacked it on the parade, where he began to do a thriving trade.

One year there was a tremendous drought in the Cape, so he contacted his family in Australia and asked them to send him wheat from that country. Next he sent to Scotland for a steam mill, so he would not be dependent on water mills.

According to Austin, one of his uncles, Rex Mills, started Anchor Yeast.

Fast forward the clock to 1911, when Austin's father, also Daniel William – who first worked in a bank, then learned farming in the Somerset East area – set his heart on his own piece of land.

When he was on his way to Middelburg, a local agent suggested he take a look at a farm near Steynsburg. This was what is now Croydon. Daniel had found his dream place, where he lived in a tiny building (which still stands) until 1914.

Explaining how his father had come to re-name the farm, Austin said that during World War I Daniel joined a contingent of troops from Steynsburg, which first went to German South West Africa – now Namibia – then Cape Town and finally England.

In England, Daniel joined the tank corps and was sent to Croydon, which in those days was just a training depot.

He stayed until 1918 before returning home and renaming the family farm.

By now, there was a sharp nip in the air, so I was grateful to head home to my cottage, which was lovely and cosy as the heater radiated warmth.

Not long afterward, Roslyn, who does dinners on request, arrived bearing a welcoming tray of delicious home-made soup, bread rolls, savoury cheese sticks, grated cheese and a yummy pudding.

Bed seemed the best place to be, and in the morning I woke up to a world white with frost. My bakkie looked like a wedding cake beneath its thick layer of nature's icing.

After fortifying myself with the continental breakfast provided, I decided to brave the cold and take another walk down to the dam, approaching from a side that Austin had assured me was particularly lovely in the early morning sun.

It was magical.

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