Lastingham Country house in the Midlands offers history, idyllic gardens.
Lastingham Country house in the Midlands offers history, idyllic gardens.
Its red room has been described as 'hot and horny'.
Its red room has been described as 'hot and horny'.

Durban - Lastingham, named after a village in Yorkshire, must be magnificent when azaleas blaze in the gardens but the heat and dry conditions meant everything was wilting slightly during my visit. Even so it was a cool haven.

The approach along a district road, leading off the R103 in the Midlands, was once a grand 1km driveway leading from the family home to Lidgetton’s railway station. Although now considerably shortened, it is still lined with big, leafy trees.

Lastingham’s large suites range from cool white, silver-grey or cream to more vibrant shades. One, a Victorian-themed bit of decadence, is in bold reds.

“One of our guests described it is hot and horny,” joked part-owner Lynne Holding.

My room, complete with king-size bed, had a huge Nguni cow hide on the carpeted floor. Walking barefoot on it was like silk to the feet. A bowl of roses beside my bed lent a glorious aroma; there was a Jacuzzi in the bathroom and a large open fireplace for wintry evenings.

Guests can also have wellness treatments in their suites.

Lynne is a qualified interior designer, and this is reflected in little touches throughout. Partner Mike Macnab clearly relishes catering, so the two of them take turns to rustle up tasty treats. They also specialise in wedding functions – either in the function room or in the gardens.

The main house dates back to 1912, so the lounges, dining room and other public rooms reflect the charm of that era.

A big cottage, near the main house (once built for Granny Lidgett, as everyone fondly called her) has been turned into modern accommodation.

Three large cottages look out over the valley, and each houses two suites. The quaint thatched family cottage was once the den of the Lidgett boys. It overlooks a rose garden, which has been buck-proofed as duiker and bushbuck have a penchant for nibbling on the flowers.

Some of the meandering walkways have gravel, others stone from a grain shed which Lynne and Mike dismantled.

“We do not have TVs in the rooms,” said Lynne. “Otherwise guests tend to stay in their rooms, not enjoy the surroundings and miss out on seeing the buck, hares and birds that visit.”

Sometimes green parrots put in an appearance, and the guinea fowl were pleasantly active during my stay.

Drinks were served on the veranda of the main house, overlooking the gardens, as shadows crept across the lawns. The family photo gallery on a passage wall has a picture of Lynne’s grandparents, David and Elaine Campbell. He came out from Scotland and took a job as a miner in the Dundee/Colenso area. When he retired the couple moved to Howick, where he became the first mayor.

Dinner was delicious: salmon salad with trimmings; melt-in-the-mouth beef kebabs; a decadent baked chocolate pudding with home-made ice cream, raspberries and blueberries.

After dinner, I curled up with a book on the fascinating history of the area, written by Elizabeth Camp (formerly Lidgett) who now lives in Hillcrest.

The story starts with John Lidgett, a London ship owner who transported 104 settlers to Natal in four of his ships (Nile, Herald, Choice and John Bright) in 1849 and 1850.

They landed in Durban, and it took over a week by ox wagon from there to Houtboschrand, where they were settled on allotments. The area soon became known as Lidgett’s Town, and ultimately Lidgetton.

At around the same time, the Byrne Settlers were being brought to this country.

Lidgett, who began underwriting ships as well, never came to the country himself. When the family business in London began to unravel, his grandchildren John (Jack) was sent to Natal to investigate how they could make the land pay.

Jack recommended wattle, fruit and dairy cows, among others; but the family dragged their heels. So he took a job as an accountant on the Northern Rhodesian copper mines, then became an estate agent in Joburg before returning to the Lidgetton area to set up a business.

Jack and his wife Mollie built their home on the farm Rietvallei in 1912. He also established a large orchard, and about 50 boxes of plums and table peaches were sent by rail to market in Durban and Joburg each day, until fruitfly struck, sending the venture crashing.

The little St Matthew’s Church, which still stands, was consecrated on their land, with Jack as organist. He was made church warden in 1917, a position he held for 27 years.

At one stage he was chairman of the Natal Education Committee and founding President of the SA Wattle Growers Union.

In 1932 his son, Geoff, took over the business. When it was dissolved, he kept the family home, Rietvallei, and 100 acres of land. When he and his wife Jeanne visited Yorkshire in 1965, they fell in love with the village of Lastingham, and so renamed the family home. There was just one owner after that, before Mike and Lynne bought this country house.

Sitting on the verandah early the next morning, a flurry of white and piebald announced the arrival of four horses, which trotted into a nearby field and began to graze. Then the cattle drifted in, amid much bellowing.

Breakfast included wonderful home-made muesli, creamy yoghurts and fresh fruit salad made with some unusual fruits. This was followed by a huge farmhouse breakfast: eggs, bacon, mushrooms, savoury mince, and baked tomato with melted cheese.

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