Nelspruit - Looking for somewhere with charm and a bit of luxury, I was steered in the direction of Country Lane Lodge.
The fact that deputy ambassadors sometimes check into this elegant home is an indication that it is pretty sumptuous, but it does not mean it is beyond the pocket of average Citizen Joe.
Di and George Müller travelled for three years to find the perfect place to buy. They had given up, and were about to head for the Cape, when they happened to dine at a popular White River restaurant, Da Loose Mongoose, and got chatting to the friendly locals, one of whom suggested they take a look at a certain property that was up for sale.
With some reluctance, having had so many disappointments, they agreed to cast an eye over the place.
“We drove down a farm road, paused at the top of the driveway, and that was it. We bought it without even entering the house,” said George.
The main suite, which is so popular with visiting statesmen (American, Russian and Swedish), has a king-size bed, fancy skirting boards, and plenty of cupboards.
Di said, in all their years of travel, they had learnt the importance of hanging space – something many places overlook.
The lovely, spreading gardens with flowering trees are Di’s domain. An old farm shed in the grounds has been converted into rooms.
Guests can take breakfast inside, or on the patio, overlooking the swimming pool and adjoining lapa.
It is traditional for Country Lane to serve strawberries and cream during the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Many townsfolk come here to watch the matches, while indulging. The Müllers also host a potjie competition for local Rotary clubs.
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I was determined to meet Paddy Davies-Webb, the author of Memories of the Lowveld’s Elands Valley: 1854-1983.
Davies-Webb lived in the valley from 1925 onwards, at a time when oxen and wildlife grazed alongside one another. He still lives in White River and, according to locals, is courteous and erect despite his age.
Sadly, time galloped away like a warhorse at full charge, and my only contact was a telephone call on my return to Durban.
History tells us, that before the Anglo-Boer War the Elands Valley was home mainly to wildlife, some Swazi impis, the odd sheep farmer, prospector, and intrepid traveller.
With the coming of the railways all that would change. A narrow-gauge sideline was one of the few racktracks in the world – a remarkable piece of engineering; while the road, which was dug with picks and shovels, is now a super highway, linking Joburg with Maputo.
In his book Davies-Webb poses a fascinating question. Would the history of this part of the world perhaps have been very different?
He bases his theory on two brothers who left Scotland in 1840.
“Their surname was Forbes, and they were on their way to Australia,” he said.
The Forbes’ chose to disembark in Durban, where they cut poles from the indigenous bush around the harbour and present-day Berea. These were used to stabilise the area around the harbour.
At the mouth of the uMngeni River, the two shot three huge elephants, selling their ivory for a small fortune. So they became elephant hunters, roving far and wide in Zululand and the Transvaal lowveld.
Eventually, David Forbes was approached by the government of the Transvaal Republic, which was planning to build a railway between Pretoria and Lourenço Marques (modern-day Maputo). They asked him to transport and guide a group of Dutch surveyors, who were seeking out the best route for the line.
Forbes did so, but the government had no money to pay him. Instead they offered him land in Amsterdam where he duly pegged out a 45 000-morgen farm.
Davies-Webb ponders whether, without Forbes, the Dutch surveyors might have settled on a completely different route, and consequently established towns elsewhere. - Sunday Tribune