Friday, October 3, 2014

Spending a weekend at the 150 year old Ann's Villa

Its a hot day in the southern Karoo just north of the Zuurberg in the Eastern Cape.  Not a breath of air moving.  Cicadas are chirping away in the surrounding veld.  Its been four days since you left the small port town of Port Elizabeth and after struggling up the rough Zuurberg Pass the previous day and camping out near the Zuurberg Inn, the day is spent making your way down the pass and into the dry and flat area beyond.  The oxen are acting up after the hard trek and the family on the back of the wagon is tired.  You shout to the man leading the front ox to keep it tight and strike your whip to make sure the rest of the animals follow like they should.  Sweat trickles down into your one eye and you lift your hat to wipe your brow.  Coming round a corner you look back to make sure the young boy working the brake behind the wagon is alert.  Then you spot it.  The welcome sight of the next inn on the route north.  Ann's Villa at the bottom of the pass.  Somewhere to outspan and let the people and oxen rest, have some repairs done and stock up on food.  The date is (or was) 1874.  Now its 2014, 140 years later and I'm spending a Sho't Left weekend at Ann's Villa with the family, taking in the open spaces, history and beautiful surroundings.  The Inn looks the same but there are no ox wagons in sight though.

Ann's Villa was opened in 1864 - making it 150 years old in 2014 - by John Webster, only 6 years after the official opening of the Zuurberg Pass in 1858.  Webster was a baker by trade and sailed for Algoa Bay from Scotland with his family in 1849.  They lived in Port Elizabeth for 5 years before Webster sold his bakery and bought the farm “Kleinplaas” (now Ann’s Villa) from a Mr Grobbelaar.  The family appear to have lived in the old cottage on the property (Bergview Terrace, later renamed Verbena Cottage) and Webster baked for the road builders who were 10 km away at Stebbings Convict Station.  After the pass was opened he built Ann’s Villa in its current form.  The villa was named after his wife Ann Elizabeth Whall who died a year after it was opened.  She was 46 at the time and had borne 14 children in her lifetime.  A year after Ann’s death, John Webster married again.  This time to Mary Ann Jenkins (he seemed to love women named Ann).
In 1867 diamonds were discovered and the diamond rush began.  With its seven rooms the villa boomed. It’s base at the foot of the Zuurberg Pass was perfect for the blacksmith, wheelwright, bakery and shop. (the latter is still in the villa and virtually unchanged). In 1896 a post office and a school were added.  The corrugated iron shed with its sprung floor was ordered from England as a kit and used both as a shearing shed and for local dances while Ann’s Villa also became a centre for sport like tennis and shooting.
After mentioning Ann's Villa in a blog post some time ago, I got an email from the owner, Jeremy Lunn, to bring the family for a weekend and experience this piece of history first hand.  These days Ann's Villa offers self catering accommodation in those same seven rooms that the early travelers would have stayed in.  The house also has a fully kitted out kitchen for visitors to prepare their meals in or you can have a braai on the back verandah.  We made full use of the lounge and games room on both evenings we were there as well and the KidZ would have played games all night long if they could (or had the energy).

Our whole idea behind the weekend was to go somewhere away from everything to unwind and Ann's Villa was perfect for it.  There isn't much traffic on the pass so we could sit out in the front garden the whole afternoon relaxing with a couple of books while the KidZ played on the lawn.  Walks were also high on our "to do" list and we explore both down the road as well as up the pass.  The first afternoon I moseyed over to the old grave yard next to the house and found the graves of the Websters.  In the case of the one in the picture, Ann (check how it was spelled on her grave stone) Elizabeth Webster after whom Ann's Villa was named.

The history attached to Ann's Villa is amazing and more so the fact that it has been maintained for all these years.  Attached to Ann's Villa is the old General Dealer where travelers would stock up their supplies and locals would have come to shop at.  During the Anglo Boer War wounded British soldiers stayed at Ann's Villa and Boer commandoes even raided this same store.  Walking through the old shop there is something interesting to see on every shelf.

The General Dealer also had a post office and that and the old public telephone can still be seen.  Even though we had cold drinks in the kitchen the KidZ wanted to buy drinks from the shop just to be able to say that they did.  
Another interesting part of Ann's Villa is the Blacksmith Museum.  Due to the very bad road across the Zuurberg Mountains a lot of the wagons were damaged and in need of repairs by the time they got to Ann's Villa hence the blacksmith and wheelwright being added to the inn, bakery and shop back then.  The museum contains all the original equipment that was found in the blacksmith's workshop and more with some of it actually dating back to the early days at Ann's Villa.

Guided tours of the Blacksmith Museum is available not just for those staying over at Ann's Villa but also for the public and the guide would even demonstrate some of the equipment in the museum.  At first the KidZ weren't to keen on the tour thinking it was going to be boring but by the end we couldn't get them away.  They wanted to see everything and know what every piece was and the "boring museum", as Chaos Boy put it before we went on the tour, suddenly became very interesting indeed. 
The first time we stopped at Ann's Villa briefly I asked the lady who showed us around if it was haunted and she said no without blinking.  This time around I was a little worried about the KidZ though before we went as I didn't want to sit with two children thinking there were ghosts in this old building.  Well, two days later and no ghosts, no hauntings and no scared children.  With us being the only ones staying over this weekend they did give it horns a bit so perhaps the ghosts were the scared ones hiding away.  Hie-hie-hie.  While on the tour of the Blacksmith Museum they did hear footsteps on the roof, but on closer investigation it turned out to be a family of dassies that lived in the attic.

One unusual thing though.  As you come in the front door of Ann's Villa there is a door to a room under the stairs.  On the door it says, "PRIVATE. HARRY POTTER'S ROOM". Even more peculiar and on the same topic is the magic potion ingredients available in the shop.  Did Harry Potter really visit here and what is the magic connection?  These magic muggles are curious.  
Disclaimer: We spent the weekend at Ann's Villa as guests but all other expenses and transport were covered by ourselves.  I received no further remuneration, wasn't asked to write a positive post and keep full editorial control.   

Directions: Ann's Villa is situated just over an hour from Port Elizabeth.  Follow the N10 via Paterson and thr Olifantskops Pass and turn left on the R335 dirt road north of the pass.

1 comment:

  1. What a great place for a Sho't Left weekend. Love all the history. Great piece.