"Time out" at Hillston Farm, Middelburg
Monday, 24th July 2017
by Janet Middleton
I learned something about Karoo time and how to spend it on a recent trip to Hillston Farm in Middelburg.
We were rushing to get to Hillston Farm. In part, because we had miscalculated the distance and wanted to get there in time for sundowners and, in part, because we’d stopped to take photos of the beautiful autumn colours of the poplar trees. Phones frantically charging, we careened onto a dirt road, not wanting to miss the sunset but, also…it’s a dirt road so I could only drive so fast.
We were just in time: fifteen minutes and two photos later, the sunset was over and we were sitting in camp chairs, red wine in a tin cup and snacking on a delicious combination of charcoal bread, figs, biltong & cheese (Adrienne has shared this recipe with us and will post this later). A vast, mountain view and a chance to breathe in the cool Karoo air and relax.
Before long, it was time to pack up and head over to the Country House for dinner. As I awkwardly juggled camera, cup and camp chair, Jonathan Southey – owner of the farm – leaned over and calmly said: “There’s no need to rush.” Something about his sincere and calm expression resonated and stayed with me throughout my visit to Hillston Farm. A slice of genuine wisdom – just for me - on a quiet hillside in the Karoo. As I think back on my visit to Hillston Farm, time and its significance in the Karoo is what stands out for me.
At Hillston Farm in the Karoo Heartland, I got to experience less than a day of life on a working farm, a place where people talk to each other, listen to stories and share recipes around the dinner table. Farm life: simple, precious, wonderful. The Southeys are kind and considerate hosts, who are passionate about sharing their lifestyle and love of the Karoo Heartland.
Finished with sundowners, we headed over to the Country House: beautifully restored by the Southey family to its original beauty, warm wooden floors, delicate décor and, unsurprisingly, no electricity. Located in the middle of the farm, the family rents this Country House out as farm-stay accommodation. If you’re looking for electricity, stay at the charming cottage next to the family farmhouse. But if you’re looking to detox, clear your mind, bath by candlelight (gas heaters) and get off the grid, then the Country House is for you – you won’t regret it, trust me.
So, back to Karoo time: we were having a potjie for dinner, simmering deliciously on the verandah as the family showed us around the Country House and we settled around the dining room table to share Karoo stories and laugh as absolute night fell around us. Time turned back as we found out that, along with Jonathan, two of our fathers had attended the nearby Grootfontein College of Agriculture. What a lively evening – with no techno-distractions and no deadlines, just wonderful people sharing a delicious meal in the middle of the Karoo.
The next morning, I got up early. I’d practically missed the sunset and wasn’t going to miss the sunrise. Although, it wasn’t quite a sunrise, as a rolling in of the morning. First it got light, then the mist rolled across the hills and into the valley. Only then did the sun emerge from behind the hills to turn that approaching mist into a golden haze – quite literally engulfing me in sweet morning light. Worth getting up for.
Breakfast included a wonderful fruit display and great coffee as we waited for Adrienne’s piping hot baked eggs. Worth the wait. Too soon reality called and it was time to head back to the city but Jonathan’s words stay with me: “There’s no need to rush,” and it’s with a calmer mind that I take the same road out that I’d so frantically travelled just a day before.
Middelburg gets its name from the fact that it’s half way between Graaff Reinet and Colesberg. Incidentally, it is also approximately halfway between Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and Cape Town. A perfect stop for roadtrippers. At 1279m above sea level, the town and surrounding are rich in history from the Anglo-Boer War and is the birthplace of famous playwright and novelist Athol Fugart.