Tick 2 was the stay at Melton Wold Guest Farm. Back in the 60s, our neighbours used to holiday there every year, while we went to Knipe’s farm at Baden near Montague. While nothing can replace the cherished memories of those Baden times, I still wanted to know what the attraction was at Melton Wold, so much further away in unknown territory – our travels were confined to the mountains of the Western Cape, where Mom and Dad could indulge in their favourite pastimes of birding and discovering the beauty of our fynbos.
It seems unlikely that winter is high season for guests at Melton Wold, with the trees bare of all leaves, the layer of frost on the lawns in the early morning and the bitter winds that can blow across the Karoo from snowy mountains not too far away. It took a fertile imagination to picture holidaymakers playing croquet or bowls on the green in front of the old manor house, or throwing quoits across the cement verandah from circle to circle. The cushioned chairs and sofas lining this verandah must have seen many a lively conversation, or perhaps an afternoon snooze after tea and cakes, and the thickly twisted, gnarled vines would have provided lush shade across the pergola. But for now, we would have to make do with the relative warmth of indoors, where fires burned brightly in open grates, wall heaters did their best to take the chill off huge bedrooms, and blankets were provided for cold shoulders in the huge dining room, where even the delicious farm cooking sometimes didn’t quite retain a piping heat from the Aga to the table.
The old wooden floorboards creak and groan a little now and have disappeared completely at the entrance to this gracious homestead, replaced by a square of similarly worn, warm timber. An old telephone booth in the corner has been turned into a refuge for lost and left-behind teddys and toys, while a glass cabinet displays the fossils for which the Karoo has become famous among fossickers. There are few signs of modernisation and a visitor from 60 years ago might find nothing changed. Low armchairs form a sociable semicircle around the fireplace in the lounge, where children under 10 may not venture, and a writing desk provides space for the letters that can be posted in the red post box at the door – also a relic from better times, but still functional.
Tea and coffee were always available in one of the pleasant public rooms, and with night-time temperatures around 0, even the milk could stand out without refrigeration. As an intermittent sleeper, waking sometimes every two hours, I took great pleasure in wandering down the long passage, trying not to creak too many boards and wake the other guests, at around 2am, to pour a cup of coffee and then sit by the embers of the evening’s fire in the lounge, surrounded by the ghosts of many happy visitors over the years. When I say ghosts, it was not so much a presence as the lack of it – the place had a warm and comfortable atmosphere, of somewhere where peace reigned, and I never felt the need to look into dark corners or over my shoulder. Possibly the most soothing place I have ever experienced – late night all alone in the deep silence of the Karoo.