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Snapshots of Notties – aka Nottingham Road, Natal Midlands

Text: Andrea Abbott.  Pictures: Andrea Abbott and Karen Edwards. Article from the November 2012 issue of Country Life Magazine.

As the Nottingham Road Farmers’ Association turns 125, Andrea Abbott visits the iconic Natal Midlands village.

Nottingham Road is beautiful in all the seasons. Autumn brings trees dressed in gold, burgundy and russet.

You might wonder about the name, Nottingham Road. Just up the road is Fort Nottingham, established in 1856 as a garrison for the Nottinghamshire regiment sent by the colonial government to stamp out stock raids by the San, who lived in the foothills of the Drakensberg.

Nottingham Road Station was completed around 1885. During construction it was known as Harrisons Camp after the buildings contractor.With more settlers arriving in the area, and the coming of the railway line, a station was built at the crossing of the road to Fort Nottingham. Initially, it was known as Karkloof Station even though it wasn’t anywhere near Karkloof. Eventually, people referred to it as ‘on the road to Fort Nottingham.’

In 1887, that morphed to Nottingham Road Station, the last word soon falling away. In that same year, 11 farmers met in the bar of the Railway Hotel (now the Nottingham Road Hotel) to form the Nottingham Road Farmers’ Association, which this year marks its 125th anniversary. In a sense, the birth of the association was also the birth of Nottingham Road village.

The hotel pub is a popular gathering place.Back in the day of the telegram, Nottingham Road’s telegraphic address was unique worldwide. It was said that a telegram had only to be addressed to, let’s say, ‘Charlotte, Nottingham Road’ and, even without mention of Natal or South Africa, the message would reach its intended recipient.

Perhaps it was a telegram that prompted poor Charlotte to take her own life. During the war, she’d fallen in love with a soldier, but instead of the married bliss she envisioned. Charlotte found herself jilted – who knows, but the cad might have announced his change of heart via a telegram – and so she jumped out of the window of Room 10 of the Nottingham Road Hotel. It seems she never gave up hope that her beloved would return, her ghost (one of many claimed to hover in the Notties ether) is said to haunt that room.

Nottingham Road Hotel is probably the oldest hotel in KZN.

What torture it must be for a jilted would-be bride to spend eternity in a village that’s become a wedding Mecca. Chances are that readers of this either will have attended a nuptial ceremony in one of the many wedding venues in the Nottingham Road area or maybe have tied the knot there themselves.

Traditional wedding in Wedding Country. The Windmills Resort is one of many wedding venues in and around Nottingham Road.

It’s not hard to understand why bridal couples choose Notties for their big day, it’s picturesque and abounds with quaint shops, art and craft galleries, restaurants, historic buildings, and excellent accommodation. The village is also famous as the heart of flyfishing country. A micro-brewery at Rawdons Hotel gives anglers the opportunity to swap tales over some fine draft. Other noteworthy venues include a health hydro, a luxury spa, a highly rated nine-hole golf course, and the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Sanctuary. And with the coffin bearing the slain Prince Imperial – son of Emperor Napoleon 111 – resting under an oak at Fordoun Farm in 1879, en route to Durban, there’s a French connection that’s hatched new projects worthy of a separate story.

Nottingham Road is also a gateway to the Drakensberg. Head out on the Loteni Road or the Kamberg Road, where you’ll encounter sublime natural splendour that will lift your spirits and put you in the mood to do something like promising, “I do”.

Gowrie Estate occupies a portion of one of the early farms in the region. □ A round of golf on the Gowrie golf course is popular with weekenders.

Seasons are distinctive although locals say all four can occur in a single day. Spring and summer bring intense greens that take on a luminous quality beneath black-grey cumulonimbus clouds presaging apocalyptic thunderstorms.  In autumn, trees dressed in gold, burgundy and russet stand out against yellowing pastures. Winter is a time of clear blue skies and glistening frost, and snow that turns the place into a Christmas card.  Or Hell if you’re a farmer.

Snowfalls can be heavy enough to cause stock losses, damage crops and flatten power lines. Blackouts can last a week. Waterpumps stand idle and highly sophisticated farming operations, such as computer-driven rotary dairies, have to be switched to generator power, at considerable diesel cost.

Quaint shops abound in the village. Restaurants range from the sophisticated to cosy bistros like Blooms where ceramics sculptures original art and hand made chocolates are among the wares on sale.You’ve got to hand it to farmers. In dire situations, they somehow make a plan. Ingenuity and stoicism are in their DNA, what with many of those in Notties descendants of families who arrived in the area from the mid 1800s under the Byrne and Lidgetton Immigration Schemes. First of these were the Kings and Ellises from Scotland, who made the arduous trek from Durban harbour in jolting ox wagons only to find that their allotted 20 acres were totally unsuited to farming. Eventually they managed to buy a 6 000 acre farm, Wilde Ala Spruit.  As that name suggests, Voortrekkers were the first white farmers in the region but they migrated back over the Drakensberg when the British annexed Natal.

Wilde Ala Spruit was renamed Lynedoch and Balgowan after estates in Scotland and those first families adjusted to a tough life of self-dependence in the face of challenges they couldn’t have imagined. To begin with, they didn’t even have a house and lived under a tarpaulin until a wattle and daub structure was completed.  And too bad if someone took seriously ill or was bitten by a puff adder. You had to hope that the woman of the house knew what she was doing when she concocted herbal remedies, or tied a tourniquet to a snake-bitten limb and then sucked out the venom between glugs of gin. Wild fires, predators, and flooding were just some of the other obstacles those pioneers faced and which, over a century and a half later, still pose problems for farmers.

Jackals, for instance, are unpopular on account of their taste for newborn calves. The bullet is the traditional way to solve the problem but some farmers have adopted a more humane, win-win approach by using donkeys. Introduced into a herd of cows in calf, donkeys are formidable protectors and drive off any predator that threatens their herd.

“Wildfire management is a sensitive issue,” one long-established commercial farmer told me. “Firebreaks are essential as is the correct fire-fighting equipment. But some new property owners don’t have that equipment.”

Farmers are still the backbone of the close-knit Nottingham Road community but high costs and small profit margins have seen quite a few giving up. The Farmers’ Association minutes show that, as early as 1972, farms were being sub-divided and weekend farmers buying up plots. ‘Lifestyle farms,’ as they’ve become known, create a problematic situation for commercial farmers. “They drive up the price of good agricultural land to beyond its earning capacity,” said one dairy farmer

Of course, many of us aspire to a bucolic life in open spaces far from urban crime and grime. Often though, we end up destroying what attracted us to the area in the first place.

“Development is inevitable,” another landowner told me. “But it’s critical to retain the sense of place.

Developments should be clustered on sites where agriculture isn’t feasible and where the impact on biodiversity is minimal.”

The signs are that this is the route Nottingham Road is now taking. With Government understanding the importance of maintaining agricultural land, at least one recent application for a large housing development in the area has been refused.  But a few estates have been allowed – like Gowrie, named after a farm that early settler, John King, bought in 1858. That original farm (itself named after an estate in Scotland) was to be cut in half a couple of decades later by the railway line bringing the outside world to pioneering farmers. And so, on the site that once was Gowrie farm, the scene was set for the development of Nottingham Road village.

Footnotes

Historian Robert King, a descendant of the pioneering King family, wrote a book entitled Along The Road to Fort Nottingham to mark the centenary of the Farmers’ Association in 1987.The book, not commercially available, recounts fascinating stories and charts the development of the Nottingham Road district. To commemorate the 125th anniversary of the association (renamed the Nottingham Road Land Owners’ Association), the book is currently being revised with the intention of it being formally published.

Where to eat, play, stay in Nottingham Road
Eat:

Cafe Bloom – Delectable contemporary food 033 2666 118

Skye Restaurant – Fine dining and interesting wine cellar 033 2666 217

The Bierfassl – Austrian country pub serves the best eisbein 033 2666 320

Nottingham Road Brewing Company – Hand-brewed beer with wacky names like Tiddy Toad Lager, Pie-eyed Possum Pilsner and Pickled Pig Porter 033 2666 728

The Junction Complex – Family restaurant and interesting shops 033 2666 116

Blueberry Hill – Panoramic views, good food, art gallery 033 2666 899

Stay:

Chameleon Cottage – Country-chic in the heart of Fort Nottingham 082 929 2275

Loxley House – Guest house and conference centre 073 228 2099

La Chaumiere – Self-catering, children and pets welcome 084 442 2248

Glensheiling Caravan Park 082 374 1270

Nottingham Road Hotel 082 610 1286

Rawdons Hotel 033 2666 044

The Windmills Resort – Self-catering accommodation (and wedding venue) in the heart of the Blue Crane Game Reserve 033 266 6965

Waterford Manor – B&B or self-catering cottages in nearby Rosetta 073 260 7423

Shop:

Sherwood Country Lifestyle Centre – Art exhibitions, country markets, live music, eateries and shops 082 337 2307

Lime & Roses – Accessories and fine linen, Shewood Lifestyle Centre 082 337 2307

Aladdin’s Corner – Art, stained glass, and crafts 033 2666 460

Country Courtyard – Shopping mecca that is the heart of Nottingham Road

Country Company – Unique gifts, clothing and decor 033 2666 359

Rugz ‘n Thingz – Beautiful hand-made and affordable machine-made Oriental rugs 074 584 1504

Scarecrows – Antiques and collectables 033 2666 497

For her:

Brookdale Health Hydro -The only hydro in the Midlands. The focus is on a healthy lifestyle and pampering 033 2666 208

Fordoun – Award-winning spa, hotel and restaurant 033 2666 217

For him:

Wildfly Fishing – Everything from tackle to fishing trips 033 2666 981

Flyfishing & Birding Shop All that birders and flyfishermen need 082 575 2917

Gowrie Farm Golf Lodge – A highly rated nine-hole golf course 033 2666 294

Play:

Hot Air Balloon Rides – 084 504 2171

Weddings:

Bellwood -Wedding venue with a beautiful historic chapel 033 2666 218

Netherwood – Contemporary wedding venue on a working angus stud farm 033 266 7132

KZN Brides – Weddings and functions planning 073 228 3209

Property:

Midlands Property Brokers – Estate agents specialising in the KZN Midlands: 082 800 0343, 033 266 6308

More info on the town of Nottingham Road More info on the Natal Midlands area



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