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The Tiny Town of Glencoe

Text: Andrea Abbott. Pictures: Daniela Louw and Andrea Abbott. Article from the Country Life Magazine July 2013.

In Northern KwaZulu-Natal this dorpie is undergoing a revival.

Our initial impression on entering Glencoe was of a one-horse town. We could almost feel net curtains parting slightly, curious eyes peeping out to follow our solitary progress down Karel Landman Street.

We parked in the generous shade of a tree – no meters, no jostling for a spot.

Thus began a whistle-stop tour of a northern KZN town and its surrounding areas where family, community, old-fashioned values, and long-held traditions are cherished, but where change is welcome too, resourceful folk recognising the new opportunities it brings. 

In tranquil Glencoe even a local farmer's cattle help keep the town clean.

 

The glass display at the Talana museum. The 42 buildings sited on 180 hectares house displays depicting the history of the area from earliest times to the modern era. First on our agenda was a meeting with Pam MacFadden, the ebullient curator of the Talana Museum in nearby Dundee (6km away). Over an excellent lunch in the Miner’s Rest restaurant – an authentic corrugated iron miner’s cottage – Pam treated us to a crash-course in local history. We learned, for instance, that Glencoe and Dundee are inextricably coupled, the former established on the arrival of the railway line in 1889 to transport coal from the Dundee mines. The proper name was Biggarsberg Junction (after the local mountain range) but that changed later to Glencoe when Scottish settlers renamed it after a lookalike valley in Argyleshire, Scotland.

A disused rail carriage signals the town's origins and also the prevailing spirit of the place.With the railway line came businesses, the earliest a trading store and the Glencoe Hotel (today a home for seniors run by the Aryan Benevolent Society) both owned by Mr F. J. Payne whose farmhouse was to become a Russian hospital during the Anglo-Boer War. “Tents were pitched in the grounds of the house. Over two months in 1900, 1007 typhoid or malaria-stricken patients were processed then sent to the main Russian hospital in Newcastle,” said Pam. Glencoe also had a German hospital, fated, as was the Russian one, to fall to the British because of its proximity to the main rail line. Pam’s yet to find its site and is scrutinising old houses to see if they fit the descriptions. She’s also on the hunt for a Swedish field ambulance site and hopes to identify buildings used as quarters by Boer generals.

The gravestone of Karel Landman. From the koppie in the background, a canon was fired towards a train travelling behind the commandant's house. The canon missed but destroyed Karel's kitchen.Which brings us to a Voortrekker leader, Commandant Karel Landman, second in charge at the Battle of Blood River. Like many Boer heroes, Karel was granted permission by the Volksraad to take up land. Attracted to the Wasbank Valley, he staked his claim the traditional way – riding for two hours from a central marker. The farm, Uithoek, is just outside Glencoe and has remained in the family, its present owner, Carl Simpson, the commandant’s great-great-grandson. Karel’s house, completed in 1852, is a national monument and the only Voortrekker Pioneer House in Northern KZN still standing.

Adjoining Uithoek is Wasbank Farm that belonged to Karel’s son-in-law, Lodewyk de Jager. In keeping with another Voortrekker tradition, Wasbank has been inherited through the ages by the youngest daughter of the family (she had to stay home to nurse her aging parent). The current owner, Sarie Mehl, Karel’s great-great-granddaughter, has preserved the historical ethos of the place while also meeting modern day challenges.

“If you want the bright lights, Glencoe’s not for you. What we offer is an authentic village feel that’s disappearing elsewhere

“I realised that few people had the privilege to have family farms like Wasbank to visit,” said Sarie. “I was also concerned that beautiful old country houses were going to rack and ruin.” Sarie set about restoring farmhouses and, in 1991, started up the company Jacana Country Homes & Trails. From four farmstays, the business grew to administer the marketing and reservations for more than 120 farms throughout the country, where people can experience country living and enjoy hiking, as well as horse and mountain bike trails, on private farms. Wasbank Farm’s Manor House and Goose Cottage are included in the portfolio.

Economics has been in the same family for more than 60 years and started as a general dealer that delivered freshly baked bread to customers' doorsteps.It’s thanks in part to enterprising folk like Sarie and Cherice and her extended family, and other family-owned businesses like R&R Angling (a cycling-beadshop-fishing-something-of-everything store) and Economics (a one-time general dealer now specialising in clothing and footwear), as well as skilled crafters like Hennie and Freda Stander, famous in the area for their handmade wooden toys, that Glencoe’s heart still beats.

The railway line’s heyday long gone, Glencoe could have sunk into the same decay that afflicts many once-proud small towns. But underpinning the economy is a creative community’s hard endeavour along with agriculture – cattle farming especially – and given the town’s proximity to some of the most important battle sites such as Rorke’s Drift, Isandlwana and Blood River – tourism generated by military history.

The Lalalapha Hotel dates back to 1904.Travelling through small towns in South Africa, we’re often sad to see how erstwhile, gracious hotels have fallen into seedy ruin. How marvellous, then, to find this is not the case in Glencoe. Lalalapha Hotel, (first called Region, later President) was built in 1904 and retains its fin de siecle grace. Owner Berenique Bolsdon, daughter of an old Glencoe family, has tastefully renovated the interior while keeping the original structure intact. Lalalapha caters mostly for overnight guests, except for Wednesday evenings when locals flock to the thatched rondavel out back. “It’s braai night,” says Berenique. “We provide music, pap, chakalaka, salads and fires. Guests bring their own meat.”

That’s pretty much the extent of Glencoe’s night life. As Cherice puts it, “If you want the bright lights, Glencoe’s not for you. What we offer is an authentic village feel that’s disappearing elsewhere.” Nostalgia for a gentler way of life might be one reason there’s not a vacant house in town. “Some people commute from here to Vryheid to work,” says Audrey Emslie. “Many retire to Glencoe because of the peace and friendliness.”

Jack Moolman, resident of a retirement village, attests to that. “Early mornings I watch the most awesome sunrises,” he says. “That is the time I thank God for making our town so special.” Sarie Neetling (85) agrees. “Here on the edge of town you feel that you are on a farm. It’s the perfect place for an old mother like me to retire to.”

Glencoe's own horse whisperer, Elize Pieters.On our last day we have time for one more stop: an extensive paddock on the edge of town. A herd of well-loved horses trots over to greet us. They belong to Elize Pieters, who runs a riding school, her pupils range from 6 to 63 year olds. She also takes seasoned riders on outrides into the surrounding veld and mountains. Elize is busy. It’s the life she always dreamed of. “Just goes to show one can dream big, start small and attain great success through hard work and perseverance,” she says.

It could be the town motto.

Where to Stay

In Glencoe or just outside the town

Lalalapha Hotel 034 393 2922 or 082 783 3377

Manor House and Goose Cottage at Wasbank Farm. The farm forms part of the Indumeni Conservancy and is sanctuary for impala, kudu, duiker, steenbok and mountain reedbuck. 083 252 7094

B&Bs in Dundee

The Lapha 034 212 2901

Penryn 083 973 9555 or 034 218 2269

Sneezewood 082 652 2348 of 034 212 1044

Accommodation around Dundee and Glencoe

Ingudlane Lodge – upmarket self-catering chalets 082 8797734

Lennox Guest House 034 218 2201 or 082 574 3032

Fugitives’ Drift 034 642 1843

Where to Eat

The Miner's Rest Restaurant at Talana - an authentic miner's cottage. Miners Rest Tea Shop at Talana Museum 034 212 1704

Ingudlane Restaurant outside Dundee 082 879 7734

Lennox Restaurant just outside Dundee 034 218 2011 or 082 743 032 (reservations essential)

CafeTagati at Battlefields Country Lodge, Dundee 034 218 1641 or 082 953 6195

Oval Coffee Shop in Dundee 034 212 3281

Other Handy Contacts

Daniela Louw Photography 076 949 0336

Jacana Marketing and Reservations

DeWets Estate Agency 034 393 1991, email

10 Reasons to go now

1. Walk safely around the town and savour the village atmosphere, quaint railway houses, two interesting memorials: one celebrating the Mahatma Ghandi who addressed striking miners a century ago and was fined £60 pounds or 90 days in jail, the other a Moth memorial believed to be the first commemorating the SA Women’s Auxiliary Services.

2. The original sandstone barn on Commandant Karl Landman's farm, Uithoek.Visit Karel Landman’s house – phone the farm’s owners, Carl and Barbara Simpson, for permission and directions. 034 393 1692

3. Go on a shopping spree. Browse for popular brand clothing or footwear at Economics 034 393 1206 or 082 463 7960. For fishing gear, toys, books, beads and even stink bombs pop in at R&R Angling 034 393 2718.

4. Take a battlefield tour. Contact Pam MacFadden 034 212 2654, email

5. Tour Talana, brush up on your history on the region – from the earliest times to the modern era – and be fascinated. Time your visit to coincide with Talana Live from 18-20 October this year when the anniversary of the battle of Talana on 20 October is commemorated. The weekend’s events include Starry Starry Nights, a talk by Paul Garner on how the Bushmen named the stars. Contact info@talana.co.za or call 034 212 2654

6. Go on a guided hike. Email

7.  Go wild: track down some of the 130 bird species recorded in the region or enjoy game viewing on private game reserves, email or Lennox Farm 034 218 2201 or Ingudlane Game Lodge 082 879 7734

8. Saddle up and head for the hills on a horse.

9. Attend an amazing Boeremark on Lennox Farm; a quarterly event, the next one scheduled for 23 September. 034 218 2201

10. Join a guided tour to see Bushmen paintings said to be between 4 000 – 5 000 years old, making them 1 000 years older than those in the Berg.

More info on the area of Glencoe More info on the Battlefields area



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