Cradock: More than a frontier town

Restored to their former glory: Die Tuishuise (Chris Marais)

Restored to their former glory: Die Tuishuise (Chris Marais)

The Eastern Cape river town of Cradock was once the Last Chance Saloon for wagon trains heading through the vast Karoo to the diamond and gold fields of the north.

Here you bought your spare flagons of Cape Smoke brandy, had that pesky wagon axle repaired and those wonky wheels battered back into alignment.

Market Street in Cradock was where all the blacksmiths, wheelwrights and artisans lived in neat little Victorian cottages. They would gather, with the rest of the townsfolk, at the Victoria Hotel on the corner for nightly libations.

Being a frontier town, parties sometimes got out of hand at the Vic. In the early 20th century, a local farmer used to ride his horse into the bar.
He would order a brandy and Coke for himself and the lucky horse would have a beer in a Chevrolet hubcap.

Over the years, however, Market Street and the Vic became the tatty part of town. Until the early 1980s, that is, when Sandra Antrobus, a Cradock farmer’s wife, began to buy up the run-down cottages and restore them, one by one. They eventually became known as Die Tuishuise.

Then she bought the Vic and brought it back to its former Victorian glory. And she’s not done yet. The 30-odd cottages and huge old hotel demand constant care and attention. The architecture is old and the Karoo conditions are ­unforgiving.

Hardly a day goes by that Sandra is not haggling for a discarded item of Victoriana or restoring parts of a building.

And every time you book into a Tuishuis, it’s a different experience. Some are restored in the old Boer manner, with hides and hunting prints, whereas others have a distinctly Victorian feel about them, speaking to the memories of the early settlers of the area.

A few hours in one of the Market Street Tuishuise transport you back to when the pioneers ate meat, milk, honey and fruits of the district, when there were still Bushmen and the valleys teemed with herds of game. It’s as if you have jumped into the rabbit hole of time and emerged with the 1820 Settlers as you stoke the embers in the fireplace and sip a sherry in the presence of groups of serious, formally dressed people in sepia family photographs hanging on the walls.

Die Tuishuise and the hotel are a perfect stopover during that long trans-Karoo journey, but Cradock itself is an excellent festival destination.

Whether you’re a foodie, a river kayaker, a bookworm or interested in the ways of Karoo farmers, that Tuishuise hospitality will keep you coming back for more.

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