It was the first day of my latest road trip around KwaZulu Natal and I was heading for Nottingham Road, and the picturesque midlands region of the province. I had flown in, for the first time, on the relatively new British Airways direct flight from London Heathrow Airport to Durbans King Shaka International Airport. What a great experience to kick off a new adventure, feeling fresh and ready to explore, the province my oyster.
On the flight were old friends, and new SafariKZN clients, on their first ever visit to South Africa heading off on their own family road trip. They were also driving in-land and the same direction as myself, so I took the opportunity to spend some time with them. We kicked off by spending a few hours at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site museum. This historic site is a must visit location where you can see the modern art sculpture of the iconic SA president Nelson Mandela. The sculpture contains fifty abstract metal poles, celebrating 50 years of Freedom for Mandela, and forms the most stunning portrait of the late great president.
We followed up our cultural visit with a late lunch where the family got their first taste real of South Africa, enjoying Steaks, burgers, pies and bunnychow which appeared and disappeared in quick succession. Full of culture, history and food we said our goodbyes under warm cloudless blue sky.
My destination for the rest of the day, and the following day, was The Nottingham Road Hotel. I wanted to start off here by mentioning the capture site, as the hotel is less than a thirty-minute drive away. Situated on Nottingham Road, the pivotal point of the midlands, the hotel is ideally situated for touring the area. There really is something for everyone here in the immediate vicinity. The Midlands Meander offers a range of local attractions including unique shops, galleries and eateries. For the outdoor enthusiast there is horse riding, golf, mountain biking, canopy tours and fishing. (The hotel was hosting a huge fishing competition on my day of departure) The mighty Drakensberg Mountains are also a relatively short drive away with Giants Castle to the north and Kamberg to the west. At both places you can breathe in the clear mountain air and take a look at ancient rock art, some dating back four thousand years.
Whatever you choose to do the Nottingham Road Hotel makes the perfect base to return to. There is the main hotel building containing fourteen well-appointed rooms, where I stayed, and the ten newly constructed modern garden rooms. The hotel, dating back over one hundred years, maintains its charms with the white & grey painted exterior and Dutch-style architecture. The interior is spacious, where tiled floors sit below high yellowwood panelled ceilings. There is no shortage of paintings, art, and photographs depicting the hotel and the area’s general history. Open fires burn to keep guests warm & cosy.
I arrived on a Tuesday and making my way to the bar was surprised to see how busy it was. There were fellow guests and a large contingent of locals. Notties Pub is the hotel’s very popular in-house bar. The room buzzed with conversation, local beers flowed, and the fire kept all warm. There is a choice of eating in the dining room or the pub. I opted for the pub. And when an Englishmen gets to South Africa he eats for supper, yes, fish’n’chips with minted peas! Some may say coals and Newcastle, and I am not just saying this, but they were as good as I have eaten anywhere. Later in my trip I mentioned this to a family member, who said that every time her brother was down from Johannesburg, he craved Notties Fish’n’chips.
Whilst talking food, I did take breakfast in the dining room and this too was excellent. I mentioned to Pixie, the hotels front of house manager, when I booked my stay at the Nottingham Road Hotel that I had heard rumours of hauntings within the hotel. As a boy, many, many, years ago, I had what I perceived to be, a paranormal encounter, so have always been interested in anything ghostly. Pixie arranged for me to stay in room 10, and when Julianne showed me to my room, she told me of the paranormal activities that seemed to be concentrated in this room. Guests have had their bags unpacked, taps turned on in the night and pictures taken from the walls. There have been noises, knocks, footsteps and shuffling. For the lucky ones, specially selected guests, Charlotte, the ghost, has manifested and shown herself as an apparition. The story has it that Charlotte was a beautiful lady of the night. Then the story goes two ways: Whilst ‘working’ from the hotel a customer refused to pay for her services and in the ensuing fight he threw her from the upstairs balcony to her death. The second story tells of Charlotte falling in love with a soldier who often frequented the hotel. He lost his life in battle, and when she found out, threw herself from the balcony and to her death. Nervously I headed to bed with an air of unwanted anticipation. In my mind I had remembered exactly where I had put everything, and yes all was still present and correct. I checked the bathroom, the taps & shower, and climbed into my bed. Maybe it was the overnight flight, the fish’n’chips, the local draught beers I had sampled, or the sheer comfort of my bed? More than likely a combination of all. If Charlotte came to my room, shook me and shouted my name, she did not wake me.