So how is it that this quaint mid-19th century town called Bedford, in the Eastern Cape Karoo, at the foot of the Kaggaberg mountain, has retained its off-the-beaten track charm for so long? To the romantic outsider, this could be remote work heaven, a chance to join a community of passionate gardeners, or to restore historic homes. The surrounding nutrient-rich, sweet grasslands are known for beef, game and, of course, merino. This is mohair country, and we all know that it’s making a welcome comeback, nonetheless, new energy is attracted to the ‘village’ for its hospitable lifestyle and the fact that the climate is gentler here than the rest of the Karoo. And here we have a remarkable home for sale.
One of its historic gems is now for sale, and the good news is that it’s already been sensitively restored. However, there’s potential to take this historic 200-year-old landmark further. Originally built as a fort known as Fort Erasmus, its thick stone walls keep the interior blissfully cool on sultry Karoo days, and warm in winter when the generous hearth in the kitchen roars with a hearty welcome. It is here that ‘time seems to stand still,’ say the current owners. ‘We entertain a lot, mostly Italian-style with fresh pasta and bread, olives, sardines, slow-roasted meats and good red wine.’
The fort was then repurposed as a jail for some years, and subsequently it mostly stood empty for at least 60 years before it was brought back to life again. The owners vividly recall their first impressions: ‘The place is breath taking and when you first walk in. You can’t help but be amazed by the scale and rich texture of the space. I knew within five minutes of being there that we would buy it, no matter what. But first I had to buy a machete at the hardware store so I could hack out a path to the front door!’.
They saw Bedford as a welcome bolt hole from their busy lives in Joburg and have loved every moment. Tackling the renovation of the bathrooms and kitchen first, and then bringing more light into the rooms by replacing original wooden doors with glass and steel doors. Today, Stoneford House is not only a characterful and luxurious place to stay, but its unusual configuration of 250m2 includes five courtyards and still has the original horse drinking trough. It’s made up of a cluster of buildings, not unlike a medieval village or a maze.
The main courtyard is surrounded by trees and the venue is used in summer for annual events. ‘We leave the keys with friends, and they open our home up for an annual music event by the Music Appreciation Society (even the inner courtyard has a projection wall and hidden speakers for sound) and for cocktails hosted by the Rosarium.’ For more than a decade, the Bedford Garden Festival, held every October, has attracted visitors from all over the country and the Rosarium is home to a national collection of Heritage or Old Roses. For three days, garden lovers linger in the Open Gardens when they’re in full bloom.
Stoneford House is only an hour from Grahamstown or Makhanda and another 45 minutes to Kenton-on-Sea’s magnificent beaches – in fact, you have the pick of pristine beaches with rolling dunes for miles up and down the coastline. Exploring this largely untouched area of the Eastern Cape is a treat, whether you love mountains, rivers or sea. Bedford is a hospitable spot, known by outdoor enthusiasts and anglers for its fishing, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, bird watching and even golf (yes the Bedford Golf Club, founded in 1892, has a 9-hole golf course!), but loved equally by historians, geologists and botanists. Bedford is an easy drive from Port Elizabeth airport or Gqeberha (just over two hours’ drive) or East London (just under three hours).
Compiled by Michelle Snaddon.
Extracts taken from article in Home Magazine Dec 2016
Images by Elsa Young
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