The grand stuff of pi­o­neers

Vi­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion trans­form old farm into guest­house, culi­nary heaven, writes He­len Crooks

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - TRAVEL -

BATHURST is so quintessen­tially English that it is hardly sur­pris­ing that the 1820 Set­tlers, hav­ing bat­tled un­for­giv­ing seas and harsh ter­rain in search of a bet­ter life, opted to set­tle in what has to be one of the pret­ti­est vil­lages in South Africa.

Al­most 200 years later, it not only bears an un­canny re­sem­blance to many of the Bri­tish vil­lages left be­hind by those early trav­ellers, but also pays trib­ute to their pioneering spirit, which lives on in home­steads, churches with mem­o­rye­vok­ing ceme­ter­ies and even a unique mill started by the Brad­shaw brothers in 1821.

It is hardly sur­pris­ing then that en­ter­pris­ing 21st cen­tury set­tlers con­tinue to make Bathurst their home, drawn per­haps by a vil­lage’s un­doubted ec­cen­tric­ity or per­haps, in the case of Fred Bright, by the op­por­tu­nity to farm like an English gen­tle­man, with­out the bit­terly cold sea­sonal changes ex­pe­ri­enced in north­ern climes.

De­spite his af­fa­ble ex­te­rior and Hugh Gran­tish ap­peal Fred, like his Bri­tish fore­bear­ers, is made of stern stuff.

When he came across the sadly ne­glected Kingston Farm in 2005 it had no plumb­ing and de­manded in­cred­i­ble vi­sion to see it trans­formed not only into an idyl­lic guest­house where dogs and Ap­paloosa horses min­gle freely with guests, but also, just two years later, into one of South Africa’s lead­ing fine din­ing restau­rants.

The lat­ter, how­ever, re­quired an in­jec­tion of South African flair. En­ter Fred’s Fort Beau­fort-born wife Carla, who be­came a reg­u­lar visi­tor to the farm, fell in love with its rus­tic­ity and then, ul­ti­mately, with Fred.

“It was prob­a­bly a case of the wrong place at the wrong time, but here we still are,” Carla quipped over a morn­ing cup of cof­fee.

“We both grew up in old houses, loved the laid­back life­style and still do.”

That rings true through­out the main home­stead which has been lov­ingly re­stored and decked out with pe­riod pieces – in­clud­ing a doll’s house made by Fred’s grand­fa­ther and given a more gen­teel look than the six­ties decor in­flicted on it by his sis­ter.

Now the house, a mag­net for both adult and child din­ers, fea­tures minia­ture pe­riod pieces and has had its roof painted green to echo the colour of the roof at Kingston Farm.

Sur­pris­ingly enough, there is no for­mal train­ing be­hind the culi­nary de­lights on of­fer at the farm, with the only Miche­lin star ex­pe­ri­ence self-trained Carla has com­ing dur­ing a three-week work­ing trip to Switzer­land last year, where she learnt pre­sen­ta­tion skills un­der the head chef at Ho­tel Alpen­blick, Richard Stockli.

The skills she ac­quired were passed along to hubby Fred, who is also very hand­son both in the restau­rant and with keep­ing guests en­ter­tained as stand-in front-of-house man­ager.

Fred is also tasked with the some­what un­happy busi­ness of dis­patch­ing the farm’s free range ducks, smok­ing them on a some­what in­con­gru­ous ket­tle braai, and pre­sent­ing them to Carla in the kitchen for trans­for­ma­tion into sublime starters.

While she is not for­mally trained, Carla’s love for food was in­stilled in her as a young girl grow­ing up with her fa­ther and three brothers.

“I liked to play house­wife, cook­ing meals that not only made peo­ple happy, but also made mem­o­ries. I still like to do just that,” she said.

“The only for­mal train­ing I had was a cer­tifi­cate in house­keep­ing in Graff-Reinett. At that stage, as a peo­ple per­son, I loved work­ing front-of-house, chat­ting to peo­ple and mak­ing them happy.

“But then I no­ticed that when we were in a guest-free lull, the kitchen was al­ways busy. I like to keep busy so the tran­si­tion was nat­u­ral.”

And keep­ing busy is still a huge part of Carla’s life.

When not run­ning the kitchen and see­ing to guests’ needs, Carla takes time to hone yet an­other of her self-taught arts – stained glass­work.

Al­though none of her art is on dis­play at Kingston Farm, Carla’s works adorn places such as the up-mar­ket Royal St An­drews Ho­tel in nearby Port Al­fred.

She is also work­ing on a stained glass win­dow for the Dutch Re­formed Church in Fort Beau­fort.

Oh, and then, nat­u­rally enough, there’s also a cook­ery book in the off­ing, which Carla is pen­ning with a friend.

Fred, too, is kept busy, not only as Carla’s in­valu­able restau­rant side­kick, but also with the dayto-day run­ning of the farm.

Per­haps, as far as Fred goes at least, pride of place on the farm goes to the tame, friendly Ap­paloosas, which are his pas­sion (Carla aside, that is!).

Sadly, a bro­ken back put paid to reg­u­lar rides, while the stag­nant econ­omy put paid to plans to breed the horses for sale, but se­cretly we don’t think Fred re­ally minds them liv­ing out their lives in the tran­quil sur­round­ings of the farm.

An­other aspect to life on the pretty much self-sus­tain­ing farm was restor­ing and main­tain­ing the three fully-equipped self-cater­ing apart­ments, two cater­ing for two guests, the other for four.

The el­e­gance of yes­ter­year re­flected in the farm­house con­tin­ues in the apart­ments, which ef­fort­lessly com­bine mod­ern con­ve­niences like bath­rooms and a kitchen with com­fort­able be­d­rooms with freestanding wardrobes and el­e­gant read­ing ar­eas where curl­ing up with a good book is just what the doc­tor or­dered.

There’s no TV in the rooms – or any­where at Kingston Farm for that mat­ter, but that is not what a break at this sanc­tu­ary from mod­ern life is about.

As a con­ces­sion, though, free WiFi is avail­able.

Com­plet­ing the feel at the ex­ten­sive farm, which also fea­tures a wa­ter-lily filled dam, are the English-style (what else?) gar­dens with laven­der hedges pro­tect­ing beau­ti­ful roses from the el­e­ments.

Sadly, the weep­ing wil­lows adorn­ing many a Bri­tish din­ner set­ting are bat­tling with the drought, but for­ti­tude, the stuff that Bri­tish set­tlers were made of, will see more planted when the time is right.

And that for­ti­tude, in­her­ited from pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, lives on at Kingston Farm and will cer­tainly con­tinue to do so as long as the en­er­getic, elo­quent and charm­ing Fred and Carla are at the helm.

DY­NAMIC DUO: Kingston Farm’s Fred Bright, of English roots, with his Fort Beau­fort-born wife Carla. They are a team to be reck­oned with on the beau­ti­ful guest farm


HOME FROM HOME: The el­e­gance of yes­ter­year is re­flected in the apart­ments with all the con­ve­niences

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