The grand stuff of pioneers
Vision and determination transform old farm into guesthouse, culinary heaven, writes Helen Crooks
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