Guest post by Clare Fleming
If there was a space on the Monopoly board commanding a player to “Go to Three Tree Hill Lodge, go directly to Three Tree Hill Lodge, do not pass Go”, it would be the square I’d wish to land on with every roll of the dice. Nestling in the farmland beneath the famous Spioen Kop hill, surrounded by the dramatic peaks of the Drakensberg mountains, the only negative aspect of this idyllic family-run lodge is that at some point, you’ll have to leave.
I was lucky enough to visit this enchanting haven with my family, including my two teenage nieces, in January 2020. Having negotiated relaxed local goats and Brahman cattle on the approach road from the R616, we were greeted by the promised free-range animals and children, including dogs, chickens and one of our charming hosts, Simon Blackburn. Simon’s ebullient mother-in-law, Fiona, then treated us to a tour of the lodges, each of which is decorated to an historical theme associated with the Anglo-Boer War (also known as the South African War).
As well as beautiful, locally embroidered bed linen, bath robes and curtains, each lodge is furnished with period pieces, fascinating old prints and books. Thoughtful and welcoming finishing touches include glass jars of home-made biscuits, sweets and bespoke Three Tree Hill smellies, such as deliciously fragrant ruby grapefruit and olive shampoo. I particularly loved the amusing tone of the notes and signs for guests, such as the reminder to conserve water so as not to attract ants and the advice for walkers setting out on the trails (look for it on the gate below the pool, it’s a hoot!).
Once settled into our own rooms, having explored each other’s first, we relaxed in the pool. From here you can gaze up at the white cross just visible on top of Spioen Kop and wonder at the bloody battles the now tranquil setting had once overlooked. This was brought to life in thrilling and moving detail the following day when took a Battle of Spioen Kop tour, which covered the bloodiest single day of the entire South African War in January 1900.
Our guide, Wiehahn Smith briefed us on the early history of South Africa in the comfort of the main lodge, where we were surrounded by historical military artifacts that illustrated his account. These included paintings of and by Churchill, particularly fascinating for the English contingent of our family. We shared the tour with a couple from the Netherlands and there was a lot of good-hearted ribbing about the power struggles between the Dutch settlers and the British ‘invaders’, before we set off for the former battlefields.
We were then driven to the site of the battle and Wiehahn gave a compelling account at each point of the progress and mishaps of the British advance on the Boer strongholds. Being a hot January day, it was all the more poignant to imagine the heavily dressed troops floundering up the stony slopes, with no water and wholly inadequate kit, advancing towards the highest point on the Boer defense line, a strategy which ended in disaster. We then wandered in silence amongst the makeshift graves and memorials and wondered at the folly of it all.
Back at the lodge, we enjoyed an afternoon by the pool, some cycling and running along well-defined trails, interspersed with delicious afternoon tea. After sundowners we shared a fabulous dinner with our new Dutch friends, hosted by Ron and Sandie, while a spectacular storm rumbled and flashed outside. The food is all locally sourced, home cooked, imaginatively presented and accompanied by wines from the lodge’s extensive cellar.
Our stay at Three Tree Hill was too short. We were promised history, nature and culture, which were delivered in abundance in a relaxed family setting by Simon, Cheryl and family, with their wonderful team. Evidence of their concern for the environment and dedication to conservation is evident in every corner of this Classic Safari Africa lodge and the gift shop demonstrates just a little of their significant support for local communities.
If you want an experience of the true spirit of Africa, I urge you to go. I follow @three_tree_hill_lodge on Instagram avidly and can’t wait to return. There will always be a place for you to hang your hat. Oh, and don’t forget to check your car for Gin and Tonic (the resident cats) before you leave.
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