"I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills..." (Karen Blixen - Out of Africa)
Well not quite . . . I had a farm in Africa between Mooi River and Estcourt in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands (South Africa)
Unless you are something of a Boer or Zulu War enthusiast the area won't mean very much. It is not far from Spioenkop - one of the most eerily atmospheric places on the planet with its mass grave of British soldiers who fell during the battle.
This is Beaconsfield - affectionately known by my family as Beaky's. The farm actually belonged to a friend of my stepfather's and we would spend short holidays there from the mid 70's to the mid 80's. Usually not much more than a long weekend as we had to take EVERYTHING with us, including all the water we would need.
I became quite adept at using two small bowls of water (warmed by the sun to conserve fuel) to clean my teeth, wash myself and my hair and any sundry items of clothing that need freshening up. The loo was a long drop in one of the barns. Not everyone's idea of the perfect holiday, but for me it was heaven as I love places that are remote and untamed.
The hill behind the farmstead looked very innocuous from the house but when you climbed to the top there was a powerful sensation of magic in the ground that I found a bit scary and unsettling. (I can cope much better with the fairy forests here in Ireland.) As a result I never went up there very often.
Many of my photographs from that time are slowly loosing their colour. They are ending up with a strange sepia effect and in one sense I'm glad that I'm starting to scan them now before all detail is leached out completely.
This is Zacharias (Zaccy) - he was not much bigger than a mouse, but had the heart of a lion.
According to 'legend' the farmhouse (I think it was build in the 1800's) was abandoned after one of the original family members was killed by lightning. One account is that this happened on the hillside in front of the house. The other is that the person was struck while throwing out a pail of water from the stoep (verandah).
Later a new modern house was built somewhere else (I never saw it) and the old homestead was left to quietly crumble away, with what was left preserved like a time capsule.
Playing cards with my Mom and sister Melanie (I'm in the middle). We were hooked on sergeant major - a great game but restricted to three players so anyone else had to sit out.
Melanie having fun with a frisbee in the 'garden'. (I think I'm on the other side throwing it to her.)
Where ever I went at the time a sketchbook came with me. These are sketches I made at Beaconsfield in 1976. I think they were all done during the same holiday. The one at the top (it is a single drawing but I had to scan it in two halves) is dated 28 December 1976.
Pressed leaves gathered at Beaconsfield in 1976. Some would have been used when I did the drawing shown above.
We holidayed at the abandoned farmhouse for a period of 10 or so years. Then when the growing crime rate become more rampant we started to feel uneasy about staying in such an isolated place and so our visits stopped.
For me, though, these memories of Beaconsfield are some I will always cherish - a snapshot of my past that will live in my heart forever.