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A Visit To Royston Hall

By J.F. Kloppers

Do you ever dream of winding back the years to a more gracious time?

A trip down South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, to Royston Hall in Umtentweni makes this dream come true in more ways than one.

Royston Hall is old – and embraces and celebrates it. Ria Hackland is an established interior designer and has kept the vintage look and feel of bygone years, adding modern amenities.

She and husband Roderick welcome guests warmly to their lovingly restored home – they actually live in the large double storey pile. They offer just five guest rooms – three in the house and two separate, private suites with ground floor access outside.

Although close to the N2, Royston Hall is hidden away at the foot of a quiet suburban cul-de- sac and a long winding, forested driveway, perched above the uMzimkhulu River and surrounded by tall indigenous coastal trees in its own little private nature reserve.

If you are averse to dogs and cats, Royston Hall may not be for you. A very talkative Siamese will chat to you, while three Great Danes will keep you company traipsing through the forest.

Children aren’t catered for as the elegance and peace of the place lends itself more to quiet times and teas, or a glass of wine sipped in tranquillity.

It was a Captain Hitchens who commissioned the elegant triple storey Victorian manor house to be built around 1900 for his wife as a weekend beach cottage.

But Mrs Hitchens arrived from Durban by steam ship, transferred to a horse-drawn trap, crossed the uMzimkhulu by ferry, gave the house a critical overview and rejected it immediately for not being on the beach. She returned to Durban forthwith.

The next owner, enigmatic brigadier general John Robinson Royston (Galloping Jack), was by far the most colourful person to live there.

After his death his widow, Mildred, lived alone in the house and legend has it that at night she would raise her arms to the heavens and dance naked for the watchful spirit of her late husband – and she may still be seen at full moon.

I wasn’t there at full moon, but did explore the half-moon railway tunnels below. I don’t know of any other private property that has a train running, not through but underneath, it. Not at night I must add, so peaceful sleep in oversized antique beds is assured.

There is an air of timelessness around Royston Hall and people have been known to extend their stays to do exactly nothing – or to feel enough at home to breakfast in the supplied nightgowns (reminds me of a certain hotel TV ad). As one guest put it, this is not “Plastic Fantastic”, but food for the soul. Royston Hall is ideal for young or older lovers looking to get lost and finding themselves again.

While enjoying breakfast with a view down the uMzimkkulu, you might spy Cape clawless otters off the northern bank of the river at Royston Rock, a popular fishing spot with locals, or sea turtles which often come into the fresh water to rid themselves of parasites.

Sharks, too, have been sighted, so if you want to swim use the pool or head off to the beach, 2.3km away. If you let the dogs take you along the river path you eventually come out of the forest at the Port Shepstone Country Club golfcourse and to the whale deck overlooking the beach.

There are nine other golf courses, diving and fishing, within close proximity. Malls and movies too, as well as Oribi Gorge with its beauty and adrenalin junkie attractions less than half an hour away.

Dinner is by arrangement and well worth it, though there are several restaurants within a five minute drive – with The Cellar being the best pick in my opinion. That, and a spot in the sun in winter, time in the pool in summer, a siesta anytime.

Call 039 6950083 to book or visit www.roystonhall.co.za

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