The Garden Route is known for its gorgeous coastline, but venture a little off the beaten track of the busy N2 and you’ll find quintessential countryscapes: rolling green hills dotted with cattle, old farmsteads and vast open spaces that beg exploration.
While we’re fortunate to live among all this beauty in a rural village, we don’t live on a farm. Or even a smallholding. Rather, our property clings precariously to the side of a steep gorge that tumbles down into a river valley below. This doesn’t make for easy country walks. Or games of soccer with the kids (we’re on ball #10).
Being a country girl at heart, I absolutely adore farms with their rustic buildings and melange of animals that always seem to include all or a combination of cheeky Jack Russels, fat farm cats, a couple of happy hens, and a gaggle of ferocious geese. I especially love cows; they’re curious, friendly and I simply can’t resist those big wet snouts!
Farms are plentiful in our neck of the woods, which is prime dairy farming territory. Although, as pretty as the landscape is with its cultivated fields, and as much as these farms provide much-needed employment, I’m all too aware of the environmental impact of cattle farms in general and in particular, the plight of dairy cows and their young.
So I’m not going to lie, it is bittersweet for me, driving through these picture postcard landscapes.
One of the dairy farms in our area is Oakhurst. It is one of the few remaining large working farms along the Garden Route, and covers a massive 640 hectares (200 of which are pristine fynbos and indigenous forest). Here the beautiful jersey cows are free-roaming (no feed lots or cramped enclosures), spending 22 hours a day out in the pastures.
As owner, Jake Crowther says, “all the cows get minimal mootie, and no steroids or growth stimulants. EVER. Just space, sun, grass and water”.
The farm is run commercially by Jake and his wife Claire. The Crowther family are sixth generation descendants of the original purchaser, Henry Dumbleton. It has a rich history that spans 180 years, evidence of which remains in the original farm buildings, including the forge (now accommodation); the farmhouse (now part of the main homestead), the chapel, old graveyard and water mill.
These were all established by Henry’s brother, Walter, between 1840 and 1870, pointing to Oakhurt’s rewarding heritage.
Walter also built a small school where the farm children were once taught. These rooms were most recently renovated, and added to Oakhurst’s authentic farmstay accommodation options, which also include 5 quaint cottages and the historic Forge. You can read more about these beautiful rooms here.
In reviewing Oakhurst’s accommodation for Country Life magazine , we spent two nights at The Schoolyard.
Claire has done an amazing job renovating the building. Each of the four fully-equipped self-catering units has been tastefully decorated in the French provencal style.
Think painted wood in gorgeous greys and lavender, rustic furnishings that hint at the pastoral surrounds, crisp white linen and voluptuous duvets, and an understated luxury that speaks to Claire’s attention to detail and keen understanding of what guests want.
It’s not glamorous, don’t get me wrong, it reflects its farm locale perfectly, but is cool, casual and comfortable, a real home from home. And in my case, a clean home from home not strewn with wooden toys to stub your toes on. Or dogs to fall over, for that matter.
I loved the little touches that made it feel so special – the homebaked biscuits waiting to welcome you and sprigs of freshly picked lavender.
The units comprise a beautifully appointed kitchen, dining area, lounge, 2 double rooms, a bathroom with shower, and a generous stoep complete with day beds for lazing, a braai and eating area.
I was slightly obsessed with the morning light that flooded through the old schoolroom windows in the kitchen. Its soft, diffused quality called for French café style breakfasts, which we rustled up while the boys ‘took their juice’ on the patio.
The patio’s rusted metalwork intertwined with blooming honeysuckle, woven willow heart and bright red front door all added to the country charm that was so evident throughout the rest of the cottage, right down to the chicken drawer handles, which I totally loved! I mean, who wouldn’t want chicken drawer handles?!
Oakhurst is well suited to families, and you’ll love the thoughtful gestures aimed at the kids, such as building blocks on the stoep, which beg for imaginative play, and the scavenger hunt activity packs you receive on arrival.
There is a ton of things to do with the kids on the farm. Our boys gorged themselves on outdoor play, relishing the massive forest swing, quaint farm dam and endless stretches of (car-free) roads on which to ride their bikes.
There are also trails for mountain bikers, runners and lazy but keen walkers (that’s me) through the forest, a slide and climbing wall for the kids, and horse rides.
There is a small pump track there too, but this is more for the experienced rider. This didn’t stop The Oldest Child from wanting to pose on the ramp. I threatened him with severe groundings should he decide to hop on his bike and drop in while I was taking pics. Luckily he knows what’s good for him and just left it at looking cool for the camera.
The one aspect of Oakhurst farm that struck me the most, and which stayed with me long after we’d left, was the feeling of having room to breathe.
The wide open spaces, the bright green pastures that roll on seemingly forever, the undulating foothills of the sprawling Outeniquas – they all beckon you to get outside and take deep lungfuls of fresh mountain air.
And of course, wherever you look, there are beautiful bovines. Some curious and waiting to say hi, and others further away, minding their own business as they peacefully graze in the golden light of sunset.
You can’t help but feel relaxed as the very essence of this special places oozes its way into your bones. Yes, you’re spoilt for things to do on the farm, but sometimes you just want to put your feet up and enjoy the mindfulness that comes with doing nothing.
Oakhurst is that place.
*Oakhurst has since opened up its own farmstall selling delicious farm fresh goodies, the majority of which are produced by hand on the farm or in the local community.
**Oakhurst also now offers breakfast baskets that can be ordered the day before, for delivery for the following morning. These include muesli, muffins, rusks and yoghurt, all homemade at Oakhurst (the yoghurt is produced from Oakhurst jersey milk); free range eggs from the farm coop; Oakhurst farm milk; freshly ground coffee; juice; local Hoekwil honey; butter and jam; bacon from pasture-fed pigs from the Hemel en Aarde valley; and fresh, seasonal fruit (R110 per person).
Oakhurst Farm Cottages
Tel: 064 384 1266 or 082 461 7669
We were treated to complimentary accommodation at Oakhurst in order to review the accommodation and activities for magazine articles.
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