Thursday, June 5, 2014

A charming wedding in the Natal Midlands

Pippa and Alex (fourth and fifth from left) with bridesmaids and groomsmen.
There is surely no better excuse for an unscheduled holiday than a wedding in the family, in this case my son Alex marrying Pippa, daughter of Andrew and Lynda Smythe of Pietermartzburg, at a charming occasion in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. It all happened at a dedicated wedding venue called Orchards which provides accommodation (for close family and friends) in comfortable thatched lodgings, a chapel and entertainment facilities.
The bride and groom of course looked gorgeous and left me misty-eyed as they took their vows with Reverend Jacques Pretorius, Pippa’s uncle.
Anna (top) and Charley (above) stole
the hearts of the congregation.
All wedding photos courtesy Ian Thomas
My daughter Melissa read the lesson with her baby son Adam on her hip, charming the congregation with his cuteness. Master of ceremonies and musician James Hendry joined Alex and his co-groomsmen Boyd Varty and Renias Mhlongo in the church and all of them looked superb in their matching outfits. The two families produced almost the entire line-up of the six lovely bridesmaids and flower girls.

The speeches in the dining hall by James, with his infectious sense of humour, Alex, his father-in-law Andrew, Boyd and Renias - speaking in English and Shangaan (translated by James) - were all outstanding. Boyd has had international speaking experience around the recent publication of his memoir Cathedral of the Wild which deals with extraordinary experiences at Londolozi and elsewhere; and Alex too, with his motivational talk with Renias called The Power of Relationships, based on their experiences together, also at Londolozi and elsewhere. In fact the whole event had a strong Londolozi element with the presence of Dave Varty, CEO of the famous private game reserve, his wife Shan, their daughter Bronwyn and her husband Richard. Alex and Pippa are closely associated with Londolozi and are resident there.

After the wedding Estelle and I joined my brother and sister-in-law Philip and Cathy, and sister and brother-in-law Diana and Duncan at Champagne Valley, a beautiful Drakensberg resort, thanks to Di and Duncan, with sorties to places of interest in the area, including the local polling station. On the way there we spent a night at Nottingham Road, with dinner at the famous pub at Rawdon’s Hotel. My chicken salad was the tastiest meal I have had for a long time and the craft beer a welcome relief from the lites we had somehow stocked ourselves up with for the trip. The next morning we met Simon and Cheryl Blackburn at their lodge Three Trees at Spioenkop, where Phil and I had stayed some time back and were keen to revisit.

Duncan and Diana at Champagne Valley
These days Simon does the battlefield guiding himself, starting with a lesson in the lounge of the lodge on the historical background, followed by an audio description of the build-up to the Boer War in the shuttle vehicle, and then a presentation on location of the actual battle on top of the mountain – a vicious event which lasted all night and all day on 23 and 24 January 1900, leaving hundreds on both sides dead and wounded. The British soldiers who took the full force of the Boer cannons and rifle fire were left in mass graves, today covered by white stones at the edge of the mountain. Simon’s delivery of the story is nuanced and dramatic, sounding familiarly Churchillian at times!
On our outings in the Berg we saw a breathtaking display of the raptors at Falcon Ridge birds of prey centre run by proprietors Greg and Alison. They showed their magnificent birds, including a black eagle, fish eagle and giant spotted eagle owl flying into the blue yonder and returning with impressive landings after a loud call skyward from Greg or Alison. The black eagle did his landing right towards us, reminding me of a jet fighter, lowering his substantial curved flaps and feet like wheels at just the right altitude, before landing gracefully.

This was followed by a marvellous lunch at Champagne Castle Hotel with its wonderful views of the Drakensberg from close up, compliments of our friend and owner of the hotel, Stanley Cohen of Constantia in Cape Town.

The view from the Champagne Castle Hotel in the Drakensberg.


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