About Us

About Us Walkerbouts Inn & Pub

Rhodes Eastern Cape

Was established almost two decades ago by the proprietor, Dave Walker. It is located on the same site as the original farmhouse on the farm “Tintern” on which the village of Rhodes was established in 1891.It is in an elevated position on the western side of Rhodes on a quiet cul de sac with a stunning view across the village.

Attending trade shows such as Indaba, Hooked on Fishing, the Grahamstown Festival, Getaway shows, and many others on behalf of the local tourism industry.

Walker was accordingly nicknamed “Walkabout” by Leon Isted, a late great friend from the farm Bidstone who is sorely missed.

On establishing the venue, it was a natural conclusion that the name should be a corruption of the nickname and became “Walkerbouts Inn – Rhodes”.

Prior to this, it was locally referred to as “Opstal” i.e. farmstead, grange, or homestead in keeping with the origins of Rhodes.

Dating back to the middle of the previous century, the dwelling was owned by the late Pierre and Miems Olivier. Pierre was the station commander of the Rhodes police station that was located in Vorster Street, a short distance from Walkerbouts.

The dwelling was originally fitted with wooden sash windows. These were changed in favor of the large steel windows that are now in place.

In a visit to visit where he was raised, their son recounted the time of toil and dust involved in the changes! Having made a number of structural changes to the building, I can empathize!

With time, as their children left the fold, the Olivier’s converted the building to suit the needs of local circumstances and it became a small hostel for the local school.

Still farming in the area, one of the then-hostel residents told me of the following account of his stay; Part of the hostelry arrangement was to help in the vegetable garden in particular so sweat and toil was the order of the day to prepare the beds for planting.

As is the way of youngsters, the local lad and his brother decided to set the station commander up by way of adjusting his alarm clock to go off an hour earlier than normal.

They were chuffed to hear the Zobo ringing and appropriate getting up and dressing noises. On arrival at the police station, Olivier became somewhat annoyed to find that none of his colleagues had arrived. The reason for this soon became apparent when he checked his watch.

Having been a longstanding member of the constabulary, was that Olivier soon established who the culprits were. The end result was that their “punishment” was summarised in a few words – “en toe het ons gespit!”

 

 

The Oliviers eventually left Rhodes and the spot was bought by the late Paul Alberts, one of South Africa's leading social documentary photographers and writer and publisher

of whom more can be read in the Rooms page and Room 7 in particular.

As the population of Rhodes dwindled, the cost of maintaining the village irrigation furrow became prohibitive so it fell into disuse decades prior to Albert’s period of residence. He allegedly paved what is now the dining-room with flagstones that had allegedly been used to line a portion of the village irrigation furrow. Whether this tale is based on fact or is part of the rural legend, is difficult to establish, nonetheless, one should never ruin a good story with the facts!

Subsequent to the Alberts era, ”Opstal”, as it was known at the time, had been used by the founders of the Tiffindell Ski Resort in the early 90s until the fledgling resort could accommodate its own staff on site. It was at this point that I initially rented the premises and then bought it in 1997. A process of upgrading the establishment from the “glorified backpackers” state to its current condition ensued.

A major revamp took place in 1999 and was completed by June of that year. En-suite bathrooms were added to all of the bedrooms and the premises were extended to include a sunny lounge, an office/reception area, an additional dining area, bar toilets, and a storeroom.

The bar was completely revamped and a bar counter complete with bulkhead and shelving were installed by an accomplished carpenter from Ficksburg who built it all out of well-weathered Cedarwood from the Clocolan area.

The lounge is the perfect haven in winter with the sun pouring in warms it up while the icy winter breezes blow by outside. More recently, a function room was completed in 2018 creating a multi-functional space for a variety of purposes

Walkerbouts Inn was graded by a representative of the AA Quality Assured Programme shortly after the millennium and accorded a “Recommended” rating. Although no longer a participant in the AAQAP, the high standards set by the then AA Assessor, the late Vik Balusik have been maintained in this “home-from-home” ever since.

It has subsequently been accorded a 3-star rating by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa.

About The Region, Some History

Rhodes is located in the Eastern Cape Highlands, near the escarpment at the southernmost end of the mighty Drakensberg mountain range in the magisterial district of Barkly East. Rhodes was voted one of South Africa’s Top 20 Secret Places by Getaway Magazine.

It is 1821m above sea-level and is 16km due south of the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. The village is surrounded by the towns of Elliot, Maclear, and Ugie below the escarpment and above the escarpment, Barkly East lies 60km by road to the west of Rhodes. It is an hour’s drive on the R396 from Barkly East. The gravel road is narrow, winding, and poorly maintained by the authorities. It must be driven with care.

The recommended route is via Barkly East unless you have a suitable vehicle or sufficient time to travel from Maclear to Rhodes via the Naudesnek Pass. Should you consider using the “short cut” via the Pitseng Pass to Naudesnek, please contact us before embarking on the trip.

The farm Tintern, owned by Mr. J A Vorster, was advertised for sale in 274 erven or lots on 16th September 1891. In September 1894, the erf-holders and residents met to petition the government to proclaim Rhodes as a village under the Village Management Act of 1881. Rhodes has proclaimed a township with municipal rights in 1897. Between 24th June 1901 and February 7th, 1902, the village was invaded no less than 29 times during the Anglo Boer War!

Local legend has it, that it was originally named Rossville after Ds Ross and that the name was changed to Rhodes in the hopes that the mining-magnate and then Prime Minister of the Cape, Cecil John Rhodes, would bless the village with his beneficence. Alas, this was not to be and the legend has it that he sent a wagonload of Stone pine trees instead. Another variation has it that he sent the trees as well as 500 pounds

The story continues that the funds disappeared together with the official who received them thus establishing what has become an often-emulated South African tradition! More recent speculation would have it that the trees could not have been donated by Rhodes as the species reputed to have been supplied by him have a life-expectancy which has long been exceeded.

Ds Ross, who was based in Lady Grey, ministered to the community, traveling to and fro on horseback. Although of English-speaking origin, he was interned during the Anglo Boer War. Prior to the war, he conducted his services alternately in English and Afrikaans.

Clothed in rags and having walked bare-footed from the Aliwal North concentration camp to his home in Lady Grey after his release, he was thoroughly disgusted with the British and refused to conduct his services in English thereafter.

 

With all due respect to Ross, there is in fact no record of Rhodes ever having been known under any other name. The local Dutch Reformed Churchward is known as Rossville and is where confusion entered the fray.

The majority of buildings in the village were constructed around the turn of the century and it continued to grow and prosper. Its heyday was apparently between 1911 and 1945. The advent of the “Wool Boom” of the 1950s provided a brief upsurge but the riches gained were soon spent.

At this time, wool was sold at a pound sterling for a pound of wool. A gradual decline set in after this flash-in-the-pan and which continued into the 70s as witnessed by the eventual closure of the white school in 1976. Municipal status was relinquished in 1979 and control ceded to the local regional authority.

A brief upsurge followed with the advent of the “Hippie Era”. This was viewed in some quarters as a major threat to national security or something of that nature on account of different values such as living an alternative lifestyle, men having long hair, and engaging in conversation with local people of color!

The village has become a significant tourist attraction for those who wish to venture off the beaten track and savor the peace, tranquillity, and character of the village. It was proclaimed as a “Conservation Area” in 1997 conferring National monument Status which has been and we hope will remain a saving grace that will deter developers and architectural philistines.

Rhodes Village Hostory

A Brief History of Rhodes

Farmers settled the more remote areas of the Highlands of the Eastern Cape in the 1860s living in caves until they had built their houses.
Prior to this, the only inhabitants of this inhospitable region were seasonally migratory members of the San tribe. They, at least, were sensible enough to follow the exodus of most game species out of the mountains during the harsh winter months!
A land surveyor, Joseph Orpen, and his brother Richard laid out farms in the Barkly East district and parts of the Herschel area.
 
They immigrated to South Africa in 1864 and although originally from Dublin, the farms were given Scottish names. Their descendants still conduct farming activities on a property given to Orpen in lieu of payment for the job.
Farms thus demarcated became available for purchase from the government on a “huurkoop” basis.The origin of Rhodes lies in the establishment of agricultural activities and the concurrent development of the Dutch Reformed Church in the region.
It was founded on the farm Tintern that belonged to a Mr. Jim Vorster. Vorster agreed to the establishment of the village on condition that 100 plots be sold and that it be named after the then Prime minister of the Cape, Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902). A Mr. Shaw of Sauer & Osmond Duly sold the plots and Rhodes was founded on 16 September 1891. The rest of the farm was given to the village as commonage. Rural legend has it that the village was first named Rossville.

Despite careful archival research of extant documentation by the School of Architecture of the University of Natal, including a publication by P Raper entitled the “Dictionary of South African Place Names”, no evidence of a name change from Rossville to Rhodes was found.

However, a possibility exists that as Ross was the Dutch Reformed minister at the time, this misconception is probably based on confusion between the name of the local church ward named Rossville, in his honor, and that of the village.

Another possibility is that it was the figment of somebody’s imagination seeking to romance the origins of its name. Ross was based in Lady Grey and ministered from there to the far-flung outposts in the region, traveling from farm to farm on horseback.

Ross was of Scottish origin and alternated between English and Afrikaans each Sunday whilst conducting his ministry. The outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War interrupted his activities. He was perceived to be too closely aligned with the opposition by the British and was summarily arrested.

He spent the duration of hostilities in the concentration camp in Aliwal North. On cessation of the war, he was released with the clothes on his back and no shoes. Ross walked from Aliwal North to Lady Grey barefoot.

Thoroughly disenchanted with the British he vowed to never conduct another church service in English ever again. Credit must be given where it is due. He religiously stuck to his word. On the 15th of June 1892, the cornerstone of the Dutch Reformed Church was laid.

The population at this time was estimated at between 250 and 300 people. The construction of the church was soon followed by that of the Post Office, Court Room and Gaol complex that was completed in 1898 at a cost of the princely sum of 558 pounds 14 shillings and 10 pence.

 

 

Construction of the Naudesnek Pass was started in 1895 on the advice of Stephanus Naude of the farm Dunley who was the first person to cross the mountain range with an ox-wagon. Heavy snowfalls during the Anglo-Boer War stopped construction and the pass was completed in 1905 under the direction of engineer Alfred Bain. The old wagon route can still be seen in places. Early records show that schooling started in 1894 with 45 pupils.

By 1895, Rhodes boasted the largest school in the Barkly East district with 67 pupils. By 1912, this had increased to 90. In February 1916, a process to acquire land for a school was started. By the 6th of March 1918, the “Rhodes Education Site” was given to the village for the construction of a school. Sir Herbert Baker allegedly designed the school building, completed in 1924. Baker left the Cape Colony in 1902 and South Africa for New Delhi in 1913 which was some three years before the good citizens of Rhodes started agitating for formal school premises and facilities.

His partners Kendall and Morris or possibly Kendall on his own may well have designed it. Baker, Kendall, and Morris had a partnership until 1920 when Baker resigned. Kendall & Morris continued to practice until 1925 when Morris left. A boarding school was started in about 1915 in the old Ginsberg Hotel run by Mr. H Venter in 1905. It burnt down during its use as a hotel and was rebuilt to become the school hostel known as “Opstal”.

Its hostel function ceased with the closure of the school. “Opstal” became a family home followed by its heyday in the so-called “Hippie era” of the late 70s and early 80s. It was subsequently used as a base station for the Tiffindell Ski Resort construction team in the early ’90s and which became Walkerbouts Inn – Rhodes that was established in 1996. Major renovations were completed by June 1999 and it has continued in its current state ever since then.

 

 

By 1928 there were 112 pupils and teachers with classes being given up to standard 8. By the 1940s the number of pupils declined to 70 and by 1947 there only 30 to 40 pupils with 3 teachers. By 1948, Std 6 was the highest pupils could 5 aspire to and by 1967, there were only 20 pupils in attendance.

The school finally closed in 1974. Another rural legend has it that Rhodes acknowledged the village being named after him by way of a donation of a wagonload of pine trees. Early photographs of the village, as well as the life span of the species concerned, debunk this charming anecdote.

However, records show that 1 pound 17 shillings, and 3 pence were paid to the Barkly East Municipality for pine trees (Pinus insegnus). Botanically speaking these trees have a lifespan of approximately 70 years. Some can still be seen in the village which adds weight to the non-C J Rhodes origin of the trees. The village is 1840m above sea level and 16km due south of the Kingdom of Lesotho.

The towns of Maclear, Ugie, and Elliot that lie below the nearby escarpment surround it. Barkly East lies above the escarpment to its west, about 60km or at least 60 minutes’ drive from the village on a narrow and winding gravel road that must be driven with care.

Rhodes is a remote village, almost frozen in time, a relic from the past and a living record of the trials and tribulations of the surrounding farming community. The unique nature of the architecture finds its origins in the Victorian era and is a compromise between fashion, availability of materials, and practicality.

Houses range from grand traders’ residences to flat-roofed ‘kerk-huisies’ used as townhouses in days gone by when traveling to the village, mostly on horseback, from the surrounding farms was a major outing. These buildings are sprinkled amongst tree-lined streets and all contribute to the quaint charm of the atmosphere.

With a view to maintaining the character and ambiance, the village was proclaimed as a Conservation Area in Government Gazette no. 18152 on 25 July 1997. The village endured several phases starting off as a direct result of the agricultural activities in the area including 29 invasions during the Anglo-Boer War.

In the course of the previous century, agricultural fortunes gradually declined until the village became almost derelict by the late 70s.

It was “discovered” at this time by a group of people seeking an alternative lifestyle, “Living off the land, man”. This period was referred to as the Hippie era and a multitude of legends surround it, suffice it to say that amongst the last proponents of this way of life was literally burned out of the village. His house burnt down and in more recent years, the owner was compensated for the damage in the course of the activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The advent of the hippie-era signaled the beginning of the current tourism phase. The village gradually became better known as a tourist destination and with the advent of the ruralized yuppies, property prices have soared making it impossible for the average person who may have wanted to settle in the village to do so. In 1970, houses were “sold” for the arrears in rates and taxes or even given away. By 1987 good-sized houses sold for up to R30 000.

By the mid-90s this had doubled. The same properties would now command prices in the region of R1 000 000. Optimists are currently seeking up to R2 000 000! Unfortunately, as is the case elsewhere, the net result of this popularity is that there are now fewer permanent white residents than there were ten years ago. The terrain in these parts is rugged and the climate can be harsh.

Historically, the snow has been recorded in every month of the year although the seasonal falls generally occur from May to August. A snowfall was recorded in Rhodes on the 1st of January 2001! Thanks to the Senqu Municipality for upgrading the water treatment plant 2004, however, we eagerly await a more permanent and large storage capacity reservoir to ensure the continuity of quality water supply to our growing community in times of drought. The lack of such a bulk water supply remains a serious constraint to further local economic development.

by Dave Walker