Blowing Down An Old Country Road

This article as appeared in the April copy of British Airways Magazine, photography and print by Narina Exelby

All roads lead to Curry’s Post. It’s a simple fact that can be corroborated by almost anyone who has driven the
back roads of KwaZulu-Natal’s enchanting Midlands. In the farming district of Karkloof, alongside the edge of verdant pastures, the signs show: Curry’s Post,
this way. Curry’s Post, over there, point the signs near the old station in Lidgetton. Around Nottingham Road, Balgowan, Lions River and Howick, almost every T-junction in the Midlands, it seems, the signs show: Curry’s Post, that way.

So where exactly – and more specifically, what is Curry’s Post? Because if one follows the signs, one will stumble across…
well, nothing in particular. Once the wagon trail along the only route connecting Durban with Johannesburg, the Curry’s Post
Road is now a collage of patched and faded bitumen that is often dimpled with potholes. After 19km, without ever passing through a significant ‘centre’, the tar ends and Curry’s Post which you would have passed without noticing – becomes lost in a trail of dust.

But look a little deeper, because therein lies the area’s charm…

WHY ‘CURRY’S POST’?

On a map you’ll see that the Curry’s Post Road begins at a fairly uninteresting T-junction in Howick – but memories of the beginning of ‘Curry’s Post’ lie one kilometre away, where this story begins over a cup of tea and a collection of family photographs.

‘For military services rendered, the Brits granted my great-great grandfather, Sergeant Major George Curry, a piece of land called Houtboschrand in what was the Boer’s short-lived Natalia Republic,’ John Curry begins as he settles into his armchair. Ceylon tea steams between us. ‘Great-Great Grandpa Curry’s house was built by the Boers in the 1830s and that,’ Mr Curry pauses for emphasis, ‘that house is Curry’s Post.’

The octogenarian shuffles through photos and pauses at one of a white house with a grey tin roof. ‘This is where Great-Great Grandpa Curry lived – and, incidentally, so did I. George ran a lot of horses – about 300 of them – because back then the postal service was run from the stagecoaches, with fresh steeds at intervals of every 12 miles.’

How’s the tea – any more? John’s wife Carmeline pops her head into the lounge. ‘Be careful my dear, he’ll talk to you for hours about Curry’s Post,’ she teases.

Mrs Curry has lived most of her life in the area that carries her married name. Her own role is stamped in its history: ‘Carmeline was the last post mistress of Curry’s Post,’ Mr Curry states with pride. ‘She earned a marvellous sum of…’ he chuckles, recalling, ‘something like £3 a month.’

Before I leave he gives me the directions to George Curry’s house [Kilometre 17]. ‘You can’t miss it,’ he says. ‘All roads lead to Curry’s Post.’

WHERE VIKINGS REST

The last time I saw Carol Dalling she was standing on the edge of Curry’s Post Road, waving as I passed in my wedding dress. The KZN Midlands is a popular wedding destination and Curry’s Post has two special nuptial venues: picturesque Cranford Country Lodge [kilometre 15; cranfordcountrylodge.co.za] and historic Halliwell Country Inn [kilometre 13; halliwell.co.za], ensuring that much of the area’s accommodation is busy most weekends.

Carol, who now lives in Howick, lived in Curry’s Post for 40 years. ‘Our farm was called Ultima Thule. It’s the name for the Vikings’ paradise, their final resting place.’ A fitting name for the home of a sailor no longer at sea.

Bruce Dalling, Carol’s late husband, won the Transatlantic Single-Handed Yacht Race in 1968. In the years that followed he literally sailed the world but when time came to settle down, Bruce knew exactly where home would be. Years before, he – like so many Curry’s Post residents – had fallen for the unassumingly beautiful Midlands.

‘He was on the overnight train from Jo’burg to Pietermaritzburg,’ Carol recalls. ‘When he awoke he opened his compartment’s shutter, and – wooooow,’ her voice is low, breath-heavy. ‘Bruce said: “This is where I’m going to live.” And even with all his travelling that followed – can you believe it – this area always had his heart.’

MORE THAN ‘JUST’ SHOES

‘There is so much buzz along this road right now,’ Amanda McCarthy croons over a cup of coffee. It’s the first time we’ve met, but I’ve worn so many pairs of the leather shoes her business, Groundcover [kilometre 12; groundcover.co.za], is known and loved for, that meeting Amanda feels like catching up with a trusted friend. I’m intrigued by this casual woman who, for three decades, has ensured the district’s children receive a good education – but she artfully steers conversation away from herself. It’s empowering others, I come to realise, that drives her.

‘The Halliwell hotel is under new ownership,’ she continues. ‘Giverny Studios [near kilometre 12; facebook.com/GivernyStudio], is offering pottery and art courses again. And you’ll have seen the new Barn Owl [Kilometre 12; thebarnowl.co.za] coffee shop?’ Amanda is referring to the new glass and steel ‘barn’ next-door to Groundcover – great coffee, incredible views.

Amanda and her late husband, Justin, moved to Curry’s Post 29 years ago. ‘Back then we were the youngsters in Curry’s Post; everyone else looked ancient, although I suppose they were only about 60,’ Amanda chuckles. ‘Slowly, younger people moved in to the area – and the nature of Curry’s Post changed. With them came more innovative ideas – how to grow your community; to train staff up; education became more important. South Africa was changing and a new mindset was moving in here.

‘Now, I’m part of the old set and the next generation is taking over. They’re taking things a step further and the opportunities they’re presenting are incredibly exciting.’

A RETIREMENT HOME FOR HORSES

‘Curry’s Post is a piece of heaven that no one really knows about,’ says Jane Uys.

We’re sitting on the veranda of Halliwell Country Inn, the historic hotel that Jane and her husband, Mike, used to own. They still live next door, where Jane runs what she calls a ‘rest home for horses’. ‘This is a place where retired race horses and show jumpers can relax and learn to simply be horses again.’

Her equine residents, grazing in a lush paddock adjacent to the hotel, share our view: an outlook that stretches far, far off into the Karkloof valley – and it turns out that being adjacent to a human hotel suits Jane’s equine residents rather well.

‘Beaulah, who is built more for comfort than for speed, likes to break out of the paddock and graze on the hotel’s lawns,’ Jane admits. ‘Harry, who has his own harem, and Carol, who was a police horse – imagine calling a horse Carol! – enjoy being fed by children visiting the hotel. And we used to have Martha, who would pose with all of the brides – she absolutely loved having her photo taken!’

CURRY’S POST, FOUND

There is a rumour that in the tiny graveyard of St Paul’s Chapel, a horse is buried among the people. It’s not just any horse, of course – because one deemed worthy of burial in a church graveyard must surely have been particularly special.

Snowflake was the beloved horse of Sergeant Major George Curry,’ Victor Phaswana says.

‘This chapel is a real legacy,’ he flips through his caretakersized ring of keys to unlock the door. ‘It was shipped from England in 1876 by George Curry, a very religious man. A few decades ago John Curry preserved it by encasing the outside in bricks. But inside the chapel is all original.’ Victor began his research into the history of Curry’s Post when he joined the team at what is now The Old Hotel [kilometre 17; theoldhotel.co.za]. The old homestead of George Curry, as well as the old post office and old postmaster’s cottage – the buildings that collectively are Curry’s Post –have been carefully restored and decorated by new owners for selfcatering guests. It is to here that all roads seem to lead.

DOGS BIGGER THAN SMALL PONIES

A stone’s throw from The Old Hotel, I’m chatting to Mark Macaskill outside the old Coach House. ‘Our home is one of the original buildings in the area, dating back to the late 1800s,’ Mark begins… just as nine Great Dane puppies burst through a door and divert both my interest and coffee craving.

The puppies are a temporary addition at Terbodore [kilometre 17.5; terbodorecoffee.co.za], the well-known coffee roastery that, Mark jokes, is loved as much for its coffee as it is for its dogs.

‘We didn’t even like Great Danes when we moved to Curry’s Post,’ laughs Marian Macaskill, the co-founder of Terbodore Coffee Roasters. ‘Our daughter begged us to get one… and our first Dane, Sultan, ended up becoming our logo and the face of the Terbodore brand.’

HOME OF HUMMING ALPACAS

The tar’s just ended and, through a veil of dust, I see a row of pouting lips and pert ears lined along a fence. What are these inquisitive creatures with curiously long necks? Moments later there is a sign: ‘Alpaca manure for sale’. A visit is inevitable.

The owner of Endeavour Alpacas [kilometre 15; endeavouralpacas.com; check the website for dates the farm is open to the public], Terence Watkins, and Wendy Channing are raking up manure when I arrive. They have 71 alpacas grazing in different fields: females and cria (baby alpacas) in one, males in another, and Venus,the blind alpaca, has a space of her own. ‘She gets disorientated if she’s with the others,’ Wendy says compassionately, ‘but when one of the females gives birth, we put her in there with Venus. She’s excellent with newborns.

‘Alpacas are soulful animals; they kind of… connect with you,’ says Wendy, who spins their fleece and outsources the knitting of hats, gloves and scarves to pensioners in Howick. ‘If you’re around an alpaca long enough you can feel a mood change, an attitude change. When they’re not feeling well, you can feel that they’re not feeling well. And when a female gives birth the alpacas gather around and hum – did you know, alpacas hum when they’re happy?’

About 6,000 years ago these relatives of camels were bred by Aztecs and Incas and their fleece was used to create garments for royalty, Terence explains, adding that he’s had a lifelong fascination with those cultures. He also has a penchant for rescuing animals and so 12 years ago, when he saw an ad for a pair of alpacas that desperately needed a home, he responded immediately. ‘I always tell people – I didn’t find the alpacas, they found me.’

All roads, it seems, really do lead to Curry’s Post.