Building Castles in the Sand

A right royal place to stay

The beach is empty except for a few whirling sea gulls and a man flying a kite.  A tea coloured river meanders out of the cool natural forest and carves a gully out of the sand to meet the sea.  The only sound the crash of the sea and the tinkle of ice in my glass.

I’m on the front parapet of Craighross Castle on Noetzie beach, watching the sun gild the world in pinks and tangerines and toasting the end of a day.  I can’t quite believe I’m in a castle.  And I certainly can’t believe I’ve got a beach to myself for a sun set swim.  I’m the guest of John Loewen, owner of one of famous Noetzie Castles and one of the only castles in the area that is also a private residence.

I say guest because Craighross might look like a castle on the outside, but it’s a perfectly modern home on the inside, a home that John has now opened to short term let when he and his family aren’t using the property. In fact, the large open plan kitchen and living area and mostly tiled floors make this home more like a fantasy beach house; somewhere you can feel like a princess and still put your feet up.

The setting is really what makes the property special.  Noetzie bay is one of the hidden gems of the Cape’s Garden Route.  Tucked away behind the Knysna Heads, the tiny bay is like a secret; a place that shouldn’t be.  Despite being 10 minutes away from a major tourist route, it is virtual unspoiled.

Surrounded by conservancy protected indigenous forest, filled with yellowwoods and birdlife, and cupped by rocks studded with mussles and oysters, the beach is breathtaking.  John tells me that he’s had visits from baboons, bush buck, otters and the “pesky vervets”, warning me that the latter are likely to be opportunistic with any open windows.

The castles, which jot the shore line in amongst miners’ cottages and beach shacks, just add to the fairy tale atmosphere.

Called “the Follies” by some locals, the castles have an intriguing history. Visitors might be teased about pirates and kingly hideaways, but the buildings are actually quite “new”.  The original castle, built in the 1930s, sadly no longer stands.  It was built by Herbert Stephen Henderson VC, a Scot who fought in the Matabele wars and struck it rich mining gold.

Legend has it that Henderson built the first castle using stone from the area.  Someone noted that a few alternations would make the building look like a castle and the so the idea was born. A few years later Henderson built a second Castle, now virtually a ruin, and then a third in the 1940s, which is now owned by the neighbouring Pezula Estate.  Henderson’s older son Allan inherited the main Castle while his youngest son, Ian built Montrose Castle in the 1970s.

In 1960 Donald Lindsay, a professional big game hunter who worked with the

Hendersons, purchased a plot of land at the end of the beach and built Lindsay castle, now a B&B.  Craighross is the newest of the lot.

John tells me he first visited Noetzie in 1986, visiting the Lindsays who were old family friends.  It was “love at first sight” and in 1999 he bought a plot from the Henderson brothers, and started building.

The castle, named for his sons, has 6 bedrooms, all en-suite, including the master bedroom which occupies the entire top floor.  All the conveniences are provided, like satellite TV, high speed wireless internet and a Skype phone.  Of course, with great glass sliding doors to replace the expected narrow windows of medieval architecture and two large balconies with views of the wide, open ocean, I couldn’t spend one moment looking at a screen.

When writing to me, John’s email is filled with his passion for the bay.   “You can swim with the dolphins right off the beach and the fishing is fantastic.  We have a lagoon formed from the Noetzie River for safe and gentle swimming for the kids.  We have the best oysters and mussels along with small clams, snails, fresh fish, which we collect daily for dinner.”

But I choose the lazy life for my two days in this hidden paradise.  I get up with the sun and swim in the bracing sea before I’m even fully awake.  I read and sleep and listen to waves break. I drink wine and amble on the beach, following the footprints of birds.  And I plan my return.

Craighross:

Craighross and its guests are taken excellent care of by Jean and Allan De Souza, who also manage Lindsay Castle.

For booking enquiries:
+27 (0) 44 384 1849
+ 27 (0) 866115111 (fax)
+27 (0) 84 813 4887
www.knysnacastles.com
knysnacastles@kingsley.co.za

Visit Google Earth to view the beach and the castles at Latitude 34° 4’46.84″S and Longitude 23° 7’35.67″E. (castle 3)

Photographs by Gideon Joubert

Written for Moneyweb Life in February 09

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