This is our final interview with Cheryl and Simon Blackburn, owners of Three Tree Hill at Spioenkop.Here I asked them a few of the questions I had after visiting their lodge late last year. Their responses include the last few answers to our quiz competition to win a stay at TTH.
#CountryRunner: I saw far more than three trees on the few hills surrounding your property. Then I saw an advert for Three Tree Tea on the wall outside the reception area. Can you explain the name “Three Tree Hill”?
Three Tree Hill: The Three Trees Tea advert was just picked up at an antique store, but name for the lodge actually comes from the geographical hill, called Three Tree Hill, that is situated on the farm about a mile west of the lodge. Gen. Charles Warren (British officer that lead the battle to Spioenkop) was based here during the war.
#CR: I spent some time chatting with the other guests about the intriguing architecture of TTH. All I could suggest was that there was a gold rush-meets old railway town feel with a definite military influence. Can you explain how you view it?
TTH: The original owner wanted the lodge to feel like a part of the Anglo Boer War, so the architect based the design on the British officers’ quarters that were shipped out in kit form (easy to assemble and take down when the army was on the move) from the UK during the campaign.
#CR: The decoration is just as interesting. Can you tell me how much of it was done during your tenure? How have the historical items been sourced? What are your favourite and rarest pieces?
TTH: Previous owners were well connected in the historical and art worlds in South Africa. Fortunately they were also happy for us to keep all the pieces and showcase them as long as we continued with the historical tours. We are very grateful to them.
Many pieces have since been collected and donated by guests and from our own travels around the country. My favourite piece is a chocolate tin given to the soldiers by Her Majesty that still has some chocolate in it!
#CR: You’re an eco-friendly lodge. Can you explain your ‘green’ practices? How effective is your big solar cooker?
TTH: We use our solar cooker daily – it boils a pot of water in nine minutes! We also have solar water heaters for all the geysers, energy saving bulbs, Wonderbag cookers and purchase all new electrical equipment with energy saving in mind. As a result we have halved our kilowatt usage per guest per night in the last 3 years. Since your visit we welcomed a two-week old calf to the lodge. She will hopefully be producing milk (from which we’ll also make cream, cheese and butter) in the next few years.
#CR: The food was absolutely delicious (thank you!). Can you tell us about your menu, how it is developed and run? Cheryl tells me she runs the kitchen and initiates new recipes, but there’s a strong staff that keep it all running.
TTH: Three ladies from local village that have been trained by Ryna & Cheryl. We start by looking at guest arrivals for each week, consider their dietary requirements & length of stay. Then we adapt according to seasonal availabilities. We try to keep a South African flavour to it all, but use all sorts of influences.
[#CR: My favourite dish at the lodge was a lentil curry. Cheryl kindly gave me the recipe, which I’ll post soon.]
#CR: You appear to have lots of staff from the local community and make a genuine effort to involve and uplift in the area. How successful have these efforts be?
TTH: We do a lot of training at the lodge – not only service training, but also personal health, money management and so on. Our goal is that this will uplift our staff as well as the rest of their communities who they can teach in turn. We also have initiatives with the local schools with a long-term view to improving the prospects of the people around us.
We’re almost ready to post our quiz. If you can get all our questions correct, you’ll go into the draw to win two nights for two at Three Trees! Read the details with terms and conditions here.