‘It was the happiest time of my life’

Highclere was the holiday home of Sir Langham Dale, Superintendent-General of Education for the Cape Colony from 1859 to 1882.

Dawn Loots, of Bothasig, remembers an idyllic childhood at the historic Highclere cottage in Blouberg, where days were spent on the beachfront dunes and catching crayfish in rock pools with her brothers, Peter and Phillip.

Ms Loots’s father owned the house for a few years during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Highclere is one of the last two traditional flat-roofed cottages on the West Coast. It predates 1870, but it’s future looks bleak, as there have been several attempts to have it demolished (“High noon for Highclere,” Tabletalk, May 18, 2016).

Ms Loots was seven or eight when the family moved there from the southern suburbs. They rented the house for six weeks for the summer holiday, and because it was good for her brother’s asthma, her father, Peter, bought Highclere.

It was completely rural; there was no electricity and no street lights. The neighbourhood was little more than a few old white-washed homes.

“There was one little corner cafe at the bend on Popham Street. Those days, we were very close to the beach, where we went all the time,” Ms Loots said.

She wonders how they got two single beds into the 3m x 3m room she shared with her granny. The walls were built with rocks from the beach. The kitchen had an old coal stove, the bathroom had a copper cylinder, and the bath had legs.

The Blue Peter Hotel, a stone’s throw from Highclere, was the main attraction for visitors to the area. “Some days, the sea was just like glass,” she said.

When there was a sardine run, the Loots children would dash off with their mom’s net curtains to catch some. “The sardines used to flutter out of the sea.” It was the happiest time of her life: there was no school nearby so the children had a daily trek to the southern suburbs where she attended Greenfields in Claremont and the boys went to SACS.

There was no direct access to Milnerton, and there was no Table View, “just bush”.

She remembers a narrow road which used to run through the bluegum trees at the old Killarney Hotel, at the bottom end of what is now Blaauwberg Road, and buck ran across the road at night.

Because she was the only girl in the area and there were no friends, her parents decided to move to Milnerton, which could never match up to the freedom the children had enjoyed in Blouberg.

Of the dilapidated state of Highclere now, Ms Loots said: “Money dictated everything.”

The legal battle to demolish Highclere, owned by the Rattray family through Blue Peter Holdings since 1991, has dragged on for many years.

The owners went to court to challenge a decision to refuse permission for Highclere to be demolished. In May last year, the court granted a temporary order, setting aside a 2013 decision by an inter-ministerial tribunal to refuse permission for demolition. The owners had to give reasons why a final order should not be granted.

In a judgment two weeks ago, Cape High Court judge Monde Samela said the matter should go back to the MEC for Cultural Affairs and Sport to appoint a new independent tribunal to hear BPS Holdings’ application for demolition of Highclere.

Marie-Lou Roux, from Habitat Council, one of the respondents in the case, has fought for many years for Highclere to be protected. She said they had decided to abide by the court decision that an independent ministerial tribunal consider the matter again.

The Rattrays told Tabletalk they were studying the judgment and had no further comment.