Rissington's History

The History of Rissington Inn 1995 to date, as related by proprietor Chris Harvie, a storyteller of note.

June 1995

I moved from Colenso in KwaZulu-Natal to the rundown farmhouse which became Rissington, with James, my Zulu foster son, Fitz, my Weimaraner and Sport, the corgie/staffie-cross. We started the building work before transfer had taken place, working under license from the seller with an agreement that if the sale did not go through for any reason, I would have to restore the buildings to the condition in which I found them, if required to do so. (This would have been relatively easy with a sledgehammer, spray-on mould and a couple of light aircraft with buckets of water to wreck the roof). I recruited my first eight staff, four of whom are still here.

August 1995

Transfer took place, negating the so-called “demolition clause” in the contract. 40 labourers continued with the building work in a haze of smoke from their various illegal substances.

01 September 1995

The restaurant opened with a fixed menu, which I gave verbally for the first three years. The food included such appalling items as Souskluitjies, Lamb Shrewsbury and Marinated Oranges. Why anybody who came in those days would ever have thought of returning, I can’t imagine, but they did.

15 September 1995

The first five rooms opened. The first clients in the downstairs rooms were still picking cement off the bottoms of their shoes, at breakfast, as the floors were not completely dry.

25 December 1995

We served 56 people for lunch on Christmas Day. The turkey was not ready until 4pm. We had an invasion of bees in the kitchen at 2pm. Then we had to turn the kitchen Halaal for 2 hours in the early evening for some Pakistanis (staying with us) to make chapattis, before cooking dinner for 34. The Pakistanis then sold the chapattis in the restaurant for their own gain, despite the fact that I had paid for the ingredients.

26 December 1995

We ran out of eggs at breakfast. Apparently it takes an enormous number of eggs to make chapattis.

08 February 1996

Fitz, my 2-year-old Weimaraner, was killed by a Mozambiquan spitting cobra.

14 February 1996

The first floods cut us off from Hazyview and the Real World. Dedicated clients walked 500 yards by torchlight to eat in the restaurant until we rebuilt the road a week later.

March 1996

We received Tourism Board accreditation and our liquor license was approved, both without any bribery, and all our telephone numbers changed overnight. UmQombothi, the Labrador, was born.

June 1996

120 people attended Rissington’s first birthday party.

January 1997

We rebuilt all the dodgy steps and thatched the Amphitheatre for a ‘Celebrity’ (yes, Jayne and Tony – that’s you) wedding in February. There were 120 people at the wedding and we suffered heavy rain and a power failure during the speeches.

February 1997

The Rissington Challenge started on SAfm. I made a few live appearances on the radio, the most famous of which was a protracted argument with cookery writer Lyndall Popper, over whether or not it is possible to successfully braise a pork chop.

June 1998

150 people attended Rissington’s third birthday with dancing on the bar for the first time. Lisa Sheard did a very plausible take-off of Abba passing themselves off as Iron Maiden.

25 December 1998

I got engaged in front of the fireplace at Rissington.

01 January 1999

Rissington went onto email and we got our first website, the address of which, unbelievably, was http:mzone.mweb.co.za/residents/charvie/homepage.html. (How far we have come, to be plain old www.rissington.co.za).

29 May 1999

I got married in the Amphitheatre at Rissington – the best party I have ever been to. Aletta, a former housekeeper, contrived to sit on the bagpipes, which let out an excruciating wail during the Blessing. An omen, maybe.

12 July 1999

The first two garden suites were completed on the site of an old rubbish dump. Squadron rum bottles still surface, to this day, in the flowerbeds, after heavy rain. We built a carport. The office moved for the first time.

31 December 1999

The Millennium saw a 5-day celebration of friends and family. Y2K did not strike us except with a severe brain malfunction on the morning of 01 January 2000.

8 February 2000

Hurricane Hilda hit us with 19” rain in one night. Clients were stranded and we set about emptying the cellar and rebuilding Rissington, which was closed for two weeks. The original rooms took a month to dry out completely.

29 May 2000

My divorce papers were served on my 1st wedding anniversary. A nice touch by my now ex-wife.

June 2000

150 people attended Rissington’s fifth birthday.

August 2000

My house was completed on the hill behind Rissington, with the best view on the property. We built a new laundry and workshop. The office moved again.

November 2000

Anton joined Rissington. In those days he barely spoke a word of English. (Some things don’t change!)

January 2001

Melanie joined Rissington, taking us to new heights of efficiency.

May 2001

Sandy, a young Labrador, arrived at Rissington.

January 2002

Three new larger rooms opened next to the Amphitheatre with spectacular views down the valley and showers in the bathrooms and baths in the bedrooms, much to the consternation of one German lesbian couple who had obviously never seen one another naked. What’s the point?

March 2002

The guide’s room was completed. The bar moved inside to the site of the old office and manager’s room. A great place to kuier. The old back bar, behind the sitting room, became a shop. The office moved again. The road moved to a flood-proof route through the mangoes next door.

June 2002

The first and only Hazyview Annual Matchmakers Mardi Gras took place. Rissington hosted the Welsh Male Voice Choir of Johannesburg for a gig in the Amphitheatre, as well as the opening bash and a curry evening with wailing music borrowed from a corner shop in Hazyview. We all dressed up as Indians and had lotus blossoms on the tables and awful music.

August 2002

Shaun rejoined Rissington.

November 2002

We extended the kitchen, meaning that we no longer had to walk to the cold room through an uncovered flowerbed during thunderstorms.

July 2003

75 people attended Rissington’s 8th birthday party. I didn’t know any of them and therefore vowed never do another open house party. Rissington won the Diners Club Wine Award. We knocked down the Amphitheatre and reused the grass to re-thatch the stoep. We retiled the pool and rebuilt the carport.

September 2003

The final four magnificent garden suites opened (not entirely without bribery). James joined Rissington.

October 2003

The power cables were moved out of the view. We built a wheelchair ramp for ageing clients and management.


01 February 2004

I turned 40 at a superb surprise birthday organised by the staff without my having any idea (and for which, to my surprise, I paid). I felt my age immediately and took up gardening.

June 2004

I suddenly felt young again and took on some marketing and management consultancy work for the Ambience Inn Group

July 2004

As a result of the above decision, I suddenly felt old again. One hotel is one thing, but four is madness.

23 August 2004

James’s and Gaby’s son, James Junior (JJ), was born, making me feel very old indeed, in my capacity as a foster grandfather.

September 2004

The office moved again. The old office became a shop with internet access for clients and the old shop became a conference room. We resolved never to move the office again.


February 2005

Sandy, the young Labrador, was killed by a Mozambiquan spitting cobra.

March 2005

We finally bought some decent chairs for the bar stoep – the top spot at Rissington.

April 2005

Melanie took her first annual holiday since she started working here.

June 2005

Rissington celebrated 10 years… 1995-2005.

December 2005

We held a 10-day birthday celebration for Rissington with 30 former guests and some family. Most of the guests had never met before. It was the party of a lifetime.


May 2006

I headed off on a four-month journey, driving to Murchison Falls in Uganda, and researching a book about the relative Britishness of the countries of East, Central and Southern Africa. On the way home I bought a house in the Karoo.


July 2007

The two hillside suites opened. They offered the finest accommodation and the best views available at Rissington.

August 2007

I became a regular contributor to Travel&Food in the (South African) Sunday Times.

October 2007

Work was completed on the restoration of my 18th century house in Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape


January 2008

I took on some consultancy work with the magnificent Samara Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, lasting until after Indaba in May

June 2008

Melanie left Rissington and was very capably replaced by Zimbabwean Harriet Rinashe, whom I met in a night club in Harare.

July 2008

My book Do NOT Take This Road to El-Karama was published by Umuzi, the South African imprint of Random House

November 2008

Sport, the corgi-staffie cross, turned 18 years old. He lived in retirement in Graaff-Reinet where aged 126 (official dog) years, he was about the same age as most of the residents of the town. He still walked every day in the Camdeboo National Park. Bull the almost-Alsatian settled at Rissington.


May 2009

Harriet left Rissington and was replaced by Riaan Tolmay, a cheerful lad with a deep interest in all tourism-related matters and a particular penchant for talking about his pet falcon in the bar. We went back to the old road. The shop moved again – to a new Internet café off the office (which didn’t move again).

November 2009

Annie the Jack Russell arrived at Rissington from somewhere down the road. The old conference room (previously the office, a bar and the shop) became the Private Dining Room.

December 2009

Riaan, who is obviously missing his falcon more than he let on, moved back to Dubai and I decided to move back to Rissington full-time and to manage it myself. The house in Graaff-Reinet was sold. JJ started at his new school in Hazyview. He turned 5.


May 2010

Sport, who had failed (like me) to retire, moved back to Rissington. At 20 years old (140 canine years).

June 2010

Work began on a new house for me and my gang at Rissington. The Rissington kitchen underwent a major refurbishment. The World Cup brought football fans to Rissington from all over the globe.

August 2010

This diary moves into the present tense as Rissington’s 15th birthday is celebrated with a weekend of eating, drinking and music. Sport, exhausted by the festivities, dies a week later.


March 2011

Matthew Howarth, a refugee from Lancashire, and Kanan Sinyangwe, a Zambian across whom I had stumbled in my travels, both join Rissington for a few months but we don't believe they will ever leave.

July 2011

Anton departs Rissington to get a real life after 11 years of unstinting loyalty, service and occasional moodiness. Annie the Jack Russell emigrates to Johannesburg in search of true love.


February 2012

Guin leaves after five years and we miss her more than we expected! We acquire the services of Adda and Tom, our most entertaining gappers to date. Adda becomes Head Boy in his first week and then goes on to found RADA, the Rissington Alumni Drinking Association.

August 2012

Matthew becomes GM but continues to wear his hunky safari clothes and his Yasser Arafat scarf (for some extraordinary reason). Adda and Tom having left for the wilds of Kenya, we land a whole new batch to supplement the team including Wild Kev from Barberton, Skinny Sheila and American Jimmy. Kanan is still showing no signs of leaving despite a change of government in Zambia.

September 2012

Rusty, a much calmer Jack Russell than Annie ever was, joins us from the SPCA. He is named after the train in Starlight Express. Don’t ask me. Ask JJ.

December 2012

Matthew leaves us for the wilds of Zambia. Occupancies climb steadily.


April 2013

Anton, formerly of this parish, becomes engaged to former gapper Katie Brice-Bennett of Marangu, Tanzania.

November 2013

My alma mater, Cybele Forest Lodge, closes after a tragically bungled land claim. Rissington benefits from the opportunity by employing a number of exceptionally competent staff.

December 2013

Anton and Katie marry in Tanzania. Rissington celebrates the conclusion of its best year of occupancies ever.


June 2014

Hlengiwe goes to Zimbabwe, walks with lions and lunches with the Zimbabwean Minister of Tourism (if those two activities are not the same).

December 2014

Yet again, Rissington beats all its own occupancy records with another best year ever. Recession? What recession?!


April 2015

Every single room is refurbished and redecorated. The new paint colour is called 'scalloped potato' - who names these things?

July 2015

Rissington celebrates its 20th birthday (1995-2015) with a new look, a batch of fresh new staff, air-conditioning in all rooms and great energy and enthusiasm all-round. A guest says the gardens are almost like a Botanical Garden. Almost?!


September 2016

Rissington is too busy to celebrate its 21st birthday as intended. Too busy, that is, dealing with happy punters leaving many accolades and only very occasional lunatic rants on TripAdvisor.

December 2016

Once again, Rissington has recorded a further increase in occupancies, making 2016, yet again the best year ever, despite the efforts Trump, Brexit and Kim Jong-un


January 2017

I take up blogging in monthly rants of my own for the Portfolio accommodation guide. These may now be read on www.chrisharvie.com.

July 2017

After the fifth (I think) disaster in a row, I decide that the Snowflake generation is unworkable-with and gap year students are abolished altogether at Rissington. It is, I think, the greatest day of my life. No more time will be spent sorting out the mess other people have made of their children.

August 2017

JJ turns 13, closer than ever to being General Manager at Rissington


January 2018

JJ leaves his much-loved Summerhill Prep School and becomes a border at Southern Cross College in Hoedspruit. The school follows the full curriculum but is located in the bush and follows an environmental extra-mural path.

March 2018

Four new rooms, Frangipani, Kiaat, Marula and Matumi, take Rissington to twenty rooms. We decide that twenty is definitely enough!

August 2018

Bull dies with a piece of the finest biltong in his mouth. Sipho sobs uncontrollably.


January 2019

The four thatched garden suites undergo a complete makeover with all new furnishings, fittings and bathrooms. All Rissington’s rooms have now been totally refurbished within the past two years.

April 2019

Rissington embraces environmental sustainability, removes all plastics and encourages guests to become involved in a number of planet-saving initiatives as well as supporting a number of schools and orphanages. The Rissington Quiet Place is established on the walking trail.

November 2019

Bruno joins Rissington. He is a rescue dog in the form of a friendly, loving, rather-needy, highly-sociable Canis Africanis. Life will never be the same again. Bruno's nose-on-guest-knee-resting-skills become a world-renowned phenomenon.


January 2020

We entered 2020 brimming with enthusiasm and excited about all our plans for changes, new facilities and refurbishments until suddenly ...

March 2020

The world was turned upside down by the travel bans associated with the coronavirus. Like the rest of the world, Team Rissington locked down but, not to be defeated, carried on smiling and fixing and painting and building. Both actual building and team-building. The next few months would see us digging and creating a huge new swimming pool, engineering a delightful new outside dining terrace, planting a herbarium, fixing up all the rooms and replacing many of the wooden doors with new aluminium sliding doors, tending the gardens, fixing the roads and generally getting ready for the world to come back.


January 2021

A new year and a new positivity. A new menu, a new and exciting range of clients, new challenges, all met with our indomitable enthusiasm. We are READY!

November 2021

As the end of 2021 approaches, Team Rissington expands again, excited and ready for the increasing numbers of international visitors re-joining our many regular South African guests at the lodge. The new pool is an absolute triumph as summer kicks in and - extraordinary news! - we now also have televisions in all our rooms. Who would ever have thought it?!

April 2022

The original five rooms and terraces undergo a magnificent refurbishment inside and out, with big new doors and windows offering magnificent views of God's Window. For the first time ever, an existing Rissington room actually grows in size when Euphorbia gains five square metres!

December 2022

JJ earns for himself an admirably good Matric and prepares for a year of wildlife volunteering across the Continent of Africa in 2023.

September 2023

Our WiFi speeds are stepped up to 100Mbps throughout the lodge and, in yet another sign of our increasing sophistication, we start to offer Cappuccino and Espresso in the dining room and all the rooms are fitted with their own Nespresso machines. We now really believe that we have thought of everything.


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