The History of Rissington Inn 1995 to date, as related by proprietor Chris Harvie, a storyteller of note.
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.
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.
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.
120 people attended Rissington’s first birthday party.
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.
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.
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.
150 people attended Rissington’s fifth birthday.
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.
Anton joined Rissington. In those days he barely spoke a word of English. (Some things don’t change!)
Melanie joined Rissington, taking us to new heights of efficiency.
Sandy, a young Labrador, arrived at Rissington.
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?
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.
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.
Shaun rejoined Rissington.
We extended the kitchen, meaning that we no longer had to walk to the cold room through an uncovered flowerbed during thunderstorms.
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.
The final four magnificent garden suites opened (not entirely without bribery). James joined Rissington.
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.
I suddenly felt young again and took on some marketing and management consultancy work for the Ambience Inn Group
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.
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.
Sandy, the young Labrador, was killed by a Mozambiquan spitting cobra.
We finally bought some decent chairs for the bar stoep – the top spot at Rissington.
Melanie took her first annual holiday since she started working here.
Rissington celebrated 10 years… 1995-2005.
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.
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.
The two hillside suites opened. They offered the finest accommodation and the best views available at Rissington.
I became a regular contributor to Travel&Food in the (South African) Sunday Times.
Work was completed on the restoration of my 18th century house in Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape
I took on some consultancy work with the magnificent Samara Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, lasting until after Indaba in May
Melanie left Rissington and was very capably replaced by Zimbabwean Harriet Rinashe, whom I met in a night club in Harare.
My book Do NOT Take This Road to El-Karama was published by Umuzi, the South African imprint of Random House
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.
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).
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.
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.
Sport, who had failed (like me) to retire, moved back to Rissington. At 20 years old (140 canine years).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Matthew leaves us for the wilds of Zambia. Occupancies climb steadily.
Anton, formerly of this parish, becomes engaged to former gapper Katie Brice-Bennett of Marangu, Tanzania.
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.
Anton and Katie marry in Tanzania. Rissington celebrates the conclusion of its best year of occupancies ever.
Hlengiwe goes to Zimbabwe, walks with lions and lunches with the Zimbabwean Minister of Tourism (if those two activities are not the same).
Yet again, Rissington beats all its own occupancy records with another best year ever. Recession? What recession?!
Every single room is refurbished and redecorated. The new paint colour is called 'scalloped potato' - who names these things?
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?!
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.
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
I take up blogging in monthly rants of my own for the Portfolio accommodation guide. These may now be read on www.chrisharvie.com.
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.
JJ turns 13, closer than ever to being General Manager at Rissington
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.
Four new rooms, Frangipani, Kiaat, Marula and Matumi, take Rissington to twenty rooms. We decide that twenty is definitely enough!
Bull dies with a piece of the finest biltong in his mouth. Sipho sobs uncontrollably.
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.
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.
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.
We entered 2020 brimming with enthusiasm and excited about all our plans for changes, new facilities and refurbishments until suddenly ...
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.
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!
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?!
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!
JJ earns for himself an admirably good Matric and prepares for a year of wildlife volunteering across the Continent of Africa in 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.