While South Africa went through a drastic transformation in the early ’90s, with the end of apartheid and Mandela coming to power, something less noticeable but equally magical happened in Africa’s most developed nation.
In Cape Town to be precise, the beating heart of the country’s travellers scene.
In the leafy neighbourhood of Tamboerskloof, just off the buzzing Kloof district, an old, prestigious family home was refurbished and would soon swing open its doors to hundreds of tired and hungry souls from around the world.
Home away from home
Once you arrive in Tamboerskloof, head over to Cambridge Avenue, number 4 to be exact, and climb up the imposing, stone stairs to the entrance of what many once considered their temporary home.
Welcome to the precious Kingdom of Charles Wykeham, owner and manager of Blencathra.
“Welcome, welcome,” says an excited and energetic Charles. “But before I show you around, I must tell you, this is not an ordinary hotel, it is more than a place to put your feet up, a home away from home,’ he says as his eyes visibly light up, full of passion and enthusiasm when he speaks about Blencathra, the former accountant’s life’s work for the last three decades.
“When people pull the door behind them, they are home. We are one big family, I dare to say we are a unique place to stay.”
Long and rich history
Blencathra is certainly unique. Standing proudly on the main hill of Tamboerskloof, overlooking what is known as Cape Town’s City Bowl, the impressive family home comes with a decently sized swimming pool and lush garden.
The villa has a rich and long history. Serving for decades as an upmarket family home, Blencathra opened its doors as a self-catering establishment in 1995.
Since then, hundreds of travellers, tourists, professionals, digital nomads and students from all corners of the globe have passed through.
“From German interns and Canadian professionals to Dutch journalists or Indian students, I have seen them all,” laughs Charles.
Nowadays, Blencathra can provide a warm bed to 25 guests at the same time, with rooms ranging from impressive ensuites to shared dorms. Guests prepare their own breakfast and meals in the well-equipped, cosy-lit kitchen.
While some guests merely stay a few nights, others set up a semi-permanent residence at Blencathra, such as musician and South African native Larah.
“I picked Blencathra because the moment I entered through the door it simply felt like home, the vibe just did it for me.”
The singer and violinist, who also works as a video editor for various TV programs in South Africa, emphasized it is Charles, and his partner Gillian, who make this little strip of Cape Town so special.
“They treat you like friends, like family really: they are involved and interested, but they also give you space.”
“No matter who you are or what your story is, here you can be yourself. Here you are home.”Resident Larah
One thing Charles and his residents do love is to get together and have a good time. As a result, parties and so-called ‘braais’ – a South African-style barbecue – are a regular happening.
Every so often informal invites go out and two dozen residents and guests gather around the pool for sundowners and meat, lots of meat.
“This is when Blencathra is at its best, ” says a visibly excited Charles. “We laugh, we drink, we chat, a guitar comes out, some get up and dance.”
Charles stresses that “a day not laughed, is a day not lived, that counts for everyonce, no matter who you are so we welcome anyone; black, white, male, female, old, young, straight, gay. If you have a positive attitude and an open mind, we got a spot for you at Blencathra.”
“So I’d say, make your way up our hill and see it for yourself,” he concludes. “Welcome to Blencathra, welcome home!”
4 Cambridge Avenue
Cape Town, 8000
+27 73 389 0702