Over the last 30 years, Midlands Meander has settled peacefully into the hills. Original members were creative folk with a yen to live life simply, who practiced their crafts in frugal luxury, watching the sunrise and eating home grown spinach for supper. They worked together to draw tourists from the towns to admire their exceptional hand-made crafts. Recently, urban refugees drawn by the good life and keen to embrace the concept of voluntary simplicity, have brought new creative energy.
On a summer’s evening at Caversham Mill in 1985, four potters, a weaver and a couple of artists got together to discuss working together. The idea of inviting the public to visit the countryside, meet the artist and buy direct, was conceived. A conscious decision was made to jointly market their wares.
The concept of a Rolling Exhibition, held a couple of times a year, was born. While visitors were welcome to visit studios at other times, they would often find that the artist had “gone fishing”.
David Walters was the driving force of the fledgling organisation.
‘I drew a simple map, showing roads, towns & places of interest, then approached the local hotels to sponsor the cost of printing as we were certain they would benefit from the anticipated increase in traffic. One hotel gave me the grand sum of R15.00’
David’s sister, journalist and author, Jenny Hobbs, coined the phrase Midlands Meander to describe the first Arts and Crafts Route in South Africa. Local media were fascinated by the new concept and lots of publicity was generated. The idea of marketing your neighbour as you would yourself is a quality which has made the Meander stand out from other South African tourism routes.
Ian Glenny of Dargle Valley Pottery, one of the Founder members of the Midlands Meander, muses “It is ironic that when I came out here to live my dream, the local farmers were most amused by my idea – now most farms also offer B&B to serve the visitors”
An appeal of the gentle KZN Midlands is the observable changing seasons which invite you to do something special as time passes in the air. Build a snowman with your kids during Winter, bird watch in Spring and star gaze on the crisp, clear nights of Autumn. Spend a fascinating afternoon exploring with a child. Turn cart wheels in the wide open spaces. Pop on a pixie hat, make a fairy circle and eat ice cream with your fingers. Take a pleasure walk or just watch a snail.
Rediscover simple pleasures and find unexpected surprises. Wake with the sunrise, share your breakfast toast with the birds, explore the grasslands and chat with your neighbours in the local store.
The spirit of cooperation which began between isolated studios, continues today when members take great pleasure in telling visitors where to find the very best cheese cake or are proud of the artist who lives over the hill and suggest a visit. Making an honest living without undue harm to the natural environment, living a life of frugal luxury surrounded by family and friends and doing what one loves to do best were the ideas of the original meander members.
Snuggled around the fireplace on misty evenings, locals wonder at the success of the Midlands Meander – have the original artists inspired new talents to embrace their values and ideas or have the newcomers encouraged an evolution of the old and established? “Does it really matter?” asks Lynette van der Merwe of The Lavender Company, “We are living the Good Life”
The laid-back lifestyle of the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands is easily absorbed by visitors who find country charm refreshing. Local artists practice age-old crafts while living contented lives and hospitable folk open their homes as an escape for city dwellers in need of a little rejuvenation. Even the activities set among the rolling hills are soothing – no white water rafting or helicopter rides here.
If you are not already among us, but share our values, when are you planning your escape?