The Cavern: a legacy in the Drakensberg Mountains

Posted on 3 August 2022

Stories captivate us. They tell us of the past, they inspire us and often they guide us. There is a story of a family in the mountains. It began in 1941 when Bill wrote to Ruth and penned; ‘Ruth, my darling, I plea as never before: Put your trust in me, marry me and be my mate in building up a home and a farm second-to-none in South Africa.’

The Cavern: a legacy in the Drakensberg Mountains

Ruth & Bill Carte

Bill had his eye on a farm in the Drakensberg and Ruth, wooed by his romantic proposal, followed him. Initially, they were working for Judge Thrash and running the cattle ranch but in no time, Thrash knew it was not viable. The veld was sour, the land too steep and it would be a constant battle. But, Ruth & Bill saw things differently, they saw the potential. It could continue as a Guest Farm and so began their life’s work.

Bill’s first addition was the main lounge. He built his own explosives, blasted rock from the small cliff line and the chiselled blocks were drawn by oxen to the front lawn. He toiled, Ruth worked, and over the next few years, the Guest Farm grew. It could accommodate 12 people, there were about 80 cattle and a few sheep, ducks, chickens and turkeys, and the kitchen was supplied with fresh farm produce.

Meals were simple and life was not without challenges. There was no refrigeration, no electricity, and the dirt road in the wet season was more than an adventure. ‘Rather mud than blood’ was one of Ruth’s favourite lines.

The Cavern: a legacy in the Drakensberg Mountains

The new lounge 1940s

After 13 short years of marriage, tragedy struck and Bill died of cancer. It was 1954. Ruth had 4 small children and the family encouraged her to give it all up and become a matron in town. And it is at this point that generations to follow are grateful for the steadfastness and determination that was Ruth.

She stayed. She took the broken pieces of her heart and channelled her love into building the farm. The farm that had been her and Bill’s dream.

The Cavern: a legacy in the Drakensberg Mountains

Ruth and her 4 children; David, Anthony, Peter & Ros

Regular guests, her staff and her family encouraged her. The four children were shipped off to boarding school but each holiday home was a gathering of the clans and there were many night walks, overnight hikes and so many stories. Like the night the lamb was short and so it was “Roast Knuckle of Ram” on the menu and by the time the evening meal was over, there was lamb leftover for the family! Or the time Ruth needed new poles for the main building roof and building materials were far more expensive to transport than farming materials so she called them ‘fence posts’ only to receive a call from the Station Master asking if she was now farming giraffe!

In the 1970s Ruth’s two youngest sons, Peter and Anthony, joined the family business. Their capable wives were instrumental in keeping it going and slowly it was built from a small guest farm into a larger resort accommodating over 100 people. Holidays in the late 70s and 80s were about hiking mountains, riding horses, playing tennis and ending each evening with an activity or game. Saturday night dances were legendary and the brothers created a thriving business.

By the 90s a whole new generation of children were growing up. The brothers knew that expansion was a good option and when farms in the district were put on auction, they managed to secure two adjacent properties. In 2000 the ARCs – the Anthony Cartes – moved to Montusi Mountain Lodge and the PACs – the Peter Cartes remained at The Cavern.

The Cavern: a legacy in the Drakensberg Mountains

he 4th generation, Olivia & Noah, hiking the great outdoors

But, running resorts is more than a full-time job so when the children finished university and had worked elsewhere, they came back to join the family endeavours. Over the past 20 years, energy and love has been poured into keeping these family homes and businesses afloat. Broken roads, difficult economies and even Covid have rocked but not broken the core.

It was in 2016 when The Cavern celebrated 75 years of “many happy returns”, that we re-read Bill’s letter of proposal and discovered his inspiring vision; ‘Our work is… to create beauty, to make the land more fertile, to make our living, to leave the world better than when we came into it’.

The Cavern: a legacy in the Drakensberg Mountains

Top of Scilla Gulley with views across to the Amphitheatre and main escarpment

And, it is as if for generations we have followed in Bill and Ruth’s footprints of creating something incredibly special.

The mountains are special. The beauty is in the experiences shared and bonds created. It is in the magnificent mountain scenery, the clear berg streams and the indigenous forests. The land is fertile in a different way. There are no longer cattle or fields of grain, but a small veggie garden and a mountainside pristine; protected through conservation efforts of killing all invader species, continual path and erosion maintenance and by installing solar panels to help really create sustainable solutions.

The Cavern provides work to more than 100 people. Our work is about uplifting our team through continual development. The Forest Retreat Spa, started in 2007, is staffed by ladies trained from our community. The resident guides hike daily with guests, the child-minders are part of the heart of the business and together as a team we give back to our broader community through education initiatives.

The Cavern: a legacy in the Drakensberg Mountains

The Cavern – surrounded by mountains, streams and forests

It is a place of captivating beauty with a team that continues the legacy of Bill and Ruth.

It’s not just a stay in a nice hotel, it’s a place where friendships are formed, bonds are made and where the weary find rest and are restored.


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