Words: Gavin Everitt, pictures supplied
Toplodge is one of the most remote destinations in the Northern Drakensberg. Only accessible by 4×4, its primary attractions are the peace, quiet and mountain vistas. It also has a fascinating lineage. Current owner Gavin Everitt takes the time to explain this history to #CountryRunner Ian Macleod.
James Putterill (my great, great grandfather) arrived in South Africa from England in 1849 aboard the Dreadnaught, which landed at Verulam, just north of Durban. He had been entrusted by John Wesley (the founder of the Weslyan Church) as one of ten chosen emissaries (“the ten strong men”) to expand his commercial interests in the colony.
James was married three times, and had two daughters and six sons, each of whom, upon attaining the age of 17 years, was given a silver watch, a Bible, a span of oxen, and an ox wagon and told to make his way. Thomas Oliver Putterill, my great grandfather, a small, delicate and God-fearing man, was one of those sons, who started a transport business between Verulam and the then Port of Natal.
This business grew over time to connect the Port of Natal to the Witwatersrand, a journey which took some three months by ox wagon! All of his possessions, including his livestock, carried the brand T.O.P.
Tom Putterill was an extremely religious man, who never touched a drop of alcohol his entire life, never shaved, and never worked (or allowed his employees to work) on a Sunday. He was well respected by his peers and employees alike, being known affectionately by the Zulus as UmJeep, a name which is known to this day amongst the older members of our local community.
In order to provide rest and grazing for his oxen, sheep and cattle, Tom Putterill bought farms along the route between Port of Natal and the Witwatersand. Amongst these were various farms throughout Natal and the Free State, including Beauchief Abbey, some 30km south of Harrismith and bordering on Bezuidenhout’s Pass into Natal, Buffelskloof (above Alpine Heath and now owned by Andy Dott of Greenfire [where I’ll be spending two nights while completing Run the Berg – #CountryRunner]), Akkerman (now Alpine Heath), and Oliviershoek.
The last three were his pride and joy, being situated in a beautiful valley roughly between Mont-Aux-Sources and Oliviershoek Pass, which became known as Putterill Valley, by which name the valley is known to this day. A number of Northern Drakensberg resorts and accommodation establishments are situated in this valley, and through which runs Putterill Stream.
As the railway network expanded and ox-drawn transport became more and more obsolete, Tom sold off those farms which were no longer required to sustain his herds. However, he kept his two favourite farms, Akkerman, and Portion 1 of Oliviershoek, which were in time inherited by Tom Putterill’s granddaughter, my mother, Thelma Everitt (nee Osborn).
In 1955 my mother and father bought the land adjacent to Oliviershoek, being portion 1 of the farm Sungubala from the Coventry family, and named this farm “Toplodge” in deference to Tom Putterill (the “TOP” referring to his initials).
I inherited the farm from my mother, and some nine years ago made the decision to take leave of the legal profession and settle here, and to develop the accommodation establishment that Toplodge has become.