Midlands Meander I

The little village of Hilton and its neighbor Howick a little way down the road are quaint reminders of an English imprint on an essentially African culture.  Both are full of pseudo English homes and references to that land in their use of country lanes, names of streets and many gorgeous cottage gardens but here the similarity abruptly ends.  These little towns are busy, bumbling hives of activity with much coming and going as they stand on the main highway between the port city of Durban and the gold capital of Johannesburg.
Howick’s main shopping streets are especially indicative of a thoroughly mixed populace. There are shops selling tires and motor spares, another with old sewing machines complete with tailor outside the front on his pedal Singer for those immediate-can’t-wait alterations and repairs!  Just opposite on the street is a modern-day bank with high-security entrance and exit, next door is a studio-lit, up-market grocery store selling gleaming tomatoes and breads with fancy names and a little way down the road, a miniature cell-phone store.  Just off this main street towards the town’s claim to natural tourism fame, the Howick Falls, are a multitude of stores selling local hand-made craft or curios which spill from inside to outside, and almost completely eclipse the last remnant of the stone wall built to serve as protection to the then villagers of Howick in 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu wars.  Incongruous is the word that immediately leaps to mind and yet indicative of the pace at which history has moved in this little corner of Kwa-Zulu Natal. 
The Howick Falls themselves are a surprising sight.  This rather sluggish dirty brown river trudges its way through the town only to suddenly fall some 300ft over the edge of a sheer rock face which plunges into a deep chasm which winds its sinister way rather innocently to the south west of the town.  In typical African way there is no barrier or warning to this geographical fault and I can imagine many a tipsy wayward soul has stepped off into this sudden nothingness on his way home after happy hour.  The local hotel is just up the road! 
Hilton, on the other hand, is Howick’s rather more snobbish great aunt and carries herself with more charm and gentility.  Here the village is renowned for prestigious schools, a refined retirement community and now a number of delightful Bed & Breakfast’s catering to the ever-exploring adventurer.  Being placed at the foothills of the unparalleled Drakensberg mountains, it is the perfect beginning point for the Midlands Meander or even an expertly guided tour of the Battlefields of KZN.   
The Midlands Meander is a charming self-drive which winds its way through the lower reaches of these mountains.  Along the way there are numerous stopping points at private home-galleries where you can enjoy art and craft of the local artists of an extremely high standard varying from exceptional leather work, pottery, weaving and unique jewelry to paintings and finely crafted furniture.  All the time one can enjoy magnificent vistas over hidden valleys, rolling hills and the peaks of the ‘berg in the far distance.  Many of the galleries include a tea room or restaurant too and it is a treat to enjoy a fresh cup of tea or delicious milkshake, home baked scones with farm picked preserve or hot morning-made, flaky pastry, chicken pie and sit quietly enjoying the special tranquility and champagne quality of the air of this region.  There is even a Piggly Wiggly much to the delight of us who live in Southern United States and associate this with a kind of ‘mom and pop’ grocery store!  Instead you will find a perfectly refined collection of shops set around a green square of lawn and selling an eclectic mix of fine pottery, hand-made clothing and gifts, unique furnishings, and fresh produce from the local farmers.  This all tied together by a quaint country restaurant offering delicious teas and lunches to hungry meanders!

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