Place with a Past - Lynton Hall

Once upon a time Lynton Hall played host to royals, prime ministers, men of letters and captains of industry. Nowadays its patrons may be somewhat less titled but its environs are certainly no less majestic. Now in its third century, Lynton Hall finds its leading role as a restored boutique hotel and heritage site, its castle-like exterior befitting that of a manor house profoundly steeped in history.

The tale of this castle begins in 1852 with the arrival of Thomas and Lewis Reynolds, two sons of a Devonshire farmer, who established themselves farming and milling sugar at Umhlali on the (then) Natal North Coast. By 1873 Lewis Reynolds had bought the Umzinto Company’s Sugar Mill at Sezela on the South Coast for £5 000 and renamed it Reynolds & Sons. The mill thrived in the hands of Lewis’s two sons, Charles and Frank.

By 1884 success enabled Charles to commission the architects Street-Wilson and Fyfe to design a house on the South Coast at Pennington. The property was to be named, nostalgically, after a village on the north coast of Devon, picturesquely seated on a hill high above the little seaport, fishing station, and delightful bathing spot of Lynmouth. And so the name was born before Lynton Hall itself was built – its site situated, like its namesake, on a hilltop with spectacular views of the countryside and with the benefit of cooling breezes from the Indian Ocean.

The design incorporated a tower from which cane fires could be spotted and which would serve as a stronghold in the case of a Zulu uprising (an event Charles constantly feared). In addition, huge tanks were installed in the Tower Room for storing water to withstand the threat of siege. These days the Tower Suite is Lynton Hall’s luxury honeymoon suite, reached by a narrow winding circular staircase and complete with turreted rooftop viewing area.

The building of the manor house took time. The railway could only bring supplies as far as Isipingo, from where they had to be transported by ox-wagon. The process proved too lengthy and

(Left: Wide shaded verandas.)

laborious for the impatient Charles who arranged for a lighter to sail from Durban Harbour with the necessary building materials. It beached at Rocky Bay and workers from the mill were ordered to haul the materials uphill. To this day, when the sand has been washed away by severe storms, the skeleton of the vessel is visible and hence this area of the coast became known as Lighter Bay.

The construction of Lynton Hall was finally completed in 1895, but Charles lived there for only a decade before leaving South Africa, and his brother Frank took up residence. Frank was a Natal sugar baron and a founder of the sugar industry in South Africa. He had fought with the Natal Mounted Rifles in the Anglo-Boer War, served on the Natal Legislative Council and supported local works which included a school for the Indian community at Esperenza. Frank was eventually knighted in 1916. Two years later he bought the land surrounding Lynton Hall from Richard Pennington, after whom the Pennington area was named.

Sir Frank’s intentions for the land were ambitious. Amongst them were plans to build a beach house on the estate for his friend

(Left: Stained glass doors lead to quiet corners.)

and first premier of the Union, Louis Botha. Sadly, Botha died before this was completed but his wife, Annie, used it for the rest of her life and it was left in trust for the use of future prime ministers. All Botha’s successors were regular guests at Botha House, including Prime Minister BJ Vorster, General Jan Smuts, Police Minister Louis le Grange, Plural Affairs Minister Piet Koornhof, Welfare Minister Lapa Munnik, and more recently President FW De Klerk, who last visited in 1992. Botha House is now a guest house, open to the public.

Umdoni Park, named after the mdoni (water myrtle) tree, was established as a sanctuary by Sir Frank to preserve the indigenous fauna and flora. He presented it to the South African nation in 1920 and the Umdoni Trust was formed. A golf course was constructed for the use of the sugar mill staff, and it is one of the area’s most picturesque courses, meandering through pristine coastal forest and tumbling down to the Indian Ocean. The trust also maintained a cottage near the beach for the use of writers and artists, who have included Roy Campbell, Laurens van der Post, Noel Langley, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and Edward Rowarth.

(Left: Chandeliers, candlesticks and gracious stairwells.)

Lynton Hall has undergone many alterations and additions over the years but the most notable of these was commissioned when King George VI of Britain was offered the use of this lovely secluded homestead to convalesce in 1952 when his health was failing. The building was extended to accommodate the king and queen, Princess Margaret and 10 of their staff. The king was planning to visit the estate again just before he died.

The estate continued to remain a private home until the death of Sir Frank Reynolds, and was then left in turn to the oldest family member of each generation. At one stage it stood empty for seven years. Today, it is in the care of Sir Frank’s great grandson, Ronald Munro Ferguson.

In 2002 Ronald and his wife Erica transformed the residence into a boutique hotel with the help of Cheryl Goss, owner of the award-winning Midlands country lodge, Hartford House. The interior is decorated in an Indian Colonial Style with nine individually appointed rooms and two luxury suites all offering sweeping views of the grounds. Beautifully restored, the walls and

(Left: A four-poster bed dreams of yesteryear.)

staircases gleam with the patina of age and the hallways give a considerable creak underfoot. The portraits of historic South Africans ensure you never forget the significance of your surroundings.

The grounds comprise 200ha of magnificient indigenous forest – a hallmark of what the Lynton experience has to offer. The estate has recorded some 185 bird varieties, 100 butterflies and a wide variety of both indigenous and exotic trees. It has one of the finest private collections of exotic specimens in Africa – many of which were imported from London’s Kew Gardens – and a unique coastal ecosystem. Its palms and New Caledonian pines are of a size seldom seen in Southern Africa.

The five-star restaurant is home to the renowned Richard Carstens, who serves some of the finest ‘avant garde’ (in his own words) cuisine in the country. It was recently awarded third place for the second year running in the Business Day Restaurant of the Year awards, as well as being voted one of the Top 100 Best Restaurants and Top 10 Special Occasions destinations by Wine

(Left: Slipper baths and soft white towels.)

Magazine for 2005. In addition, Richard recently picked up the coveted Eat Out Johnnie Walker Chef of the Year title. His cuisine is trendsetting – sometimes exceptional, sometimes strange, always exciting!

And so the story of Lynton Hall continues. A visit to the estate is well worth it for the wide choice of activities that include walks, diving, whale and dolphin watching and a chance to sample the luxurious accommodation and cuisine on offer. And with access to 21 golf courses within a one-hour radius, and the Umdoni and Selbourne courses as neighbouring properties, you could have the rare luxury of a golfing vacation in a boutique hotel setting. Very few places in the world offer such enticement so close to the ocean and with such award-winning cuisine.

Located just 45 minutes south of Durban airport on KwaZulu-Natal’s picturesque Hibiscus Coast, it is an accessible getaway for those looking to experience hospitality in the grand old tradition. It’s a step back in time to a very memorable and indulgent experience – one that is truly fit for royalty.

For more info on Lynton Hall contact +27 39 975 3122 or visit

(Left: Old colonades embraced by what is reputed to be the oldest bougainvillea in South Africa.)


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