‘People around here call it the Spookhuis,’ said our friend John as we bounced up a track towards a crenellated stone castle, looking particularly out of place on his small game farm outside Polokwane.
Impala gazed warily at us on the left, a few wildebeest on the right ignored us completely. From the top of the hill, we could see a small group of blesbok grazing in the distance as we parked outside the castle wall.
Up close, it was less the romantic hideaway I’d been imagining from the foot of the hill, and more of a ruin.
Built who knows when, its heyday was in the 1970s and 80s, when a Catholic priest lived there in isolation except when local women came to join his art classes. If that’s what you want to believe they were up to in this odd place surrounded by its double wall with two locked doors, one on each side of the wall.
Who exactly was the Belgian priest so keen to keep out? His parishioners? The husbands of the women in his art classes?
At some point, after nearly a decade of tending to his flock in what was then Pietersburg, he decided he’d had enough and disappeared into the night, never to be heard of again. A significant portion of church funds disappeared with him.
Stories have grown up around the Spookhuis. Some people claim to have heard people talking when no one else is there. Others are convinced that a couple was murdered there and their bodies buried in a hidden cellar.
Our friend John, now the owner of the land on which it stands, has discovered no such cellar. What he has discovered is a rotting building in which thieves at some time past removed the windows, squatters made fires and burnt down part of one wing, while time and weather took care of much of the rest. The wooden floors of the second story have rotted and collapsed, leaving evidence that cement was laid on top of them – not the brightest architectural plan.
John has constructed a newer and safer wooden staircase to the roof so that he can enjoy the view. His plan at some point is perhaps to build a house on this hill, but he’s been advised that he’d have to start from scratch. The building blocks of the old castle are slapdash and haphazard, not the sort to use as a foundation unless you want it to collapse around you as the original has done.
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