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Escape to the Midlands, three years on

Meander Chronicle project on track

We're throwing around ideas for a name for the "shack". Some contenders, "Duiker's Retreat", "Rock Rose Cottage" and "Hack's Haven".

By Garth Johnstone

Three years after building our “forever home” in Nottingham Road, and two-and-a-half years after acquiring The Meander Chronicle, we reckoned it was time for an update on the homestead.

We initially built a one-bedroom wooden cabin for weekend getaways but with the plan to extend to two bedrooms, relocate from Durban and live permanently in Notties.

Early days. Our original one bedroom possie, with dust bowl landscaping.

Easier said than done: We had to either get remote work or start a business (we went for option two and bought The Meander Chronicle); finance the extension of the house; start afresh in a new community; and had a host of projects to crack on with on the land to make our homestead liveable, sustainable and, most important, fun. No point starting all over if it’s not going to be fun, right?

A bit daunting, but also exciting.

Why did we want to leave Durban? That’s a long story and rather dull, let’s just say we wanted out of big city life.

So about those new developments and necessary projects we had to do on our acre of land.

We have in the past two-and-a-half years (not in chronological order):

Bought a shipping container, mainly for woodworking and DIY projects and storage;

The shipping container, aka the tank.

Grassed and levelled land, with the aid of roller, Bobcat and compacted gravel (plus filled in skedonked access road). This was done with the assistance of a neighbour (thank you kind neighbours!!) with lots of know-how and the right machinery;
Planted loads of indigenous trees;

The indigenous trees we’ve planted are my pride and joy.

Built a small veggie tunnel and established a vegetable garden; (PIC)

Developed a compost heap, which we work on regularly;

Placed additional insulation in the house and installed undercarpet heating;

Bought a 5000l JoJo tank and pump and had it plumbed into the house;

A JoJo tank is an absolute must.

Bought an inverter for those unwanted Eskom outages;
Had our old Dover wood stove flued in, so we have a small fireplace to heat up the cabin on severely cold nights (this year’s winter was definitely the coldest we’ve experienced thus far and we had -8C on a couple occasions);

Going off-road

Bought a Toyota Hilux for off-road driving, with the long-term goal of doing some overlanding in Namibia and Botswana, and major SA game parks. It’s also an extremely useful tool when driving on district roads in the Midlands;

Sadly said farewell to our beloved German Shepherd Shadow, but got the opportunity to welcome Border Collie Buddy and Maltese Leo into the clan;

Another “tank”, that’s going to make many more roads accessible to us.

Painted the house with a wood sealant to protect the wood from the elements (must do this every two to three years);

Re-imagined and re-designed the kitchen a few times, to make it more practical. Nerissa is constantly tweaking and making over our little home (hello, obsession!).

In the garden…

Living in a small home takes a lot of discipline and ingenuity. You need to maximise the use of space and play with configurations for a while to get the best out of it. Also, there’s no escaping the fact that the weather in Notts is a factor and you have to get yourself set up properly.

Work in progress

You need to use your network, and I am not talking about for business purposes, but when you need to improve aspects of the homestead and get things done. We have learnt a lot by listening and sitting up and taking notice when our neighbours said, “Listen, you need to hear this”, or “this is actually a problem”, or “this is how you do it”. Forget pride and get the job done properly!

Our home remains a work in progress, but we are making headway and things are starting to come together. With lots of advice from friends in a generous community, life in the Midlands is fun and rewarding. It seems almost inconceivable that we could live in a big city again.

Veggie gardening is coming on, with big ideas for self-sustainability.

Buddy the Border Collie is a hit with our family and friends. High energy and thriving off attention, he is a real gem.


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  1. Awwww man guys, look at the 2 of you now! Escaped the big city and now impacted on a wonderful community that is Notties!
    Well done for your efforts and ongoing dreams!

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