Category Archives: Ghost stories

Curious Phantom of the Highway

Lord Milner Hotel, Matjiesfontein

In 1993, almost a century after one of Scotland’s greatest heroes was killed in Africa a group of admirers gathered at Matjiesfontein in the Karoo to pay tribute to him.   Major General Andrew Wauchope, known to his men as “Red Mick” was killed at Magersfontein, and as was traditional he was buried there with his men.   Soon after, however,  James D Logan, The Laird of Matjiesfontein, arranged for Wauchope’s body to be exhumed and reburied at this village which he owned in the Karoo.  The ardent followers of this hero gathered at the little village and then crammed into one car made their way to the Monument Cemetery 10 km away.   One wee dram led to another and within short the pipes were out and the haunting strains of a lament filled the crisp dry air.  Then followed some rousing reels and marches all well saluted with a glass or two of the “good stuff” specially brought into the country for the occasion.  This continued until the piper tired and lay down beside a tree to “rest his eyes” and “catch his breath”.   He closed his eyes, he said, only for a wee while and thought of Scotland. When he opened then dusk had fallen and to his horror his friends had departed.

With a philosophical shrug he decided the best he could do was to walk back to the Lord Milner Hotel at Matjiesfontein where the group was staying.  To keep his spirits up he decided to play a few airs on the bagpipes.  At this time a family travelling the N1 had just stopped for a snack and to stretch their legs.  The tourists’ hair stood on end when out of the evening gloom of the wayside cemetery they saw a piper, in full Highland regalia, emerge from among the gravestones, and start up the hill playing the pipes.  All the piper saw as he skipped across the stile was them flinging their things hastily back into the car and them racing off into the night.

The piper continued up the highway, well oiled from the drams o the afternoon and feeling no pain.  He used the white lines in the centre of the road as a guide.   There was little traffic, but the few cars that did approach slowed almost to a stop and sped furiously off.  He could not understand this behaviour.  Then a local farmer pulled up next to him and helped him into the bakkie.  “God Lord, man,” said the farmer.  “You’ve scared everyone half to death.   This is one of the most haunted areas of South Africa and cars are screeching into Matjiesfontein with everyone raving on about the ghost of the Old Major marching up the highway.”  The piper guffawed.  It gave him a splendid story to tell the lads back in the old country.  And, after this story appeared in Rose’s Round-up and the Press, some wrote in suggesting this was a wonderful job opportunity for a retired piper!

The lighter side of a new home

We said we were going to drive down the road, find a house and move there!  Our Johannesburg friends thought us mad and said so.  Nevertheless, we did just that and returned to say we’d bought a house in Beaufort West.  Everyone howled with laughter.   “You can’t go. You’ll be back. No one lives there.”   We went, we never came back and we loved Beaufort West.  Initially we thought we’d fix the house, sell it and leave,  but what we didn’t know was that once the Karoo has crept into your heart you can go away, but you can never leave.  Part of you remains bonded to the Karoo forever.

The house needed lots of TLC – someone had tried to “modernise” this handsome Victorian home, designed by Sir Herbert Baker and built in 1903 for the first secretary of the Divisional Council. Doors had been removed, wooden floors had been ripped out and replaced with ceramic tiles, Turkish arches had been smashed into some inside walls and an old feeding trough, rubbed to a sheen by countless horse necks, had been ripped out  and installed as a “mock lintel” at a restaurant in town. We fixed the arches,  left the floors and mourned horse trough.  On the positive side, the kitchen was a barn, but at the same time, a dream.  I could indulge my love of cooking and from this beginning a book of Karoo recipes grew.   But, best of all,  the house was haunted.   At times a  gentleman could be heard tapping down the long passages with his walking stick, a lady in a floral dresses was fleetingly seen near the lounge and a dog frequented one of the guest rooms.  We soon found ghosts were the greatest fun, excellent conversation pieces and great burglar deterents.

Friends came to visit from Paarl.  We had not seen them for absolute years.  Wally and Reg made the years disappear as they reminisced over many whiskeys and a couple of bottles of red wine at dinner.  The evening rolled gently through a sumptuous dinner and into the small hours and liqueurs were flowing without too much coffee accompaniment .  Reg got up to visit the smallest room in the house and in the doorway lost his footing at exactly the spot where the ceramic tiles met the wooden flooring.  “You’re drunk,” said his wife. “Not at all,” said he rubbing a spot on his chest, “It was the old man with the walking stick. He pushed me.”   It was a good story and he never deviated from it.  I loved it and I was instantly off ghost hunting through the entire Karoo. I found many splendid stories.