There’s something indefinably joyful about childhood holidays. That sense of unfettered freedom; the unleashing of schedule and structure; and the joy of discovery and adventure in new places.
When I was young, we took a lakeside holiday each summer, filling our hours with fishing rods and sailing boats and getting happily sunburned on the beach. I never fail to drive past that Garden Route resort, now long since shuttered, without a happy memory bubbling to the surface.
It’s this nostalgia for halcyon holidays that inspired the Coot Club, one of the most charming new escapes the Western Cape has to offer.
Set on the shores of the Klein River lagoon, 30 minutes beyond Hermanus and just a short drive from the village of Stanford, Coot Club rests in a 464-hectare private nature reserve that runs from the clear waters of the lagoon into fynbos-clad dunes. It’s a natural playground for kids and adults alike, and Coot Club is designed to help you explore it all.
But first, unpack your bags.
Coot Club offers two styles of accommodation: the four traditional stone cottages are a more affordable option, scattered in and around the original farmhouse of the property beneath venerable milkwood trees. They’re close to the pools, lawns and play areas, and are the best option for those who’d like to keep an eye on young kids.
A short walk through the fynbos brings you to the boathouses, contemporary waterside boltholes of blonde wood floors, wood-burning fireplaces and spacious bedrooms looking out over the lake and mountains. They are a delight. Open the sliding doors to the spacious lounge and chances are you’ll hear the hoot of the Red-knobbed Coot wafting across the reed beds.
And yet Coot Club wasn’t named for this ubiquitous water bird, but rather a classic children’s book by the English author Arthur Ransome. In his swashbuckling tale, Ransome tells of a band of youngsters holidaying on the Norfolk Broads, messing about in boats and doing their bit to conserve the wetlands. I get the feeling he and the members of his fictional Coot Club would have been only too happy here.
This is a space that beckons you outdoors at every turn. On the wide lawns, double kayaks and stand-up paddleboards lie ready for use, while the pair of sailing boats are quick to rig if the wind comes up. There are two swimming pools but, honestly, wouldn’t you rather swim in the tannin-stained waters of the lagoon? I would.
Or head for the beach. Just a 10 minutes’ drive – or a longer adventure on fat-bikes – brings you to the Walker Bay Nature Reserve and the long white sweep of sand known as Die Plaat. You can explore on your own, or book a guided excursion complete with sandboarding down the dunes for the brave. Further afield, this corner of the Overberg offers endless activities, from quad biking in the dunes to boat cruises on the Klein River.
What there isn’t, happily, is a television. Or a kids’ club. Instead, Coot Club is built on families doing family things together. Preferably outdoors. Facebook and Roblox? Leave that for the city.
Not that it’s only for families, of course. Couples will love the elegance and seclusion of the boathouses, and the opportunity for sundowners on the dunes. But most, it’s kids and their parents who’ll get the biggest kick out of Coot Club.
While days are spent outdoors, or relaxing in your suite, evenings see guests gather at the Clubhouse, situated in what locals have long known as the Spookhuis (ghost house).
Ransome was only eight years old, and a world away, when Jack and Henrietta Poole laid the foundation stones for their home in 1892. With stone carved from the limestone hills, their imposing English-Georgian farmhouse boasted walls a metre thick and a cellar for maturing cheese and milk from the farm. The shimmering white edifice was something of a landmark on the lagoon, but eventually the family left and the house fell into ruin; soon being dubbed the Spookhuis.
It was first restored in 2007, but has been beautifully redone for the Coot Club; a playful nautical theme featuring ensigns on the walls and canvas sails hanging from the ceiling. Upstairs a well-equipped games room will keep kids happy if the weather turns, while the convivial bar and restaurant downstairs dishes up hearty breakfasts, casual lunches and family-style dinners. Rates at the Coot Club are B&B, allowing you to self-cater, explore the nearby restaurants, or dine in.
And so the days at Coot Club slip by in a happy haze of lakeside adventure and family time.
“Grab a chance,” wrote Ransome in one of his later works, “And you won’t be sorry for what might have been.”
He couldn’t be more right. If you have the chance to visit Coot Club, be sure to grab it.