Pilgrims Rest

Nick CoetzerBlog

GUIDE TO
PILGRIMS REST

OVERVIEW

Hidden among a valley near Graskop is the charming old mining town of Pilgrims Rest. While we cannot deny that over the years, the town has seen its share of problems; mainly involving shop owners closing their doors or forced to shut due to leasing issues with the local municipality, and of course the infamous car wash scammers who would wash your car without consent and then demand payment to unsuspecting tourists.
The feeling among some tour operators is that the town is a no-go zone, and as a result is often left out of the itineraries of the tour groups which the town so heavily relies on. Pilgrims Rest is dying, and we need to do something about it!
We believe the town still has a lot to offer and should not be left to fade away. Here is some interesting information and some things to do in Pilgrims Rest:

HISTORY

The town was born during the gold rush period in what was then the Transvaal province during the 1870’s. Payable gold was first discovered at a site 5 km away from where the town was to be located. Alec ‘wheelbarrow’ Patterson decided to leave the crowded diggings site, so he set off with his old wheelbarrow and went in search of alluvial gold in the surrounding hills.

He was in luck as he struck it rich in a small stream now called Pilgrims Creek. He kept the find a secret and worked the site for as long as he could before a man named William Trafford found gold nearby – and the rest is history! Soon people from all over the world flocked to the site and in 1873 the site was officially proclaimed a gold field. About 1500 diggers were working 4000 claims in and around the creek and soon more permanent structures were erected and the town was open for business.

Several large nuggets were found in Pilgrims Rest, such as the Breda nugget which weighed at more than 6 kg. The alluvial gold deposits began to dwindle from 1880 and most diggers moved to other sites in the region making way for mining companies who used machinery to go deeper in search of gold. They soon realised that electricity was needed to handle the workload of crushing the ever-increasing gold ore and a plan was put in place to construct a hydro plant in the Blyde River Canyon. Power was turned on in 1911 and Pilgrims Rest was the second town in South Africa to be provided with electricity at the time.

As time went on, the gold deposits steadily declined, and the gold mining companies began to pull out. The town was fast becoming a ghost town as the mining companies had no use for the land. Finally, it was sold to the local government where it would eventually be declared a national Monument in 1986.

Today the town looks very much the same as it did back in the early days. The old buildings are still up, the Royal Hotel still welcomes guests from all over the world, and the old Church Pub still serves fine South African beer. While the dusty roads and horse-drawn highwaymen of the past are gone, the old charm and the legend of Pilgrims Rest lives on.

INTERESTING SITES


INFORMATION CENTRE

The information centre should be your first stop. Here you will find a wealth of information presented in various exhibits about the town. The centre also stocks various curios and interesting brochures. All tickets to the town’s exhibits can be purchased here.

CHURCH BAR

Opposite the information centre, the old Church Bar at the Royal Hotel is a great stop for a refreshment. The tradition is that everybody passing through the town enjoys a draught beer here. The bar was once a Roman Catholic chapel in Cape Town. Once purchased, it was dismantled and put on a ship and sent to what is now Maputo in Mozambique. It spent the next six weeks being transported by wagon to Pilgrims Rest where it was rebuilt and remains today.

THE HOUSE MUSEUM

A typical example of the Transvaal style buildings of the day, corrugated iron and wood. The house shows off the Victorian style of the day in an upper middle-class home.

THE OLD POST OFFICE

The old post office building is still operational today and has some very interesting displays in the back of the building. Here you will see the old switchboard that was the heart of the town. There are also many other interesting items used from the old post office on display.

WAR MEMORIAL

The war memorial was put up in commemoration of the men from Pilgrims Rest who fought and died during the first and second world wars. Interestingly, the Oak tree next to the memorial was grown from an acorn from the Delville Wood battlefield.

THE OLD CEMETERY

Perhaps the most well-known site at Pilgrims Rest is the Robber’s Grave in the old cemetery. Legend has it that this the grave of an unknown man caught in the act of stealing another mans tent, which was a big deal in those days. He was shot and later died. The gravestone stands out in the cemetery because it is facing the opposite direction to the other graves.