Round the houses at the Hermanus
FOR decades the roundhouses at Hermanus Holidays have been one of the most iconic features of the Winterton coastline.
These colourful little African-style cottages with their thatched roofs were inspired by the rondavels of Hermanus Bay in South Africa and are just a part of the fascinating history of the holiday complex that was once a country home called Hill House.
Boasting pretty gardens, a swimming pool, a play area, bar and restaurant with stunning sea views, the complex has drawn guests back year after year. Perched on the edge of the village overlooking the dunes, it is so close to the beautiful beach that you can hear the waves hitting the sand.
“I just love the place,” said Ivan Denton, whose family has owned it for the past four decades. “It has cast a spell on me to be honest.”
As well as the roundhouses there are bungalows, apartments and chalets, some of them pet friendly, catering for couples or groups up to six and the main building, which hosts a Sunday carvery enjoyed by local people as much as guests, can also be used for large social functions.
Hill House became an upmarket hotel when it was acquired by ex-RAF pilot Ken Temple. He had spent time living in Africa and it was he who had the roundhouses built as bedrooms for guests.
Thatched cottages were also built as holiday lets during the 1950s and 60s in The Lane opposite the Fisherman’s Return and at one point the lighthouse was part of the holiday centre.
The hotel was rather exclusive and among its high profile guests were film stars. Honor Blackman and Richard Burton were at one glittering event and the young actor, who went on to play Antony to Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra, happily chatted up a local girl.
Writers have also been inspired by the spot. According to Literary Norfolk, the novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner was a regular visitor when it was a holiday home belonging to the family of poet Valentine Ackland. After one visit in 1930 she wrote: “It was the severe presence of the sea which made the rather ugly house romantic. Below the plateau the dunes stretched far as the eye could travel, harshly mossed to the landward (it was impossible to think of them as land), prickled with marram grass as they rose into sandhills and subsided into the beach: a grey pebble beach till the tide went out and left a belt of sand streaked with watery light where the sea lay caught in pits and furrows.”
Many years later, when an owner who had the site as part of his leisure empire ran into financial difficulties, the firm that took over the disposal decided to sell Hermanus. Ivan’s father, who did all their building work, snapped it up.
The Dentons’ innovations during the 1970s included a very popular cellar disco called Ibstock. It was housed in what used to be the servants’ quarters of the building. Although not used as a disco any more, it still comes to life occasionally as an extra function room and people in the village still reminisce fondly about it.
Hermanus was once a leading venue in the UK for Country and Western music and fans would make the trek from all over the country to see their favourites perform. “You no sooner opened the doors and you were full,” said Ivan.
The site retains its popularity not just with families in the summer, but increasingly with people wanting an out of season break. Local residents also like to use the bar and the highly rated Highwayman restaurant.
The holiday industry in the UK has always gone through peaks and troughs, but the Hermanus has been able to weather them.