In the year 1816 the property on which Eight Bells stands today, was granted by the then Governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, to a certain Johannes Petrus Marx. It was some 2322 Morgan in extent.
The route taken by travellers and traders between Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn passed through the property and a condition of title was that “a place of outspan be set aside” at the foot of the Attikwas Mountain Pass, (now known as the Robinson Pass). Today only a small piece of the “original outspan” adjoins Eight Bells.
Shaded by one of the largest and oldest surviving oaks in the Cape today – dating back to the 1800’s – with branches spanning in extent of a 20-meter radius, is the billiard room and original homestead with its 45cm thick walls and beautiful yellow wood floor.
As years passed by, travellers seeking shelter, as well as the first local school master posted to the area, turned to the small homestead for lodgings. The Bosun’s Whistle Pub stands where the first two rooms were built onto the house to accommodate visitors. It was also the local post office at the time. Situated a kilometre away from the Inn is the Ruiterbos Primary School which celebrated its centenary year in 1998 and continues to serve the local community. Not surprisingly the district was called “Ruyterbosch” – the Dutch word for “riders bush”.
In the 1930’s the farm became a popular spot for visitors, particularly seamen from ships of the Royal Navy docked at Mossel Bay – as well as the Royal Air Force based in Oudtshoorn at the time, as the Little Karoo was considered to be an ideal training ground in preparation for battle in North Africa. In fact Commander Harvey R.N. O.B.E is buried in the cemetery located in the middle of the main horse paddock. There is also a cemetery dedicated to the staff that served this property over many years.
It was the regular presence of the naval folk who influenced the name of the farm “Eight Bells”. At sea, the bell is rung once for each half hour of a four-hour watch. Eight Bells signifies the end of the full watch – the time to rest. In this context it was a fitting name for a resort offering tranquil holidays in magnificent mountain surroundings.
Progressively, further extensions to the old homestead were made – the horse stables were converted into rooms (today the Palm Court) and later, in the early 1940’s, additional rooms and rondavels were built around the main building. Eight Bells flourished for many years thereafter as the premier guest farm in the Southern Cape.
Sadly, its fortunes changed and by 1974, when the Brown Family acquired it, the property was in a completely run-down and neglected state. Enchanted by the surrounding countryside and sensing the great potential, they lovingly restored the buildings, added new amenities and upgraded staff accommodation facilities. In 1979 the then holiday farm was awarded a 1 star grading, in 1985, its second star, in 1990 a third star, and in 2003 it secured a 4 star grading from TGCSA.
Major renovations were made again in 1996, updating the reception foyer, restaurant, pool and garden terrace areas. The kitchen was then demolished and completely rebuilt and refitted. In 1999/2000 the bedrooms were refurbished as well as the car parks and tennis courts. Shortly thereafter the Inn’s self-operated and maintained waste water and sewerage plant was upgraded to that of an environmentally-friendly system, complemented by the introduction of bio-degradable cleaning materials.
After 34 years in which the Brown family and staff achieved numerous ambitions and reached many goalposts, Peter and Jean Brown decided to retire and sold Eight Bells to the present owners, Charles and René Bongers, in July 2007. They have continued the legacy and are constantly upgrading the facilities to ensure that Eight Bells Mountain Inn remains the holiday destination of choice to its many regular guests and the new families that have discovered this Gem.