Mining activities in Mpumalanga date back many centuries
to a time when unknown miners worked quartz reefs in the region for gold. In more
recent history, the historic mining and settler village of Pilgrim's Rest has
also seen a fair amount of mining activity. The small village was established in
1873, when a miner named Alex "Wheelbarrow" Patterson discovered alluvial gold
on the farm Poniekrantz. Patterson had made his way to the area from the Mac-Mac
region, in search of a less crowded site on which to mine. For a while
Patterson's discovery was kept secret, until a short while later another
prospector named William Trafford also discovered gold nearby.
News of further discoveries in the valley spread rapidly, and a mass arrival of hopeful gold panners and prospectors from various locations across the country and the world. The valley proved to be rich in gold deposits, and by the end of the year there where almost 2,000 miners operating in the area. On 22nd September 1873 Pilgrim's Rest was officially proclaimed as a gold field and grew from a number of of tents and primitive shacks into a flourishing little village featuring brick houses, a church, various shops, canteens, a newspaper and the now renowned Royal Hotel. The village was named Pilgrim's Rest because after so many failed attempts and disappointments, many of the diggers had found success, and decided to settle there.
Over the course of time, the alluvial deposits in the region became scarce and the locals turned to forestry. Mining in Pilgrim's Rest went on until 1971 when the Beta Mine was closed down, however Transvaal Gold Mining Estates opened again in 1999. Today there is active gold mining in the hills around Pilgrim's Rest. In 1972 Pilgrim's Rest was bought by the government, and the entire town was declared a National Monument in 1986. The historic old buildings were painstakingly restored, and today visitors can explore the historic tin roof houses on a series of guided walking tours. Pilgrim's Rest also features a number of interesting historic buildings which are open to the public. These include Alanglade House, which once served as the residence of the director of the Transvaal Gold Mining Estate Ltd. The house is furnished with and still contains many examples of period furniture of the 1920s, as well as paintings and glassware.
The Dresden Shop Museum, also located in the scenic village, depicts a typical general store from the period between 1930 and 1950, and features a house attached to the shop. This house serves as a museum, and showcases the lifestyle of a typical family of the era. At the store one could buy anything from groceries, to whisky, tools, household articles and wide variety of other items. A lot of old merchandise from the period is also exhibited in the store. The small village is also home to a Digging Museum which features an interesting and informative display and tour, which sheds light upon the lifestyle of the region's original pioneers and the methods they used in panning alluvial deposits.
Other historical sites of interest include the Sacred Heart Church, St Mary's Church, Methodist Church and Dutch Reformed Church, and the cemetery. The tombstones at the cemetery date back to the years of the original gold rush, and were all laid facing in the same direction. One of these graves however, faces in an opposite direction. This is the final resting place of an unknown robber who was caught stealing from miners, and was chased out of town. His body was found a few days later on the outskirts of Pilgrims Rest, and the town folk buried him in their cemetery facing a different direction to the others graves, possibly to serve as a warning for other thieves in the area.
For the more artistically inclined visitors, a number or interesting arts and crafts outlets can also be found in a and around Pilgrim's Rest, one of which is Ponieskrantz Arts & Crafts, located in downtown Pilgrims Rest. At Ponieskrantz Arts & Crafts, all arts and crafts are manufactured on the premises by local crafters, and include various items of pottery, stained glass, weaving, blown glass glass and more. Apart from visiting the many historic sights of Pilgrim's Rest, there are also an excellent series of hiking and mountain biking along trails which lead visitors through thick indigenous forests. The area is also well known for its decent trout fishing opportunities, and scenic forest picnics.
For golfing enthusiasts, Pilgrim's Rest is home to a challenging nine hole golf course with shaded greens. The magnificently well manicured course is situated just out of town, and features peaceful scenic surroundings on the banks of a small stream. The course's magnificent sandstone clubhouse once served as a school in Rustenburg almost 500 km away in the North West province. The structure was dismantled, and each stone was carefully numbered and transported to Pilgrim's Rest, where it was rebuilt in 1985.
"A 4-day timeshare stay at Chrystal Springs in Pilgrim's Rest was a winner.
Great accommodation, restaurant, pub, tennis, squash, trampolines, etc. etc.
made for the perfect family getaway. The only downside was that sound travels in
these quiet mountainous regions and the units don't offer sufficient privacy.
Pilgrims Rest golf course is certainly worth a visit with it's 9 holes and 18 tee boxes. The liitle golf course can be pretty challenging with it's stream creating frequent hazzards throughout the golf course. Pilgrim's Rest Golf course is very quiet during the week, making it ideal for leisurely strolls - There are a few golf cars for hire.
Our visit to the little historical mining town of Pilgrims Rest left us with mix feelings; "car guards" and car washers can be a nuisance. The trading stores are well preserved, reflecting the years gone by but the sale items leave much to be desired and some lack marketing imagination.
Having said that there are some quaint pubs, restaurants and guest houses that are worth a visit. Overall the town of Pilgrims Rest is worth a visit if you are in the area but I would not go out of my way.
One should not lose sight of the fact that Pilgrims Rest and the nearby town of Graskop make the perfect springboard for visits to the stunning natural wonders of God's Window and The Blyde River Canyon. Our favourite discovery was the "boskombuis" situated about 10 minutes outside of the Blyde River potholes. Typical home cooked South African food in a charming, rustic "restaurant" on the rocky river banks of the Blyde river.
All in all the town and surrounds of Pilgrims Rest and Graskop were much fun.
Kruger Park........here we come!!" - Avril and Frank