Travel and a bit of shopping

Snuggle up in a jail cell

First published in Juice magazine, Mango Airlines – May 2016


A famous light-hearted saying goes: “When you’re in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, ‘Damn, that was fun’.”

While away some time in Willowmore

When you overnight in a cell in The Old Jail in Willowmore, Eastern Cape you’d want your best friend – or whoever tickles your fancy – to spend time with you in one of the elegant guestrooms that once did duty as prison cells.


It’s not only a unique experience to overnight in an old stone prison that dates to the 1880’s; this former jail offers a four star experience with antique furniture, quality bed linen, air conditioning, original artworks, chandeliers, gilt-framed mirrors, brass bathroom fittings and a sparkling white bath as big as a trough. Each room has its own private courtyard.

Maybe this is the kind of jail Kurt Cobain had in mind when he said: “If it’s illegal to rock and roll, throw my ass in jail!”

The Female Cell, with a romantic stone bath, housed a female prisoner by the name of Sophie Schutte in 1898. She was accused of malicious damage to property but as a general servant she could not afford the fine of £25. Thus she was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment with hard labour. Shortly after imprisonment it was discovered that not only was she suffering from syphilis but she was also heavily pregnant. Thus she was moved to the hospital prison from where she attempted to escape. Once she was moved back to her cell she became “unmanageable”, states the report by the magistrate, as she used “disgraceful language” and threw “food and utensils at the matron”.

The report continues: “She had three different nurses within six weeks and each nurse had been compelled to leave through her violence to them.” Eventually the magistrate released her from prison after the district surgeon opined that the life of mother and child was in danger.

The spacious Awaiting Trial Room has twin beds and a Victorian-style shower room. The Hospital Suite where sick inmates spent their incarceration boasts an original Victorian fire place and a claw foot bath, though not in close proximity. In The Old Stables a self-catering unit is available.

The police station and prison ceased operations in 1960 and after years of neglect Karen Von Loeper-Dyatschenko and Oleg Kayerleber -Dyatschenko opened the doors of this fabulous boutique guesthouse.  Dinner is served by pre-arrangement, most of the art is for sale and wine is available from the ultra-atmospheric basement wine cellar.

  • The Old Jail, Blignaut Street, Willowmore, Eastern Cape.

A prison bed and good cell reception in Philippolis

The Philippolis Old Jail was built in 1872 and not much has been changed since then. Spending a night here gives you a good idea of how the prisoners of yesteryear spent their nights.

There are nine spartan but comfortable cells with outer walls (2m x 3m) which ensures that it is cool in summer and warm in winter, even when it occasionally snows in the Free State. A honeymoon suite, a jail house with three rooms and a communal kitchen make up the rest of the prison grounds.


Each cell has two prison beds and one floor mat. Unless you book the honeymoon suite you will not be able to cuddle as the bed is far too narrow for any shenanigans.

Quentin Tarantino has been known to claim that he has spent time in jail of which he said: “I was kind of excited about going to jail the first time and I learnt some great dialogue.”  At the Philippolis Old Jail the only thing you might hear is sad violin music on some nights. This is a friendly ghost called Willem Bitter whose violin was stolen on the night that he died in a car accident in the district of Philippolis. His body was brought here as the building was used as a police station at the time.


  • Justisie Street, Philippolis, Free State.

A resting place in Riversdale

Although you can’t sleep over in the Old Jail in Riversdale you can rest weary legs at their coffee shop or inside their shady courtyard after journeying on the Garden Route.

If you need to soothe your nerves after looking at the gallows, spotting the iron shackles and chains on the wall of a cell, as well as the warden’s keys, and reading the life story and handwritten confession of Gilbert Hay, the only person that was ever hanged here, you can listen to the likes of Bobbejaan klim die berg, My hartjie my liefie and Hoe ry die boere sit-sit so whilst enjoying traditional bobotie or carrot cake.

Individual cells have been converted into quaint shops selling books, crafts, vintage crockery or bric-a-brac.

  • 1 Main Street, Riversdale, Western Cape

A jail by name

The Old Gaol in Swellendam was first situated in the actual old jail at the town’s Drostdy Museum but when the lease could not be renewed they moved to an old house in the centre of town. Two of the pluses of the move turned out to be seating under the trees and a lovely view of the Langeberg Mountains.

The Old Gaol has earned a reputation for old-fashioned melktert baked in a copper pan and roosterkoek – with fillings from salmon to springbuck – baked over the coals.

The Old Gaol might not be in a former prison any longer; instead they are opposite the majestic Dutch Reformed Church of the Republic of Swellendam as some locals insist on calling their town.

Poet and novelist Charles Bukowski famously said: “I don’t like jails, they got the wrong kind of bars in there.” This does not apply to The Old Gaol as the popularity of their ‘Sundowner Wine Platter’ – and local estate wines on the small but comprehensive wine list – attest.

But then Bukowski also said: “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.”

And: “If you want to know who your friends are, get yourself a jail sentence.” Preferably at one of these establishments, I reckon.

  • Church Square, 8 Voortrek Street, Swellendam, Western Cape

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2017 by in Local travel – English, The rest of South Africa.
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