The Story Behind One Of The Most Popular Resorts in Eastern Cape
Blanco was originally owned by George Whitehead, who was born on 20 November 1822. He married Catherina Margarietha on 16 September 1840. They had two children, Martha Louisa, born on 8 December 1850 and Mary, born on 10 December 1854. This is where the two predominant flat-topped mountains, Mary and Martha, get their names from.
Though no one is quite sure, there are a number of different versions as to how Blanco got its name. The two most popular are:
At the turn of the century, the cliffs of Mary and Martha were virtually white with vulture and dassie droppings and urine. They resembled spats that were worn by the army and these spats were kept white with a substance called Blanco.
When descendants from Scotland first came to South Africa, they moved into the area down the Baviaans River between Tarkastad and Bedford. Being a little homesick they named their farms after places from home. Hence we have numerous farms with names like Highland Home, Glenrock, Glen Fergus, Glen Etive, Glen Roy and many others too numerous to mention. Blanco is the name of a small town in Scotland and this could easily be from where the name originates.
John Henry King’s daughter, Lillian, married Bert Ryan on 10 April 1911 and lived at Noupoortjie, which was later renamed Cyrilhurst. They lived in a little house at the bridge where the present farm school is. John Henry bought Blanco and gave it to Lil and Bert and they farmed Blanco until 1945, when their eldest son, John Raymond Ryan, took over. He inherited Blanco when his father died in 1953.
In the 1920’s, the Ryans employed a number of governesses to educate their six children. In about 1925, a school was formed and children from the district and from as far afield as East London came to it, mostly to benefit from the extremely healthy climate. They used to sleep on the long front verandah during both summer and winter, with Bert and Lil sleeping outside with them. The school closed in 1934 when the last of the Ryan children went to DSG and St. Andrews in Grahamstown.
During the period that the school was operative, National Geographic did a survey on the area, hoping to prove that America had the healthiest climate in the world. Their findings however, were that the Winterberg area was the second healthiest place in the world, second only to a place outside Christchurch, New Zealand. Some doctors in East London recommended to parents of children who suffered from asthma that they send their children to the Blanco school, not only for their education but also their health.
During the school holidays when the children went home, their parents were amazed at the improvement in their health and many decided that if this climate could do such wonders for their children, they too should try and benefit from it during the school holidays. Burt and Lil then started taking in the odd paying guest. The first guest was suffering from boils. Lil cared for him, treated him with sulphur and he made an excellent recovery. They continued having guests, everyone sitting around the large family dining table, with Bert carving at the head. He would also walk around the bathrooms knocking and calling out, “Not so much hot water in the bath”, whereupon everybody would quickly turn off their taps.
Lil was a loving and warm person who ran Blanco caringly. Lizzie was her chef for 25 years. She was a close friend of Bollilo Toto, Ray and Pam’s chef for thirty years.
When war was declared, Bert and Lil took in wives and children whose husbands and fathers were away at war. In 1945, at the end of the war, Ray came back to Blanco with Pam and 2 of their children, Patrick and Claire. Because of war, Blanco was at a low ebb and Ray and Pam decided to restart the guest house.
Thanks to Lil, Blanco had an excellent reputation but Pam did not even know how to boil an egg! However, she and Bollilo Toto, with the aid of “Mrs Beaton” and Lil, moved into the kitchen. Blanco started in a very small way and gradually grew. Those who liked Blanco told their friends and those who didn’t, told theirs. As a result of this policy, they found that such lovely people came to stay and this gave them the encouragement to carry on. Pam and Ray had four children, Patrick, Ben, Claire and Fenella. Patrick Ryan inherited Blanco Guest farm in 1971 and together with the help and support of his girlfriend Lynne ran it in the same incredible way as the future generations had.
In 2003 Patrick wanted to retire and decided to sell Blanco. There was great sadness at the thought of selling Blanco out of the family but fortunately Pat’s nephew Chris (Claire Ryan’s son) and his wife Kim ended up buying Blanco from Patrick and Lynne. They still own it today and continue to run it along the same lines as days of old, as one of the country’s premier family getaways in the Eastern Cape. The culture of Blanco has never changed over the years and it continues to run with the same old school hospitality, love and warmth as it always had. May the legend of this magnificent place continue.