Robber’s Pass and Pilgrim’s Rest: A Blast From The Past!

What usually comes to mind when people think about Crystal Springs is the exquisite natural scenery with sweeping views. But, there is something else that makes our Resort interesting – our special location. The Resort is situated at the top of Robber’s Pass, a long tarred road rich in history which leads to the equally historically rich town of Pilgrim’s Rest. The town and road are historically bound like a set of twins; their stories are those of a storybook.

The history of the quaint town dates back to the 1870’s when alluvial gold was discovered by a man named Alex Patterson. Alex kept his discovery a secret, but more gold was soon discovered by William Trafford, and this sparked the Transvaal gold rush. The area was proclaimed a gold field and people came far and wide for the gold. The few scattered tents and shacks eventually turned into a community of brick-and-mortar. It is said that the settlers named the town ‘Pilgrim’s Rest’ because they had finally found a place that they could call home. Today the town still looks very much the same as it did back then and in 1986, the local municipality declared the entire town a National Monument with many interesting sites to visit.

Our Top Spots to Visit in Pilgrim’s Rest:

  • The Anglican Church: Built in 1884, it is the oldest church in Pilgrim’s Rest. The organ inside the church is over 100 years old.
  • The Police Station: Also built in 1884, this is a beautiful piece of architecture. It is still operating as the regional police station.
  • The bar at the Royal Hotel: The bar itself was once the Roman Catholic Chapel of the St. Cyprian’s School of Cape Town. It was then dismantled and shipped off to what is now known as Maputo harbour in Mozambique. From there the bar was transported to Pilgrim’s Rest on a six-week journey by ox-wagon. Once it arrived it was reassembled into the establishment that we know today.
  • The Printing Museum: Visitors can see the equipment that was used to hand-print the local newspaper, The Pilgrim’s and Sabie News, during the 1900’s.
  • The Dredzen Shop & House Museum: The shop is what general dealer shops looked like during the 1930’s to the 1950’s. The items inside the shop are all from this era. The house attached to the shop belonged to the shop owner and it is a representation of how the middle class lived during this time.
  • Diggings: Situated across Pilgrim’s Creek, the site allows tourists to see how the valley looked during the gold rush. You will also see a transport wagon, a prison tent, the Gold Commissioner’s hut, a sluice box, a steam engine, a stamp battery, and a waterwheel.
  • Alanglade House Museum: This double-storey house was built in 1915 and was home to the mine manager until the mine was closed in 1972. It contains a collection of items and furniture from the early 1900’s.

The story of Robber’s Pass is just as alluring as that of Pilgrim’s Rest. The road gets its infamous name from two highway robbery incidents that occurred there. The first robbery occurred in 1899 when two masked and armed men robbed £10 000 (R200 628,30) worth of gold from a stagecoach and were never brought to justice. The second robbery occurred in the exact same spot 13 years later and was carried out by a man named Tommy Dennison. Tommy claimed the robbery was just a practical joke but the judge did not share his humour and gave him a five-year jail sentence. After his sentence, he returned to Pilgrim’s Rest and became a celebrity among the locals after he opened a petrol station and cheekily named it ‘The Highwayman’s Garage’ and nailed the wooden pistols he used during the robbery on the door for all to see. The petrol station is still operating to this day and offers many unique signs, photo opportunities, and a sense of history for patrons to enjoy. The road is very scenic with breathtaking views and spots worth stopping off and admiring.

Our Top Spots on Robber’s Pass:

  • Robber’s Grave: Legend has it that, in 1874, a man was caught trying to rob another man’s tent. He was caught and banished from the goldfields and told to never return but he did not listen. The man was spotted on a hill and was shot and buried on that very hill which is now known as Cemetery Hill. His grave lies in a different direction from the other graves as a symbol of the man’s disgrace to the community. An author by the name of Roger Webster tells a more tragic story of the grave; one that involves a man who wrongfully killed his friend after thinking that he had stolen his purse of gold.
  • Jock of the Bushveld Trail: The trail got its name from a famous novel written by South African author, Sir James Percy-FitzPatrick, about the many adventures that he and his dog, Jock, had on their journey through the bushveld of the Transvaal. It is a 9.72km trail and a 10km mountain bike route in Graskop. Here you will see the sandstone rock formations that Percy made reference to in his book, views over Pinnacle Gorge, and a bronze plaque that serves as a waymark – ‘Jock Trek 1885’.

The dusty road may now have changed to tar, and stagecoaches have since been replaced by motor vehicles, but the essence and old charm of this area permeates through its culture and history. If you ever find yourself holidaying at Crystal Springs, go out and explore the town and scenic landscape of the Pass road. It is a bucket-list experience that is definitely worth checking off your holiday itinerary. The Crystal Springs Team will be more than happy to give you a few tips and recommendations, too, so pop in at Reception on your next visit.