First time visitors may be a little confused that Pilgrim's Rest is divided into two sections - the upper and lower town.
The upper town has better developed tourist infrastructure, including the iconic Royal Hotel (see my travel tip on the Church Bar) and the museum. Many of the houses surrounding the Royal Hotel are actually annexes to the hotel, which boasts a surprising 50 double bedrooms.
Moseying around Pilgrim's Rest is much more pleasant now that they have constructed a bypass that takes most of the heavy traffic around the town. However, bear in mind that the whole town is a national monument and a major tourist attraction, so in season (weekends, school holidays and particularly over the long Christmas holidays), it can get extremely crowded. I would suggest that you try to avoid visiting over those periods if you can, or at least stay overnight so that you can amble along the streets once the tour buses have departed: it doesn't take much imagination to get a feel of what a rough and tumble frontier town the place must have been 150 years ago when Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and his dog Jock walked these streets in search of their fortune (see my Pilgrim's Rest travel page).
The Royal Hotel in Pilgrim's Rest is an iconic location. Made entirely of corrugated iron, it evokes the harsh but vibrant era of the 1870s gold rush when successful diggers wanted to celebrate their success and the unsuccessful needed to drown their sorrows!
The most famous aspect of the Royal Hotel is the Church Bar. This structure was originally a school chapel which was imported via Lorenco Marques (now Maputo in Mozambique) and shipped overland by ox wagon before being rebuilt adjacent to the hotel. Patrons have been indulging in a very different sort of spiritual experience in the building ever since!
Outside the hotel , a notice board authoritatively informs you that it is tradition for every visitor to Pilgrim's Rest to have a beer at the Church Bar. Whether the tradition is a reality - or whether it's just a cunning marketing ploy - is open to debate, but actually it's pretty much a moot point, as most visitors seem to anyway!
First time visitors may be a little confused by the fact that Pilgrim's Rest is split into two sections - the upper and lower town. The upper town has more developed tourist infrastructure (such as the Royal Hotel and the museum), whilst the lower town is more low key, but still very charming. Both are a lot more amenable to touristic meandering since a bypass was constructed in the last few years, which means that main street no longer carries the sort of heavy traffic it used to.
Tourists (us included) love the fact that the lower town has a lot of historical paraphernalia on display along the main street. The photo is of a cocoa pan - a railbound wagon that was used to haul rock from underground - filled with 'ore'. Somebody has spraypainted the rock in the cocoa pan a gold colour, which I think is hilarious (but then I'm a miner myself and we're know for being a little odd) ... in its heyday, the seams of Pilgrim's Rest were indeed rich, but never to the point where the ore appearing from underground was uniformly gold coloured!
If you'd like to see what the real ore looks like, then take a stroll across the street to where a piece of genuine reef is displayed, or visit the museum in the upper town.
The whole of Pilgrim's Rest was declared a national monument in 1986 in recognition of its unique ability to reflect life in South Africa during the gold rush of the late 19th century. And, of course with the honour of national monument status come regulations and restrictions on alterations and additions which might detract from the character of the village and the expectation that facilities will be developed in a manner that is sympathetic to the history of the town.
In my experience, petrol (gas) stations are usually soulless places that look the same the world over and are made conspicuous by their complete lack of attempt to blend into their surroundings. Thus, it was both a surprise and a pleasure to note that the BP petrol station in Lower Pilgrim's Rest has kept consistent with the period corrugated iron architecture of the surrounding buildings (I'm guessing that this was a condition of planning permission?) and has even modelled the modern petrol pumps on an old pump from the early part of the 20th century. I can say without fear of contradiction that this is the first and only time that I have ever been charmed by a petrol station!
The Central Garage is exactly what its name sounds like - the town garage of Pilgrim's Rest. It now serves as a transportation museum that features antique cars and trucks, as well as horse-drawn wagons and carriages. It was one of our favorite sights in Pilgrim's Rest. Although its collection isn't huge, it's of high quality.
The Information Center serves two purposes. First, it is the place where tourists can get information about Pilgrim's Rest, including brochures, maps, and tickets for tours. It also doubles as a small museum, with a number of interesting exhibits about the town's history. It is a good place to begin your visit to Pilgrim's Rest, because it will give you a good background about the history of the town, its people, and its gold mining operations. We especially enjoyed seeing the old photographs of the town and its people.
The House Museum is a well-preserved Victorian-era home that is open to the public. The rooms that you can tour include a living room, dining room, bedroom and kitchen, all of which contain period furniture and decorations. It is open every day. There is a small admission fee. You buy your entrance tickets at the Information Center up the street.
There is a monument in remembrance of the 1938 Great Trek. It is found on the banks of the Blyde /river, across the Joubert Bridge (this bridge was named after the Commandant Piet Jobert, it was built in 1896 over the Blyde River to ling the town to Lydenberg).
Louis Trichardt was one of the great Boer leaders who visited Pilgrim's Rest looking for a route to the harbour in Lorenco Marques, now known as Maputo.
The War Memorial was erected to commemorate the men from Pilgrim's Rest and the area around it, who fought and died in the First and Second World Wars (1914-1919 and 1939-1945).
The oak tree, which is next to the memorial, was planted as an acorn from the Delville Wood (the battle of Delville Wood was one of the bloodiest fought during the Somme Offensive of 1916) in 1965. Of six acorns that were given to the Lowveld Memorial order of Tin Hats (MOTH), only two survived, this is one of them.
The 1st South African Infantry Brigade, which consisted of four regiments, were almost annihilated between 15 - 21July 1916. Of 3200 South African officers, there were approx. 2500 casualties, 750 whom were killed and 200 bodies never recovered.
The "Our Golden Heritage" Museum is very pedagogic on the thematic of Gold itself.
--- from the Museum's leaflet ---
The history of Pilgrim's Rest dates back to ancient times when unknown black miners worked the quartz reefs for gold.
However, the historic village, as we know it, was founded in 1873 when alluvial gold was discovered in the Pilgrim's Creek.
News of the discovery triggered the first major gold rush in South Africa and by the end of that year there were some 1500 diggers working 4000 claims in and around Pilgrim's Rest.
It is estimated that R2 million worth of gold was mined during the first seven years of mining in the Pilgrim's Rest valley.
The 1880's saw the end of the diggers era and by 1895 several small mining companies had amalgamated to form the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates.
The black and white miners of this company and the local villagers shared the fluctuating fortunes of mining at Pilgrim's Rest until 1972 when the last mine ceased to operate.
The village has subsequently become a National icon and living museum.
On the Pilgrim's Rest main road visitors will find an extensive Art Market.
I personally love to wander by this type of markets just to look into the details of the pieces. :)
Click here to see my photo shots of the cool Art pieces that are available for sale at Pilgrim's Rest.
Go have a look around the stalls and buildings. Of course, the stall holders want you to buy something but they are not as pushy as some places that we have been to. Don't worry if you do not have enough money because they even have a bank all the way up here in the mountains that has an ATM!
A tour to describe the way the people once lived in the area and the way in which they panned for alluvial gold can be taken.
A fascinating way to discover the way it was.
Take a slow walk, pop into all the little shops and the museum. Have a drink or lunch on the verandah at the Royal. Buy some freshly baked goodies from the home industry.