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Why did we hand pick The Old Jail?

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  • Unusually interesting history for an old guesthouse
  • The Victorian jail has been beautifully renovated
  • Art gallery doubles as a characterful dining room

The Old Jail

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Price tier (pps): R200  R1500+

Child policy: All ages

In Willowmore


-33.2968, 23.4943


The owners at The Old Jail have admirably managed to convert what used to be a prison into a unique and appealing luxury guest house guaranteed to linger in the memories of guests long after they have left.

Surrounded by the beauty of the Baviaanskloof and Swartberg mountains, the building on the edge of Willowmore dates back to the 1880s and is one of the best examples of Victorian architecture in the area, featuring half-metre-thick walls and characteristic plaster wall corners.

Originally called the Old Gaol, the prison housed a female cell, awaiting-trial cells, a hospital cell, hard-labour cells and a kitchen cell, before it ceased to operate in 1960 and was sold to private owners. The building changed hands several times, before its present owners painted its grand exterior yellow and white, gave it an interior overhaul and imaginatively transformed it into a boutique guest house.  

While you will be impressed by the luxury of the rooms, which are named after their purposes at the prison, imaginations will run wild as soon as you enter through the sturdy wooden doors and envisage what life used to be like here.

The Female Cell was once used exclusively for lady inmates, but now houses an antique double bed and a bathroom with a charming stone bath and shower. The private courtyard has two comfortable loungers on the lawn, and the separate toilet is situated across from the room.

Prisoners wouldn’t have minded being held in the renovated Awaiting Trial room, which has sleek wooden floorboards, opulent twin beds, comfy couches and some nostalgic artwork. The paraffin-lamp-style bedside lights, along with a matching chandelier, also contribute to the minimalistic sense of Victorian luxury. The separate shower room and toilet are to be found off the private courtyard.

In its present form, the Hospital Suite would make sick inmates better in a second. The most luxurious of the rooms, the suite has a spacious bedroom with a King-size bed, and combines modern floors and fittings with an antique wardrobe and vast Victorian fireplace. A stylish bathroom has a claw-foot bath and a separate shower, and the added bonus of underfloor heating to counteract the nippy Karoo winter. A separate room, previously a solitary confinement cell, can accommodate a teenage child.

Those who prefer self-catering can take up residence in the Old Stables, a rustic, characterful family unit with a fully equipped kitchen and braai area.

Rooms are fitted with Egyptian cotton, tea and coffee facilities, a small fridge, air conditioning, hair dryers, safes and a flat-screen satellite television.  Guests staying in the rooms with courtyard toilet and shower facilities are provided with dressing gowns and slippers.

To further abolish what could have been a sombre atmosphere, The Old Jail is fronted by some spectacular gardens filled with roses and featuring a soothing water fountain.

In addition to a hearty breakfast, hosts Karen and Oleg serve up some delicious dinners in the delightful setting of the art gallery, which showcases a colourful collection of classical and contemporary sculptures and paintings. The set menu offers a variety of Karoo classics and vegetarian options and is accompanied by a range of wines from the cellar.

For those looking for a little more independence, braai facilities are available. From The Old Jail, it is easy to explore the area’s natural and historical attractions, the cherries on top of what is bound to be an unforgettable visit.

Rates & Summary

Female Cell

Sleeps 2 in double bed
Bathroom with stone bath and shower
Private lawned courtyard
Toilet across courtyard

Awaiting Trial

Sleeps 2 in double or twin beds
Shower and toilet across the courtyard

Hospital Suite

Sleeps 2 in King-size bed
En-suite claw bath and shower
Victorian fireplace
Teenage child can sleep in separate room

Old Stables Suite (self-catering)

Sleeps 4 in double/twin beds and sleeper couch
Barbeque area


  • For pricing detail, click on CHECK AVAILABILITY & BOOK ONLINE above


Continental and cooked breakfast included for B&B guests
Dinner available on request
At extra cost, self-catering guests can be catered for


Children of all ages are welcome.

Why Stay Here?

Located on the outskirts of the small farming town of Willowmore in the Karoo, The Old Jail offers luxury accommodation within the town’s bygone Victorian jail. Beautifully renovated, the building retains its nostalgic atmosphere while offering comfortable luxury. The art gallery on site doubles as a characterful dining room.


  • Unusually interesting history for an old guesthouse
  • The Victorian jail has been beautifully renovated
  • Art gallery doubles as a characterful dining room

Things to consider Bringing

Sunblock, hat, walking shoes, mountain bike, golf clubs, binoculars for bird watching/game viewing.

Road Conditions

All the roads leading to The Old Jail are tarred.

Activities & Attractions

  • Art gallery
  • Wine cellar

Nearby: Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, hiking trails, mountain biking trails, 4x4 trails, hunting, the wonder tree, golf course, historical graveyards, Old Power Station.


Accommodation & Hospitality

  • Communal lounge
  • Air conditioning
  • Fireplace
  • Under floor heating
  • Bed linen supplied
  • Bathroom towels supplied
  • Hair dryer available
  • Daily housekeeping
  • Self-service tea and coffee available
  • No smoking indoors

Catering & Kitchen

  • Breakfast (dinner by arrangement)
  • Licensed
  • Kitchenette
  • Braai area available
  • Hot Plates
  • Fridge and freezer
  • No cleaning materials


  • Water supply good for drinking
  • Electric geysers
  • Eskom electricity

Leisure Amenities

  • Satellite television
  • Garden

Business & Connectivity

  • No Wi-Fi
  • Good cell phone reception

Access & Convenience

  • No babysitting
  • Child friendly
  • No pets allowed
  • Off street parking
  • Nearest shops within 2km
  • Nearest fuel within 1km


  • Credit cards accepted
  • EFT accepted
  • Cash accepted


  • Personal safe




Karoo Heartland

Eastern Cape


The Karoo Heartland area lies in the Eastern Cape province, inland from the busy coastal city of Port Elizabeth. It embraces the eastern landscapes of the Great Karoo and, like the rest of this vast and semi-arid region, it is sparsely populated and little developed.

Rising in the north-west of the region are the Sneeuberg mountains. As their name suggests, the higher reaches are often draped in a blanket of snow during winter. Further east they link up with the Bankberg range. From here the landscape drops in altitude in a series of gentle slopes and rolling foothills.

For the motorist, the steep gradients are traversed via the winding roads of the Lootsberg, Naudesberg, Ouberg and Wapadsberg passes. In the south the landscape flattens out in a sweeping flat expanse, referred to as the plains of Camdeboo. In the eastern extremes the traditional Karoo scrub gives way to waving grasslands, tall slender aloes and tree-choked gorges.

Amongst the koppies and expansive plains are small rural towns like Graaff Reinet, Cradock and Nieu Bethesda. All of these are popular with visitors and well-known for their fine architecture and enduring charm. Graaff Reinet is best known for its magnificent stone church, the historic Drostdy with its colourful Stretch’s Court. It also has tranquil tree-lined streets sporting grand old houses and quaint cottages.

On its outskirts, the 19 000ha Camdeboo National Park almost encircles the town and protects the habitats and wildlife of the area. Within its boundaries stand the pillars of balancing rock that make the Valley of Desolation so intriguing. Nearby, the Sundays River flows into the Nqweba Dam.

A short drive north, at the base of the towering Kompasberg Peak, is Nieu Bethesda. Its main attractions are the Owl House with its artwork, and the mythical figures in the Camel Yard. The town is loved by seekers of tranquillity who come to escape in its rural charm and laid-back ambience.

In the east the busy, upbeat town of Cradock on the banks of the Fish River boasts a wealth of interesting architecture. The best preserved of examples form part of the well-known Tuishuise.

Each year canoeists converge on the area for the annual Fish River canoe marathon.

Cradock’s natural icon comes in the form of the Mountain Zebra National Park. This expanse was proclaimed in order to protect the endangered mountain zebra, which now number around 300 in the park. The variety of game includes cheetah, Cape buffalo and black rhinoceros. The landscape varies from rugged mountains to plateau grasslands.

Throughout the region there is a cultural richness, and strong traditions still survive in the towns and on the farms. With an extensive network of gravel back roads that lead to hidden farms and stunning views, the Karoo Heartlands is ideally suited to the explorer. It’s also home to large game lodges, 4x4 trails, hiking and mountain bike routes, fishing, and birdwatching.

Look out for

Camdeboo National Park – on the outskirts of Graaff Reinet, this 19 000ha park protects some of the low-lying plains as well as the mountainous terrain in the area. It contains the Valley of Desolation. Within its boundaries are 12 species of large game and 225 bird species. There are several hikes, varying from a 1.5 km stroll to a day walk and an overnight trail. 4x4 enthusiasts have a choice of either the Koedoeskloof or Driekoppe trails. There is a tented camp and some campsites are being developed in the park. 

The Valley of Desolation - is formed by the extraordinary geology of the mountains that create impressive dolerite rock pillars, which are easily seen from various viewpoints along the walking trails. En route to the main viewpoint a toposcope stands on a small koppie, from where there is a magnificent view of Graaff Reinet.

Mountain Zebra National Park – situated 12km from Cradock, the park nestles amongst the craggy heights of the Bankberg mountains in the far eastern area of the region. Proclaimed in 1937, the park embraces undulating plains and plunging valleys where the Cape mountain zebra was saved from extinction. Accommodation is in the restored Victorian homestead at Doornhoek (that sleeps 6), or in cottages and campsites at the main rest camp. There is an à la carte restaurant, a shop selling basic commodities, a fuel station and a swimming pool. Day visitors are welcome.

The Owl House – this iconic house was created by eccentric artist Helen Martins. It became famous by being featured in world-renowned playwright Athol Fugard’s film, ‘The Road to Mecca’. Obsessed with the interplay of light, colour and reflection, martins covered walls, ceilings, windows and other surfaces with bright paint and glass. The effect is amplified by the many candles, lamps and mirrors she collected. The Owl House is rated a premier ‘outsider art’ destination and attracts 15 000 visitors annually, from all over the world. It’s open to the public daily (except Christmas day). Opening times: 09h00-17h00 in April to September / 08h00-18h00 in October to May.

Blouwater Railway - for a rail journey with a difference give Charles Kingwill a call to book a seat on his rail van, which trundles up the 11km-long Lootsberg Railway Pass and back. He can take a maximum of 9 passengers per trip. Trips run from Monday to Saturday between 09h00 and 15h00. It takes 2 hours, and you can take your own picnic and refreshments.

Tuishuise –mention Cradock and the first places that come to mind are the historic Tuishuise. Even if you’re not planning to stay overnight (although you should), make a point of exploring Market Street where they are situated. 

When to go

To Do

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