Cheviot is a blink-and-you-miss-it place with an often mispronounced name.
It’s CH as in church, not SH as in… sheep.
But Cheviot rarely makes headlines. Except for a few years back when a sculptor rightly went ballistic at discovering the sheep statues scattered around the village were rip-offs of her originals.
Flocks of fake sheep notwithstanding, this small rural town on state highway one, 90 minutes north of Christchurch has a hidden treasure that’s a cut above your average pee-and-tea stop.
The turnoff to Cheviot Hills Reserve is on the right, just before the Jed River Bridge as you approach from the south.
A gravel road winds through mature oaks which are engulfed in a sea of daffodils come spring.
Over a cattle stop the reserve opens out into a big grassy paddock, a cricket oval with a modest pavilion and clumps of Nikau palms that stick out like sheep at a cattle sale amid all the English trees. It’s a perfect picnic spot and an excellent child exercise area.
In autumn drifts of dry oak leaves provide the raw materials for games of ‘bury the kids alive’ and there’s a walking track through the trees.
Foundations of the once magnificent Cheviot Hills mansion house are behind the cricket pavilion and generations of children have played tag around the crumbling stonework.
Designed by Christchurch Cathedral architect Robert Speechly, the English Manor house was built for William ‘Ready Money’ Robinson, whose nickname arose from his free-spending ways.
The mansion was destroyed by fire in 1936 but photos in the pavilion show it’s heyday when it boasted 42 rooms, a large baronial hall, and a conservatory with tropical plants.
Those really wanting to stretch their legs can walk into the village by following the road past the ruins to the Gore Bay Road exit beside the gatehouse. A left turn takes you onto a path leading to Cheviot where some of those infamous concrete sheep are still parked on the grass verges.