Another pipetrack walk, Table Mountain – Dec 2018

It was at the beginning of 2018, just under a year before, that I had arranged a walk with Ed, John and Horst, along with Ed’s son-in-law and family at the time. Much had happened in the meantime. Ed’s wife had sadly passed away and with luck, subsequently met Elna and within months my eldest broertjie had tied the knot once more and was enjoying marital bliss. Elna had left her job as a conveyancer, where she had earned the nickname “Wielietjies”, due to the fact that she is constantly on the move. So Ed was keen to share the beauty of Cape Town and a walk along Table Mountain’s pipetrack, on the Atlantic seaboard, was arranged.

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Fynbos is in abundance and flourishing along the walk, most recognised by the protea, silver tree and pin cushion. The bluegum and pine trees are all alien and not indigeneous to South Africa. The infestation of black wattle is a threat and needs to be managed to keep it at bay. Fires are another threat to the indigeneous vegetation, although this helps in the regeneration of the species, provided it is sufficiently infrequent, such as a 10 year cycle. Fynbos (fine-leaved plants) is a small belt of natural shrubland or heathland vegetation located in the Western and Eastern Cape, predominantly coastal and mountainous, with a Mediterranean climate and rainy winters. Fynbos forms part of the Cape floral kingdom. The fynbos in the western regions is richer and more varied than in the eastern regions of South Africa. Of the world’s six floral kingdoms, the Cape floral kingdom is the smallest and richest per unit of area. Table Mountain in Cape Town supports 2,200 species, more than the entire United Kingdom.

Flanked by Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head, Table Mountain makes up the northern end of the Cape Fold Mountain range. Cape Town is indeed a special place and it’s hard to imagine another large city with such easy access to nature and spectacular views any in the world. The mountain’s distinctive flat top – a three-kilometre level plateau – was once the bottom of a valley. The mountain was given its name — Taboa do Cabo (Table of the Cape) — by Antonio de Saldahna after he climbed up Platteklip Gorge in 1503. Legend has it that the tablecloth of clouds that pours over the mountain when the southeaster blows is the result of a smoking contest between the devil and a retired sea captain called Jan van Hunks.

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A walk with my brothers – Kings blockhouse and Contour Path, Table Mountain – Dec 2018

It was almost a year ago to the day that I last did the walk from the car park at Rhodes Memorial at the base of Devils Peak, to Kings Blockhouse and along the contour path towards Kirstenbosch. On this occasion however, I had invited my brothers John and Edward (accompanied by his wife Elna), and John’s brother-in-law, Horst. The initial ascent to the blockhouse is quite a steep one and Ed repeatedly asked me when we would get there, complaining that I had claimed that it was intended to be a relatively easy walk. To be fair, my brothers are not seasoned hikers, coupled with the fact that I have a 10-15 year age advantage. Nevertheless, once we had reached the gate at the top of the climb with the bonus of spectucular views across the southern suburbs of Cape Town, the Cape Flats, False Bay and the Hottentots Mountains in the distance, all talk of fatigue, the heat and creaking joints was forgotten.

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To continue along the Contour Path, a descent of the jeep track to the stile is required. From here the path enters the forest, the track all but hidden from below, that eventually merges with Newlands Forest. It’s a relatively easy walk with slight rises and descents. Large sections of the path have been covered in carefully constructed decking to protect the path underfoot from corrosion. A pair of dried-up waterfalls appear enroute in the narrow mountain ravines which serve as a steep channels Many are forested orthick with all kinds of thick vegetation, including ferns. Some of these may be accessible but danergous and I’ve never attempted any myself. In fact, it comes as no surprise that they are named First Waterfall Ravine and Second Waterfall Ravine. Large rock or boulders serve as stepping stones, when water is likely to flow down the mountainside in the winter months. A large constructed circular wooden deck serving as a rest stop, complete with seating, was occupied by a larger, relatively noisy group, so we moved on. Who on earth wants to be outdoors but still feel compelled to take along music, rather than enjoy the sights and sounds of the natural world, is beyond me!

We did stop further along for a nibble and a drink at one of the ravines. Ed and Elna always come well prepared, with sandwiches and fresh fruit, generously shared with others. We were well sheltered from the heat, so the walk and the pause was being enjoyed by all.The forest opens up into an exposed section offering views of the suburb of Newlands and its hallowed rugby and cricket grounds. Just after this one passes through a stile and not long after, Newlands Ravine, which I had descended on many occasions from the top of Table Mountain. The Contour Path continues on to Skeleton Gorge above Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens but since we still had the return walk to Rhodes Memorial to contend with, I decided on a descent to Newlands Forest.

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Blouberg Strand Beach walks with my brothers – Dec 2018 / Jan 2019

Bloubergstrand is a seaside resort town along the shores of Table Bay, on the Atlantic Ocean, 15 kilometres due north of the city centre of Cape Town. The name Bloubergstrand literally means “blue mountain beach” in Afrikaans, and is derived from Blaauwberg, a nearby hill.

It is customary on my annual visits to the Mother City to take a walk along the long white, pristine sand beaches towards Melkbos Strand, notably because it is the closest beach to the northern suburbs of Cape Town, where two of my elder brothers have lived for years and the eldest for a shorter period. On occasions I have wandered for miles on my own, finding myself lost in my own thoughts in the process. Sometimes it’s my way of bidding a sad farewell to the city in which I was born, grew up and love so much. On this particular trip, I did a number of walks with my brothers on separate occasions, for no specific reason. Weather conditions can vary from one visit to the next, even within seasons, from sunshine to misty or even windy conditions, which make it popular with enthusiasts who take to the cold Atlantic waters to harness the power of the wind.

Urban expansion in greater Cape Town has accelerated alarmingly in recent decades, particularly along the coastline between Milnerton, Bloubergstrand and Melkbos, spreading inland towards the N7 highway (which runs north) and even beyond, in the direction of Durbanville. The impact of this rapid growth has undoubtedly had a massive impact on the sensitive coastal environment and ecosystems. I still remember the Big Bay area when it was largely undeveloped.

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Grootvadersbosch – Bosmansbos – Dec 2018

Originally known as Melkhoutskraal, the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve encompasses 250 hectares of indigenous forest in the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains, close to Heidelberg. The name translates to “big father” in honour of Roelof Oelofse who owned the land in 1723. It has only been a reserve since 1986 and was declared a World Heritage Site in 2004. On my annual visit from the soggy island that is the UK to the Fairest Cape at the tip of Africa, doing a series of day walks, a cycle or possibly a longer walk with my friend from school days, Ralph, has over the years become a bit of an institution. On this occasion Ralph warmed to my suggestion of re-visiting an area walked many years ago, just before the new millennium, I think it was, when we tackled Boosmansbos, located adjacent to Grootvadersbosch, along with Ralph’s American pal ‘Big Ron’.

So after an early start from Stellenbosch, we arrived in the Overberg early to mid-afternoon and after setting up camp, which for me involved pitching a tent whereas Ralph had “moved up in the world”, in reality, to the tent perched on the roof of his offroad vehicle. The site provides self-catering cabin accommdation and 12 campsites, which overlook the indigenous forest. Access to the hiking or cycling trails requires a permit. To stretch out legs for the longer walk to be undertaken the following day, we tackled the Redwood Trail, which heads towards the Duiwenhoks River and in the process, managed to get lost somehow. Dinner the first night comprised packet pasta cooked on Ralph’s portable gas stove that has seen much use over the years.

Owing to fires which had burnt out much of the area along the Saagkloof Trail towards Boosmanbos, we decided to follow the Loerklip Trail bypassing Dwarsberg instead, the landscape untouched by fire save the lower sections just above Grootvadersbosch. The trail twists and turns, crossing a couple of streams, after which it leads through upper sections rich in fynbos before reaching a ridge that offered views north towards Barrydale, on the Klein Karoo side of the Overberg. The path continues on to Helderfontein, location of the nature reserve’s overnight huts.

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Orange Kloof and Table Mountain hike from Constantia Nek – Dec 2018

Orange Kloof forms part of the Hoerikwaggo Trail that extends from Table Mountain to Cape Point. A permit obtainable from Sanparks is required for this section, which runs from Constantia Nek to Woodhead Dam on the Hout Bay side of the Nek.

Orange Kloof should be booked months in advance, due to its enormous popularity. This I arranged prior to travelling out from the United Kingdom on my annual holidays to the country of my birth.
There is no cost involved for the actual permit however a guide supplied by Sanparks is mandatory. This was my first attempt at tackling this route. The closest available to my preferred date was the 20th December and so an Orangekloof Permit was secured.

Owing to a limited availability of guides, the Sanparks office acceeded to my request for a friend of mine, Ralph Pina, a member of the Mountain Club of South Africa, to fill the role and to be accepted as a bona fide guide on the basis of affiliation to that organisation. Proof of membership was provided.

My plan was to take my elder brothers along this magical route. In the end only the eldest, Edward, 75 and far from being a seasoned hiker, was able to join, along with his wife of just over a month, Elna.

It’s a fabulous walk. After entering via the gate off Constantia Nek car park along a dirt track, at the point where a track leads off left down to overnight accommodation, on the opposite side, take a path on the right that leads up into the forest, joining a wider track that meanders up the mountainside. A waterfall may be encountered en route.

The track swings towards a route that emerges from Hout Bay with full views across the valley below back in the direction of the Nek. Eventually, one leaves the dirt track via a path on the right which heads up towards a narrow yet enchanting gorge abundant in fynbos, some of it clinging to the rock face. Following the gorge, the dam wall below Woodhrad is reached.

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Cape Point Nature Reserve hike – Dec 2018

Cape Point Nature Reserve, located on the southernmost part of the Cape Peninsula, has to be one of the most spectacular places on the planet. A circular hike from the main entrance near Smitswinkel, taking in views along False Bay and the Atlantic seaboard with an overnight stay in one of the huts, is an unparalled adventure. Ralph Pina and I completed this over two days, a total round trip distance of 33.8 km. Whilst the first day offers arguably the more spectacular views as they unfold towards Cape Point, the second provides unique access to the numerous beaches as well as wildlife such as eland, bontebok, baboons and ostrich. The northmost part of the park, though arguably barren, is recovering from wildfires, due to the unique ability of the fynbos to regenerate.

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Read FULL text and view photo album – Day 2

A walk through the garden of England, Cobham, in the Kentish countryside, via Luddesdown.

Having recently undertaken a walk around Faversham near the Thames estuary, my hiking friend Tammy opted for a return to the county that has earned the title ‘The Garden of England’, as it has referred to for hundreds of years. Kent is host to gentle hills, fertile farmland and cultivated country estates with fruit-filled orchards that cover the area. The area south of the village of Cobham typifies this landscape description. To make it to Eltham by 8 a.m. requires getting up at crack of dawn for a drive down the M11 from Hertfordshire via the Blackwall Tunnel. The route could roughly be described as a figure of eight with the small village of Luddesdown, named after a scattered group of houses and farms, as the crossover point. The terrain is undulating, traversing vineyard-covered farmland and numerous woods, so “breathtaking” in more ways than one, incorporating a section of the North Downs Way on the ongoing section and The Wealdway on the return leg.

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Adjacent to the church of St Peter and St Paul is Luddesdown Court, a 6,821-square-foot house that is estimated to be at least 800 years old. Some local historians believe it could be even older—the village of Luddesdown certainly existed in 1086 when it was included an ambitious survey of land ownership in Britain, the Domesday Book, commissioned by William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England. One of Luddesdown’s former owners is thought to be Odo of Bayeux, the king’s half-brother (born around 1035). Odo was a key figure in the Norman invasion of England, and subsequently commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry, an epic depiction of the invasion’s decisive Battle of Hastings in 1066.

It was here that my mobile phone’s battery finally gave in. Having been experiencing problems with the device losing charge faster than should be the case, for some time now, I got it in the ear from Tammy, who was insistant that I should now be treating myself to a new phone for Christmas. Furthermore, I was assured in no uncertain terms that further walks with her would be ruled out until I had sorted the situation out. From Luddesdown, we took the Wealdway path towards Cobham, thus completing the last leg of the figure of eight route.

Cobham is a village and civil parish located 6 miles south-east of Gravesend and does not appear as a separate manor in the Domesday Book, so the village and parish were probably established later than 1086. The village has strong links with Charles Dickens, who used to walk out to the village: he set part of The Pickwick Papers there.

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Kent Walk, Hever Castle and countryside – Sunday 13th September 2020

My friend Tammy pinged me at short notice, proposing a walk in the Kentish countryside near Hever Castle, just 30 minutes drive from Tunbridge Wells in the High Weald Area of Outstanding National Beauty. This was my third walk in 3 days. We covered all of 10.2 miles. We set off from the car park of the Henry VIII pub, located directly opposite Hever Castle. Forecasts had predicted temperatures pushing 30 degrees and although it was probably cooler than that, I was still sweating profusely.

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Hever castle is located in the village of Hever, Kent, near Edenbridge, 30 miles south-east of London. It began as a country house, built in the 13th century. From 1462 to 1539, it was the seat of the Boleyn (originally ‘Bullen’) family. Anne Boleyn, the second queen consort of King Henry VIII of England, spent her early youth there after her father, Thomas Boleyn, inherited it in 1505. The castle passed to him upon the death of his father, Sir William Boleyn. It later came into the possession of King Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.

Tammy proposed a spur-of-the-moment detour to Chiddingstone Castle. Passing Hill Hoath Farm, we took a path across a field towards Chiddingstone village, within sight of the the Chiding Stone around the back of the village, which was allegedly used by local men to chide nagging wives, wrongdoers and witches on, in front of an assembly of villagers. The tower of St. Mary the Virgin parish church could also be seen from some distance. This is where the ashes of one of Tammy’s great aunts are scattered under a rock in the grounds of the cemetery.

As one enters the autumn months and the daylight hours in the northern hemisphere shorten dramatically whilst the shadows become longer, it is on days like this that one still appreciates what the countryside has to offer.

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Royston walks during lockdown – April, June & August 2020

All the walks described in this blog incorporate Royston and the surrounding villages of Reed, Barkway and Barley undertaken during the Covid 19 lockdown of 2020, with variations of the same walk. UK Covid19 guidelines permit one form of outdoor exercise a day, provided social distancing measures are maintained. Fortunately for me, living in Royston in the Hertfordshire countryside means that a walk or a cycle can be undertaken whilst meeting very few en route and such instances where one does encounter someone, maintaining a wide berth of more than two metres is not a problem. Despite the UK now having been in Covid19 lockdown since 16th March, people out walking on the countryside generally still maintain social distancing.

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Saturday 18th April

Much as I try and keep off tarred roads, even if they are only country roads, I was on a mission to explore. I had cycled this road many times past Newsels Barn Farm and Newsels Park Stud and on up the steep hill towards the road that runs into Barkway however was intrigued by a gravel road, known as Stock Bank, that led off to the left. It drops down into a dip before ascending and reaching The Mount behind The Chequers pub, along the Cambridge Road into Barley. There is however a turn-off in this dip that runs south, rising slowly, until one reaches a tarred road which accesses Newsells, a collection of houses that scarcely makes up a village, as there are, to my knowledge, no shops or pubs to speak of. It’s gorgeous countryside, many old homesteads to be found en route.

Sunday 19th April

The idea was to pick up The Mount, a gravel road running behind The Chequers pub, down the hill into the dip I had approached the day before from Stock Bank, off the Royston Road, before heading via Newsels towards Barkway. On this occasion however, I cut short of walking into Barkway itself, instead picking up the path at a junction which would lead me to where Royston Road climbs before meeting The Joint into Barkway. In the village of Newsells, whilst maintaining social distancing, I struck an interesting conversation with a local family en route, who immediately guessed my country of origin. Despite having resided in the UK for close on 20 years, I have yet to lose my accent and probably never will. We chatted about Covid19, the subject on everyone’s lips, and the government’s handling of it.

Saturday 13th June

It was an unusually hot Saturday morning when I repeated this four hour walk last undertaken in April, a circular route from Royston to Barley via the black barn and bridleway off the B1039, bypassing Barkway and Reed along The Joint and back along the Hertfordshire Way following the Greenwich Meridan. It was on the first section up to Horseshoe Farm, Barley , that I met some horseriders, the lead rider turning out to be a South African woman living in Melbourn, a village just outside Royston and across the county border in Cambridgeshire. I don’t recall whether she recognised my accent or I hers. A decent temperature today at 24 degrees. Once again, the duration of the walk was roughly 4 hours.

Saturday 22nd August

Another walk along this north Hertfordshire route today, on this occasion tackling the walk in an anti-clockwise direction. In the village of Barkway, I stopped by a tea-room doubling as a florist. Despite just having shut in order to prepare bouquets for a wedding, they seemed to empathize upon learning I had walked from Royston, so the young waitress agreed to make me a pot of tea. I’ve recently incorporated an alternative route to my local Royston evening walks, which takes me through woodland adjoining Burloes Farm, rather than along the B1039. The setting is sumptuous, as can be seen by these late afternoon photographs. Burloes Hall is a beautiful Queen Anne country house with stunning views of the rolling chalk hills of North Hertfordshire. The generous lawns, bordered by handsome beech trees and mature yew hedges enclose secret Edwardian gardens makes Burloes Hall an ideal venue for weddings.

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Namibian adventure Dec 2019 – Jan 2020

Having communicated with one another for about a year on social media, the time had come that we would finally meet. Ursula is a native of Swakopmund, Namibia, a town on the Atlantic Coast I had last visited in the mid 1990’s on my African Overland tour between Cape Town and Nairobi.

Having boarded the 10h10 flight from Cape Town International Airport to Walvis Bay Airport, located in the Namib Desert, a somewhat surreal sight, the passport check upon arrival proved a rather lengthy and tedious affair. Ursula, known locally as Ulla, had waited patiently to meet me, although she admitted a element of nervousness. Taking the inland road via Dune 7 rather than the coastal route, we arrived back in Swakopmund within half an hour.

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