Samango Trail

Julia Colvin of Spekboom Tours, a nature-based, ecologically minded, adventure tour company, has spent many months getting to know local landowners and exploring the Dargle hills, so was thrilled when a large group of people turned up to try out her new route – The Samango Trail.

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On a sparkling Saturday morning, Julia led the group from Lemonwood cottages in the beautiful Dargle valley into the indigenous mistbelt forest, to follow a trail that wound through the old trees and dense understorey, then out into the bright sunshine of the grasslands, rich with a variety of wildflowers.

In the forest above Lemonwood

It was hard to say which was more absorbing – immersion in the cool lushness of the Kilgobbin forest at Crab Apple Cottages or walking in the clear air of the grasslands up on a high ridge of Old Kilgobbin and Carlisle Farms that provided panoramic views of the Midlands landscapes below.

Walking down to Lidgetton Valley

Walking slack packing style with a convivial group of people, breaking for snacks along the way, a picnic lunch at Pleasant Places, and stopping at Lythwood Lodge for afternoon drinks, was both relaxing and invigorating. It was lovely way to get in touch with diverse natural habitats, enjoy the fresh air and even drink clear natural water from forest streams.

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Many hikers stayed the night in the farm-style cottages on Blesberg Farm, where we gathered for an evening braai and array of delicious salads on the broad veranda of the gracious farmhouse.

In a presentation in a comfy lounge, Julia Colvin shared with us her vision for Spekboom Tours “We wish to work closely with conservancies to get school groups and communities to also experience the natural treasures that exist in the area.  Previously humans have tried subdue wild places and as a result some people argue that society is experiencing a nature deficit disorder. Exposure to green spaces helps to moderate our mood and improve our attention span. If we see ourselves as separate or removed rather than interconnected to nature, we will lack the compassion and motivation to do what is right for the planet. It all starts with an awe and appreciation for what we have in our own back yard.”

After supper, Wade Whitehead, CEO of FREEME KZN Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, filled us in on the latest releases that form part of FREEME’s ongoing Blue Duiker Reintroduction Project in the Dargle Forest. Raptor specialist Tammy Caine followed up with her well-illustrated presentation on forest raptors in the region, reminding us how the indigenous forests are at the heart of a complex and fragile eco-system.

Early on Sunday morning, everyone gathered at Blesberg farmhouse for breakfast.

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With the farm dogs in tow, we set off through the forested area, crossing a spectacular water feature built by previous owners the Molly and Murray Campbell.

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Then it was over a stone wall and out onto the grassland.  Grasslands cover approximately 30% of SA are are seriously transformed with only 3% of the original area protected. Frosts, fire and grazing maintain the grass dominance and prevent the establishment of trees.

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There were not a lot of flowers in this grassland, but we were pleased to find Pachycarpus natalensis.

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It was hot in the sunshine, but a brisk breeze and the sight of water cooled us all.

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The hills beckoned, so we didn’t linger for long. We spotted three oribi bounding out of sight ahead of us.

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The resident cows were curious about all the unexpected visitors.

r cattleWe were pleased to note that the small grassland streams were flowing, although not strongly.

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We climbed the hill to the lone old oak tree that has provided shade for generations of picnickers.

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Enjoying 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside.  Snow on the mountains to the west,

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Across the valley to Lidgetton, Curry’s Post and Karkloof

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South towards Inhlosane and Boston.

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Scilla nervosa flowering in the spots that the cows can’t trample. A small night adder slithered under a rock nearby.

r scilla nervosaThen we headed down towards the forest at Lemonwood,

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thankful for the shade and fresh cold water in the forest streams.

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Walker Yvonne Spain commented “It was a fantastic weekend. The mix of people was serendipitous. Everyone really seemed to click with each other, and it was a very happy social time. For me, the most commendable aspect of this initiative is that it is sensitive to the surrounding community of farmers/landowners and young people from disadvantaged communities. Your picture of the group around that big tree moved me, as did the knowledge that a percentage of your turnover is directed to developmental organisations. Participants in Spekboom hikes can know that they are really walking the talk and are part of thoughtful eco- tourism.”

Julia hopes one day to connect all the conservancies in the Midlands from the Kamberg and Nottingham Road to Hilton – giving people an opportunity to explore the biodiversity that occurs on private land, and benefiting conservation efforts by charging trail fees.

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Spekboom Tours donates 10% of the profits to local conservancies, makes a point of serving locally sourced mostly vegetarian meals, supports the local economy by using small homestays and allows people to experience a way of living which is sustainable, creative and rooted in environmental principles.

Dargle Conservancy is very grateful for the substantial donation towards the Dargle River Project received from the proceeds of this hike.

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Spirit of the Midlands

Ultimate Frisbee – The Beautiful Game

Twice a week a motley crew of Midlanders gather to play Ultimate Frisbee on the fields at Lions River Club in Dargle.  As the sun sets, artists, architects, photographers, farmers, shoemakers, students and IT-types aged between 16 and 56 dash across the 100m field, deftly flicking Frisbees.   Sure, things get competitive sometimes, but never at the expense of fair play, respect between players, adherence to the rules and the joy of playing.

While Ultimate Frisbee might not be a sport that you are familiar with, it is growing fast and may be included at the 2020 Olympics. The game is non-contact, combines speed and grace and at least three women must be included in any team of seven.

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Dedicated player Ryjin van Wyk “The culture of Frisbee is a beautiful thing. It appeals to those who have not played competitive sport before, are not keen on being battered.  The spirit of the game is what counts most, so it brings out the best in people.”   Ryjin was a pro-footballer for a while and remembers how, no matter how good the game was, the moment the whistle blew the teams separated and headed for the change room. In Frisbee, once the game is over, the teams form a tight circle with arms linked and discuss the game.  “Here we tell the opposing team what they excelled at, and the winning team will share tips on how to do better. Then we unanimously choose a man of the match.”

Rjyin van Wyk and Gerrit Blyleveldt - Lions Ultimate Frisbee - by Louis Bolton
Rjyin van Wyk and Gerrit Blyleveldt – Lions Ultimate Frisbee – by Louis Bolton

Self-refereeing? The rules are simple – contact with another player constitutes a foul. There is a 30 second window for those involved to discuss who gets the advantage, and then play continues. No one cheats – even at the top level where there is plenty of money involved.  Once a catch is completed within the ‘end zone’, that is a goal. The first team to reach 15 wins the game.

Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton
Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton

Last year, the Midlanders headed for Johannesburg for the Rocktober Frisbee Festival.  ‘We had cotton t-shirts printed with Love Lions and random shorts, but soon realised for a rag-tag farming crew we were pretty good!” remembers Ryjin. Since then, they have attended and organised several tournaments, with sixteen-year-old Lindo Mpangese from Curry’s Post being voted Player of the Tournament three times in a row!  Encouraging youngsters is an important part of the Lions philosophy.  Ryjin coaches a group of 7 to 12 year olds once a week, who are sure to take their place in the competitive team soon.

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The Lions started eight years ago, with stalwarts James Jordan, Nick Crookes, Dael Lithgow and Kim Goodwin as the core. They fondly remember how Justin McCarthy (now deceased) tore his achilles tendon playing his first ever game!  Little doubt that Justin would be thrilled to see how the barefoot team has grown, with over 30 people playing twice a week and teams from across the country eager to come to Midlands tournaments where the fields are beautiful and the people are genuinely good.

Kim Goodwin plays Frisbee by Louis Bolton
Kim Goodwin plays Frisbee by Louis Bolton

In collaboration with the Pietermaritzburg based team The Long Donkeys, they have successfully secured the 2017 Ultimate Frisbee SA Nationals to be held in the Midlands.

Joburg based player, Sally Crompton joined in the fun at the MadHatlands tournament hosted by Lions River and the Long Donkeys recently and thought it was amazing (particularly the local, homegrown, homemade organic, vegetarian feast at lunchtime). “The Lions team has grown so much since the first time I saw them and is one of the few clubs in South Africa with a diverse range of players.  Some talented young players were pulling off the most incredible throws, jumps and layouts this past weekend – Lindo and Sbu have pure natural talent which deserves to be nurtured and Josh, Alex and Michael have a lot of potential. The club has a refreshing creative spirit – one that is both focused on Spirit of the Game, but also on the high-paced talent of their members.  I believe that the Lions and Long Donkeys will pull off something great in a green hills of the Midlands in May 2017.”

Keen for some fresh air and good fun?  Check out their Facebook page Lions River Ultimate or contact ryang.vanwyk@gmail.com

Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton
Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton

Chris Slater of Croft farm

When Chris moved from the city to a defunct chicken farm in Dargle he didn’t intend to become a farmer. However, there were barns, fields, staff and a processing room, so he thought he’d see what he could do with the resources at hand.  Within a few years he was producing such delicious chicken under the Croft Farm label that he won the coveted Best Producer in the Free Range category at the Eat In DStv Food Network Produce Awards.

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Now there are two week old bundles of fluff huddled under the heating lamps on a chilly day and a couple of hundred adult chicks pecking at the earth in the sunshine nearby.  Chris has learnt what works best by trial and error. “Lots of the big commercial producers laugh at me trying out new ideas – like growing mealworms, or letting the chickens roam freely.  I remember being told that chickens don’t like to go outside – that’s nonsense!  They are originally forest creatures, so dislike the blazing sun, preferring the shade of the barn on really hot days.”

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Chris is certain that a better life means there is less mortality (lost profit) and better tasting chicken too.  He mixes the feed himself and to cope with the congestion the birds sometimes get, puts Eucalyptus oil in their drinking water. When the inevitable slaughter day arrives, Chris prefers to use small scale abattoirs that use old school manual methods.

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“I’m an internet farmer, I learn and try new things all the time,” he says. This is an advantage in a rapidly changing world where methods passed down through generations don’t necessarily work anymore.  Chris was recently given some big spotted pigs – Duroc cross Hampshire – so he is giving pig farming a go.  “They are real escape artists, especially when the acorns are falling,” he laughs, so he is sturdily fencing four areas with a central shelter for them to live happily, grubbing about without disturbing the neighbours. He turned a couple into sausages recently, they were a real hit.

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He also produces delicious eggs under the Fresh Start label. While Chris enjoys spending time with his chicks, he is always eager to try new things and has begun brewing craft beer with a likeminded entrepreneurial friend, Pete Foulis, in a converted chicken shed!

If you get up with the birds, you can find Chris’ produce at the Karkloof Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. http://www.croftfarm.co.za