Mountains, mists and memorable times

 After 2 nights at Bontebok Reserve and 2 beautiful walks in the Marloth Reserve, we have been spoilt for scenery, spring flowers and company. 

Our hiking activities were creatively and efficiently orchestrated by Willemina of Swellendam CREW , joined by Flora of Barrydale, together with Jill of Stonehaven- on- Tradouw Pass fame on the second walk, and Barbara, a young student also from Swellendam. So 2 CREW groups were in the field together – but it gets even better! The first evening at 6 o’clock we were joined in our Bontebok camp for both nights by a team from Cape Town, namely Ismail, Rupert, Gigi and Andrea, so then there were 3. This is, I think, as good as it gets in terms of CREW people spending ‘quality’ time together.

Willemina and Flora met us at the Marloth Reserve offices on our mid-morning arrival from George, and took the 6 Outramps on a spectacular circular walk that ascended to Die Plaat, crossed the Western Plaat and then descended steeply back down a rocky path back to the starting point. The paths are in very good shape and Willemina was most informative about the negotiating of slightly hazardous sections in terms of slipperiness. Some of the Aunties clatter around with various pieces of hardware (aka sticks) to help their balance and these were very much in use.

In the course of this walk we looked into a steep kloof , up at the peaks looming above us and across at the plains stretching to the coast. After the terrible fires of a few years ago, the recovery of the vegetation is remarkable. We saw groves of yellow-flowering Osteospermum corymbosum(LC) interspersed with Cliffortia grandifolia(Rare), all up to shoulder-height and more. Gladiolus rogersii (LC) was flowering profusely in the higher reaches of the walk and towards the western side was masses of Langebergia canescens(LC), new to us as a species. Brian The Boy found plenty of Fabaceae as always, including 4 different Psoralea species. We were too early for much in the way of Ixias and Disas, but the floral display was stunning. Every corner we rounded was photo-opportunity stuff.

The proposed hike the second day was to take the path leading to Tienuurkop, an ‘out-and-back’, which gave the participants a measure of choice as to how far they walked. Once again, Willemina led the group, augmented in number by the Cape Town contingent. This walk ascends slowly and then increasingly steeply further east, and the views out across the plain with all the farm dams were wonderful. The peaks were shrouded in mist and the younger part of the group, the possible summit party, took an unintentional detour in the lower section which precluded any summit hopes. With the mist shifting constantly, this was perhaps just as well. We all turned round, some reluctantly,some readily, at more or less the same time. The weather stayed co-operative but rain was on its way.(It arrived that night.)

Early on in this walk we saw an interesting ground protea, perhaps Protea piscina(LC), and also Cyclopia genistoides(NT). Higher up was the small-leafed Protea cynaroides(LC).The real treat on the way down was to see on and next to the path a generous scattering of Romulea jugicola(VU) which had opened while we were still climbing up. Interspersed with Disa sagittalis (LC), this was a highlight of the day. As on the previous day, the hills were alive with great groves of Osteospermum corymbosum and Cliffortia grandifolia.

Another highlight of a different sort was post-hike drinks at a delightful restaurant, La Belle Alliance, in Swellendam. This was Willemina’s suggestion and we had a very happy time with 13 of us sitting around a long table in the sun, on the banks of a pretty river, talking plants and CREW matters and iSpot and whatever else came up. Some people had drinks, some had coffee, most had chips (rather good ones, made properly from scratch) and one or two ate impressively upmarket at the level of herring (Rupert) or a chic little salad (Gigi). We could have been somewhere in Europe, but mercifully not paying in euros.

Huge thanks are due to Willemina, who organised and co-ordinated the activities so enthusiastically (and also accommodated so graciously the occasional mild eccentricities of the Outramps). We all learn so much from interacting with other CREW people, and not only about plants.

Jean Purcell

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