It is well-documented that William Wordsworth was a serial walker and enjoyed long daily rambles in beautiful surroundings, often in England’s exquisite Lake District but also on extended walking tours in Europe. In fact, according to what appears to be reliable data, renowned British historian George Macaulay Trevelyan reckoned the great poet must have traversed, remarkably, a distance of over 250 000km in his lifetime! For Wordsworth this mode of exertion out in the countryside apparently stood in the stead of other stimulants like alcohol, and not only contributed reasoned English author and intellectual De Quincey to his “life of unclouded happiness” but was the inspiration for his brilliant verse.
In his treatise, Wordsworth and his World, FE Halliday reckoned that on a good day the poet could hammer out 40 miles (64 kilometres) on the road. And in his book on the great man of words, Malcolm Hayward writes: “Wordsworth habitually spent at least several hours a day walking, and it was not uncommon for him to spend entire days on foot.”
His faithful sister Dorothy, who stayed with him for most of his life, noted in her diaries: “Wm (always Wm) would arrive home after a long walk, clearly inspired, and begin to compose his verses. He regarded travelling on foot as much a part of his work as we now see going to the office from eight to five each day as part of ours. When a visitor to the Poet Laureate’s home in Ambleside in the Lake District asked his maid to show him her master’s study, she answered: ‘Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.’ ”
I’m no Wordsworth but I’ve always loved walking and to this end in September last year I joined, for the first time, a group of experienced hikers, far more experienced than I am, from Cape Town’s Christian Hiking Network on a five-day exploratory trip to the Eastern Cape’s wild and hauntingly beautiful Baviaanskloof wilderness region. Our group of seven, I hadn’t met the others before the hike, included Allan Scott, the Network’s indefatigable co-ordinator and team leader, hardy land surveyor Graham Dennis, physiotherapist Jo Wylie who sped up and down the mountains with what appeared to be the feet of a deer, intrepid nurse Cathy Dean who swam at the bottom of icy waterfalls, bubbly Carine Lukunku from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and talented artist and art teacher Gianna Milani. It was a memorable trip, but first some information about the Christian Hiking Network.
Foundations of the Christian Hiking Network
The network grew out of the Christian Life Camps Bay hiking group in 2009 when Allan Scott took early retirement from the corporate world and stepped into the hot seat. The aim was to encourage other churches to become involved and, such has been the success, that there are now 120 different churches participating and over 1 200 individual hikers on the data base.
The CHN aim is to provide an opportunity for people to come together, get fit walking and enjoy the outdoors, in and around Cape Town on a frequent basis, as well as further afield on less frequent but nevertheless regular intervals. “We offer a broad hiking programme that caters for all levels of fitness and experience, and we encourage newcomers”, says Allan. “It is often easier to connect with other people on a hike, in nature, in God’s creation, than it is in church. Especially on an away trip, you get to know people more deeply. Unity in Christ is something we are trying to achieve, and we make no apologies for being a Christian group. And we might use the opportunity to pray together. But it is by no means exclusive to Christians and we encourage anyone to join us. We always have hike leaders, and hikes are graded so fitness is relevant. There is no membership fee when you join the network and we also realise that when there is a cost involved for a hike, there may be an affordability issue for some folk. So we try and accommodate everyone, as we don’t want to create any barriers.”
CHN members, for example, hike every week in the Cape Town area, during the week for those who are able to do so. There are hikes for everyone, but also, for instance, specifically for youths, or for those in their 30s and 40s. “We also do outreach”, says Allan, “with the goal being to get young people from the townships involved. We take them, for example, up Table Mountain and have some good things to eat at the top.”
Rock climbing, river rafting, hospital visits, providing Bibles for people, social events, and DVD evenings with the emphasis on mountain activities and adventures are all on the CHN agenda. Away from Cape Town hikes this year include trips to the Drakensberg, Fish River, Wild Coast, Golden Gate, Tsitsikamma and a return visit to the Baviaanskloof, while Israel is also a possibility on the 2018 calendar.
And our own Baviaanskloof trip? Well, we first drove the 600km up from Cape Town to Willowmore in the Karoo. Willowmore is where you enter the Baviaanskloof from the west and it extends 170km to Patensie at the head of the Gamtoos River Valley in the usually far more verdant east, although right now it is very dry. Basically, you can almost divide the Baviaanskloof into two halves — dotted farms and massive, folded cliffs of red sandstone in the drier west, and wild, and absolutely untouched reserve in the east with many kloofs, dramatic mountain passes and deep valleys. Dense vegetation covers the steep mountain-sides where, in all probability no human being has ever ventured. The gravel road is fairly good in the west, but in the east it is much rougher, just a track in places, and a 4×4 is recommended. To drive the 170km takes around six hours, and there is no petrol available on the way.
TV Bulpin, who wrote so much for so long about South Africa’s natural treasures, years ago described the rugged beauty of the Baviaanskloof with its rich wildlife as containing some of the finest and most unspoilt scenery in South Africa (and it is still totally unspoilt):
“Any traveller venturing through the region will have lasting memories of the journey. In summer the air is sweet with the smell of acacia blossoms. Plumbagos are in flower, as well as agapanthus, red-hot pokers, oleanders, and some proteas, although their season is really winter. Wild fig trees, pelargoniums and a mass of greenery grow in vividly red soil. Birds chatter and call. The air is warm. Crystal-clear streams tumble down the slopes in cascades and waterfalls. Guinea-fowl call, baboons bark, an occasional puff-adder slithers across the road, tortoises large and small abound; this is their primeval sort of country, and fish glide silently in the pools and there is stillness and solitude.”
Lovely words, sir!
We were unable to explore the extreme east because of time constraints but we went on daily hikes returning each evening to our delightful accommodation in a very comfortable hikers’ house at gorgeous Cedar Falls. Last September was the driest in 20 years but we still came across abundant water in the narrow kloofs, including on the Cedar Falls Leopard Trail which is a real hiking treasure. It’s an out and back day hike from the Cedar Falls base camp, following clear flowing streams and cutting deep inside the most beautiful kloofs. At two points you need to swim a few metres to get through a narrow gorge and to a splendid waterfall.
At Bokloof on the Waterkloof hiking trail the group was expertly led up and along a narrow, enchanting ravine stocked with water lilies and ferns, by an excellent guide going by the name of Skollie. Skollie never missed a beat. And what is different about this tour guide, is that Skollie is a dog the pride of Bokloof owner Anina Bezuidenhout.
Talking of tour guides, Patrick Ruiters on the farm Sewefontein entertained us with his own life story in the region as he walked us through a wild fig tree forest on the farm, and showed us one of the seven natural springs on the property; this particularly spring is 110m deep and has been providing sweet, delicious drinking water in abundance for over 100 years.
We also visited Uitspan, a beautifully appointed farm with a range of spotless accommodation, including camping. There is a delightful 7km circular hike on the farm, tough going though. The path climbs steeply onto a plateau and then descends into the kloof by a 30m rock face, hikers aided on their way down by a wire rope with loops along it. And then there was Rietfontein, a guest farm where you can sleep in a cave and hike up to high ground and then descend via a rocky river bed.
The wonder of God’s creation
All in all our adventure was an extremely rich one. The Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve administered by Eastern Cape Parks and enjoying World Heritage Site status is a wonder of God’s creation. I like what Andrew Unsworth wrote in his diary in the book South Africa A Wayward Guide, which he co-authored: Almost forbiddingly beautiful, Baviaanskloof etches itself indelibly on the memory. This is the type of place that could have inspired a Bunyan, a Wordsworth (there’s ‘Wm’ cropping up again!) or even a Mozart to write a tale or symphony of spiritual discovery.
Add in a trip there by the Christian Hiking Network and, yes, like with Wordsworth, it could well contribute to a life of unclouded happiness for you and I in God’s wonderful world. Hiking gets you fit and with this group there is spiritual upliftment too. Habakkuk 3:19 is particularly apt for the hiker — both literally, while actually hiking, and figuratively, in our walk through life with our Lord: The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights. And so too Psalm 18:38: You strengthen my stride beneath me: and my ankles do not slip. Lovely.
Find out more about the Christian Hiking Network by contacting Allan Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org