The Magic of All Possibilities
Words and Pictures Marion Whitehead
“I always knew I could do this,” grinned Patrick Smith impishly, as he fashioned a pegacorn from wire mesh and concrete in his garden studio. “It’s a unicorn with wings.” He’s made so many sculptures of mythical creatures that they’ve populated the large garden he and his wife Suzanna created since they retired to Hogsback. Their wonderland, Camelot Fairy Realm, is now a drawcard in this little mountain village in the Eastern Cape’s Amatola Mountains, and children who visit often are allowed to buy season tickets.
It’s not quite what you’d expect to find a former mining engineer doing, notwithstanding the twinkle in his blue eyes. But Hogsback does that to people: anything seems possible here, whether it’s seeing fairies or materialising dreams of doing something different with your life.
The mystical and magical forests of this enclave north of the university town of Alice and about an hour from East London, have an enchanting effect on people. Some visitors feel unable to leave, others have been happily bewitched for years by this Eastern Cape wonderland, said by some to be JRR Tolkien’s inspiration for his books.
Take Dan Cornick, who has literally been ‘away with the fairies’ for 16 years now. An Englishman who travelled across Africa, his car just fell to pieces when he got to Hogsback and he never left. He took over the local backpackers lodge, aptly named Away with the Fairies, and it’s steeped in Lord of the Rings lore, which reflects his passion for Tolkien’s books. The room I stayed in was called Bilbo’s Rest, and the three-day mountain bike stage race Dan is involved in running is called Lord of the Chain Rings.
A walk through the Hogsback forest is an experience very like Bilbo Baggins’s journey through Middle Earth. Large, gnarled tree trunks reach skywards, draped in lichen and blocking out the light. In the twilight, every moss-covered root looks like a fairy path, every opening in peeling bark a hidey-hole for a family of goblins. As I walked in search of yet another waterfall, each wrong turn in the path felt like the work of mischievous elves. At the Swallowtail Falls, what looked like Thor’s hammer lay discarded on a rock amid churning water.
Hogsback is not so much a village as a random collection of large properties clustered on top of a mountain plateau, which you reach by driving up the Hogsback Pass, a twisting, winding route overhung with tall yellowwoods dripping old man’s beard. There are a couple of shops and a petrol pump that may or may not have fuel, depending on the whim of… goblins? Three inns, an info centre and a number of restaurants are strung out along a bumpy ‘main road’ that labours up to the charming little stone St Patrick’s-on-the-Hill Anglican Church, rebuilt by the community after a devastating fire in 2010.
Morning traffic in the heart of Hogsback hamlet means cows lounging on the village green, chewing the cud, and some avian chatter in the arboretum, where I met bird guide Graham Russell. We took a circular walk, past the famous 39 Steps Waterfall, and the calls of feathered friends grew louder. Graham pointed out a party of Knysna Turacos bouncing about in the canopy, feeding furiously. Shafts of sunlight filtered through the leaves as we searched for endangered Cape Parrots.
After six years on the mountain, he still gets a thrill out of walking in the forest, and managed to tick off a lifer on our walk: a Scaly-throated Honeyguide. He’d heard it many times, but had never seen it in the feather, so to speak. Graham and his wife Michelle overnighted in Hogsback some years ago on a trip to Cape Town and bought a property on impulse after seeing a notice in a restaurant window. He chucked up corporate life and took early retirement to live in this natural wonderland. “People say they don’t have enough money to do something like this, but you can change your lifestyle and live simply,” he said.
I’d met Graham eating bacon and egg at Hogsback’s Saturday morning market in the grounds of Butterfly Bistro. The market is a good introduction to this mountain community of quirky folk. Collected in the shade of a large oak tree were stalls selling edibles such as artisan bread, samoosas, spring rolls, muffins and smoked trout, as well as leatherwork and crystals.
“Put this crystal on your desk at work if you want to change the environment to a more positive one,” Suneya Harvey, the crystal lady, advised a visitor. Intrigued, I visited her home in a beautiful show garden where she has her Crystal Corner and where her husband Ken runs Mirrors Photo Gallery. His slide show of Hogsback through the seasons makes you want to visit again to see the snow – or maybe just stay to see the seasons roll by while you perfect the art of slow living.
Hogsback seems to attract people with a yen for healing. The Chartres-pattern labyrinth in a spectacular setting at The Edge is said to be one of the largest in the world, with a circumference of 91 metres. When I strolled there with owner Peter Colyvas to admire the view, the local Anglican priest, Margaret Fourie, was conducting a laughter workshop: every time participants got to a 180° turn, they laughed uproariously. It was infectious and I found myself chuckling with them.
Even more intriguing was the Eco-Shrine, on a dramatic spot right on the edge of a cliff, with a view of Hogsback’s three hogs, distinctive mountains with rocky crests a bit like the back of wild boars. Artist Diana Graham chose this spot to manifest her ‘science meets art’ installation of sculptures, mosaics and paintings that portray creation and are her fascinating homage to Earth.
Diana told me about an Earth Day Share Faire at Terra-Khaya, where I met owner Shane Eades. The former film set caterer’s horses have never been broken in. They come when he calls them and he rides them bareback and without bridles and bits. Visitors get saddles and halters on outrides, however, and he teaches them about natural horsemanship, which originates from South America.
“The approach just resonated with me. Horses are gentle, loving animals,” says Shane. At his off-the-grid backpackers at Terra-Khaya, horses are never kept in “solitary confinement” (stables). “They’re herd animals and like to be with their family,” explained Shane. “They have a shelter they can go into at night if the weather’s bad and if they want to, otherwise they wander free.”
Back at Away With the Fairies, I treated myself to the most spectacular hot bath in Hogsback. It’s at the bottom of the garden, perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking a forested gorge into which waterfalls plummet. The three hog mountains filled the horizon and turned golden as the sun sank. The hot water worked its soothing magic on my aching muscles and I watched the sky fade from pink to grey and then black. The fairies switched on the stars to twinkle into the valley below, where a village replied with sparkly lights. This is indeed a fine place for a hobbit to come home to.
Source: Country Life