Report and photos by Alistair Nixon
[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]
Spioenkop was a battle fought between the British and the Boers on 24 January 1900. The British were trying to relieve the beseiged town of Ladysmith.
Hike organisers; Cathy and Alistair Nixon. (advice courtesy of Margret Kirsten); Hikers: 12; Accommodation: 3 cottages
The reason for the hike was to climb to the historic battlefield at the top of Spioenkop and follow in the footsteps of both British and Boer troops.
Our hosts were Henry, Cindy and Kevin who gave us a warm welcome and helped us sort out the accommodation allocation. We had three self catering cottages which were very comfortable and well equipped.
Day 1: River hike
On the afternoon of our arrival Kevin was our hike leader who took us for a superb 7 km route through neighbouring farmland and riverine forest along the banks of a very healthy looking Tugela river. We spotted a colony of white fronted bee eaters whose nests were in the banks on the opposite side. Their name doesn't adequately describe their magnificent plumage colouring. The pathway is well mantained, and closer to eMseni is where schools often camp and have water sports and challenges. In the evening we had a braai and a convivial gathering of the 12 of us.
1 Make way here are the hikers
2 lush irrigated fields
3 Amy inspecting the Tugela
4 A pause in the shade
5 Bee eater
6 beautiful path
9 Sunset looking towards Amphitheatre
11 Ken and Brian enjoying the braai
Day 2: Spioenkop
Henry, the camp manager (amongst many other talents) was our hike leader up to Spioenkop. We were transported by eMseni to the base of the mountain saving us an additional 3-4 kms hike along the road. The hike follows the route which Berg and Bush bike race and runners use. From here it becomes evident how difficult it was for the British to take the hill from the Boers in 1900. The contour path is well defined and gives magnificent views back towards the Berg. It was tinder dry because the rains had not arrived yet.
The first uphill challenge was the scramble to the top of the easterly of the Twin Peaks. This position gives an excellent view that the Boers would have had when firing onto the main battlefield. Down into the dip between the two peaks is the first monument to the Kings Royal rifles who took the hill from the Boers but were ordered to go back down again. This was a major, unexploited, turning point in the battle. The path then skirts the second peak and allows for a framed photo shoot with a berg backdrop.
The ascent to the battlefield is relatively steep and long. An occasional pause to remember history so close at hand made our hard push for the top seem insignificant compared to the soldiers from 1900 doing the same with bullets and shells whizzing past them. Once on the top the appearance of memorials and graves dotted all over this beautiful but sad mountain top is a stark reminder that this is sacred ground.
Simon Haw, a well respected historian, met us at the carpark where we started our tour. First stop was near the point where the British came up during the night and got the the top at 4am, then past the first casualty's grave, a boer guard taken by surprise.
The most poignant stop was at the long grave where countless British soldiers died in a trench too shallow to protect themselves and so badly positioned that they became easy targets. Their bodies were buried where they lay. Finally onto the relatively new Boer war memorial on the northern side of the hill, a reminder that the Boers too had many deaths.
We then returned to the car park where we were fetched by eMseni transport for which we were very grateful.
Sundowners and a braai finished off a most memorable adventure.
One recommendation. Reverse the order. Do the battle tour first then hike down.
12 Spioenkop route
13 eMseni transport
14 Starting point with Henry. Spioenkop in the background
15 Looking towards Colenso
16 looking down on the Tugela
17 Our first destination Twin Peak behind Brian
18 Aloes making a welcome gate
19 Name of the cycling descent
20 taking a breather
21 Brigitta and an aloe had a chat
22 escaping from Twin Peak enclosure
23 towards second Twin Peak
24 King Royal Rifles monument
25 The point where that British were ordered back down the hill
27 path up to Spioenkop
28 Simon starts his explanation
29 British came up near here at night. Spioenkop dam in the background
30 Dry bushveld
31 One part of the mass grave
32 the remainder of the mass grave
33 Our accommodation