FERNCLIFFE, PIETERMARITZBURG – 9th AUGUST
Leader: Selven Nyker
Photo report: Rod Hart additional pics courtesy Rose Dix (CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE)
I don't know what photoshop magic she worked but Rose managed to get a group photo with all of us in, well done Rose! Leader Selven (in center of photo) has been hiking the Ferncliffe trails for around 35yrs and is very familiar with the area and knows what to look out for. Before starting off Selven filled us in with a bit of the history of Ferncliffe and of Jesses Smith, the stone mason, who came out from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, England, (in 1850) walked from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and set up business quarrying stone at Ferncliffe. Jesse Smith built a cottage at Ferncliffe and lived there until he sold the property to the Mason family (1987), subsequently the property was acquired by the municipality and is today maintained by the Parks department of the Msunduzi municipality. I have attached, for interest, some archival facts about Jesse Smith at the end of this report.
Despite the state of disrepair of one of the stone outbuildings (pic 1 in following set) Ferncliffe is very well maintained and the cottage on the site is in excellent condition - would need verification as to which of the buildings is Jesse Smith's original 1860's cottage but I assume it to be the main cottage which is a short stroll from the car park... and off we went to investigate it (2nd pic). Photos show the front entrance and the verandha mirrored in the reflection off the glass panes in the front door (pics 3 & 4) and a group shot taken looking down from the cottage verandah. Carrying investigation a step further I have, for those interested, a pic of the crawl space under the house - note the heavy stone pillars supporting the raised flooring. Final pics in this set show the back of the house and then a pic of our group descending the flagstone path, which, being over a century old, must be steeped in history - imagine the different Pietermaritzburg that existed when those stones were laid.
At the carpark is a map giving the trails and points of interest in the area - the section copied in the pic below shows the area we covered - going first down Warwick Road then branching to the left to pick up the trail to Boulder Dam, from there up to Breakfast Rock then along the route to Bat Cave and taking the trail towards the Workings we branched off onto the Lemonwood trail which leads back down onto the Ferncliffe access road
At some time past 09:00am when we started climbing from the Warick Road route back up towards Boulder Dam the ground was sodden and the going slippery, as the first photo in the set below shows hikers had to put their backs into the uphill haul. And of course when you slip just everyone turns and smiles(...and Rose has camera ready to record the muddy patch)! In the same area that the slipping and sliding was going on I found a fern leaf that, to me, conjured up the image of a flock of birds symettrically flapping their wings in take off - I tried to capture it in a photo. Another find was a cast off Bugweed leaf in a shadowed area covered in water droplets catching the light now coming through. Note two points about this is that firstly Ferncliffe is a mistbelt forest area and secondly the area in now degraded through alien plant invasion.
And so onto Boulder Dam where we had a quick refreshment break. Note the tree on the left in the first pic of the set below, the second pic shows a closeup of its trunk having a root growing out midway up the stem and hugging itself - from the pic it looks like some giant reptile has launched out of the dam and is clinging to the tree - definitely not the place for a night hike! From the third pic no prize for guessing where the name Boulder Dam comes from.
Selven points out a strangler fig which has attached itself to a tree and which will use the tree as a backbone, eventually to overwhelm it - to add to the host tree's problem Selven points out a Wild Ginger plant which has grown in a crook in the trees stem, shows just how prolific alien plants are at spreading. A short distance further single leafed plants cling to the rockface, in the pic of one of these single leafed plants you can detect the fine root system radiating out from the plant latching it to the rock. Further along the track out of the wet area brambles produce an appertising looking berry, and then a birdnest which well is just amazing that a bird can build such an intricate nest out of twigs.
Growing, growing, growed... Rose names her center pic of this flower sequence a "Scadoxus" so I will trust her on this one, I have added the pics on either side and I think they are the same plants at different stages of growth. Not sure if the next tree pic is another strangler fig but the pic shows the crossmeshing root system of a tree that has latched onto a host and is not letting go! And so onward now to Breakfast Rock, clambering over fallen trees and , rock-rabbiting up rock gulleys to the top and a welcome midmorning refreshment break looking over a (somewhat hazy) view of town, Greys Hospital in the near distance. Note the stone bench that has been built on top of Breakfast Rock and certainly fits in well with the environment and adds to the occasion by providing something on which to sit back and rest. Close by is a rock reminder of the manner in which rocks were split in the "old days" showing the remains of drilled holes in which chisels would have been placed. Refreshments and break finished we set off back down the rock gully.
First photo stop was for a little "Fairy umbrella" (minus the fairy), not recommended to add this mushroom to the salad for colour. Crystal clear water droplets on a leaf - strangely enough I think it was also a Bugweed, must be something about the furry texture of the underneath of the Bugweed leaf that keeps the water from draining off. The photo of the log "bridge" makes the point that the Ferncliffe trails are overall well maintained, unlike the Bisley Valley trails, same municipality - make one wonder why one and not the other? Bat Cave is, for environmental reasons secured with a gate which while keeping inquisitive humans out, will enable bats free access. An earlier (Nov 2006) MHC report on this hike by Erica Adie mentions the hikers encountering two researchers emerging from the cave and the researchers were only too pleased to spend time with them explained the peculiarities of the bats that inhabited the cave (refer Ferncliff Report by Erica Adie). My pic is taken at the entrance (as far as I could reach in with my camera!) looking inside the cave. Selven pointed out to us that you could identify the Lemonwood tree by the unique pattern of whorls etched into the stem under the bark, as shown in the first bark pic below (in this pic the Bat Cave gate can be seen in the left of the pic). Further down the track I came across a Lemonwood with even more whorls visable
Whilst on the Lemonwood trail some interest was shown in a patch of rather stragley looking flowers, I never did catch what the interest was but while honing in for a photo of one of the flowers managed to get a pic of a bee going about her business of gathering nectar (...from the somewhat wornout flower) sorry though that the bee was too otherwise occupied to pose so all I got was the bee beehind! In the next pic of what looks like Selven discussing a very serious issue was in fact, if I caught the drift correctly, him discussing the art of making curry - a source of great knowledge is our Selven and a thorough gentleman too.
The next series of pics fall into my own random interest category - the first of what I think might be lianes, which are a category of non self-supporting plants which climb using other plants for support but which do not strangle the support plant, what interested me was the snakelike manner in which it winds around and "grips" the support. Second pic takes some looking to work out but note the size of the rock resting against the rotting tree stump and one day there is going to be a rock rolling down the incline - when all depends how fast the termites work. Third pic is of a fern that looked like it was spreading its wings to take off! Only two extensions from the stem but with the widest "wingspan" I have seen. In the next pic the light was catching this whispery little seed in such a way that it looked like a miniture firework display or a very miniturised fibre optic lamp - the forest floor holds many small attractions.
Last pic before we headed downwards back towards the Fefncliffe access road is of the view looking toward Worlds View framed on the right by a Cabbage tree. On reaching the car park we spotted two, what I am told were Yellow Billed Kites, flying high above us and I was lucky to get this albeit fuzzy shot of them. Final grateful thanks from all to Selven for an interesting hike.
For interest: info on Jesse Smith
Died: 1900 11 09
A stonemason from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, England Smith was employed 'on several important works at Home' (Times of Natal 12 Nov 1900) before leaving for South Africa with his wife Agnes and one Julia, the agent for the emigration being John Moreland. Smith arrived in Port Natal (Durban) with his young family on 9 May 1850 on the barque 'Lady Bruce'. According to the obituary in the Times of Natal he was assured by Dr Sutherland, the Surveyor-General, that there was no workable stone within a long distance of Pietermaritzburg (perhaps this should have read Durban?) but Smith found freestone in the Town Bush area of Pietermaritzburg. The obituary in the Natal Witness (Nov 12, 1900) stated that on Smith's arrival in Natal he found little work for a stonemason to do so he 'wandered up country ... and erected a few mills, among them the old mills at Karkloof and Mooi River.' A family account states Smith walked from Port Natal to Pietermaritzburg, where he settled at 1 Boom Street. A few years later he built a stone cottage, Ferncliffe Cottage, in the hills behind Pietermaritzburg known as the Hogsback. A map drawn up by Captain GB FitzHenry (7th hussars) in 1897 shows 'Smith's Quarry', situated on good beds of sandstone. Smith apparently lived in the cottage until 1887. He stayed at one time at 25 Loop Street on the corner of Chapel Street, his yard being the same road from at least 1874, on the corner of Commercial Road and Loop Street (now demolished). He was in considerable demand and provided stone for the original Grey's Hospital building, St Peter's Cathedral, the Wesleyan Church, the Supreme Court building (later the Tatham Art Gallery) and Fort Napier, among other buildings. His funerary monuments abound. Smith sold the Ferncliffe property to the Mason family in 1887. By 1898 he had branches of his business in Pietermaritzburg, Durban and Johannesburg. For the last 15 year of his life he was not active, having crushed one of his feet in an accident. His business was continued by his sons William Alfred Smith in Pietermaritzburg and Frederick Jesse D Smith in Durban. One of the best known of the firm's probable designs being the Baynes Mausoleum at Baynesfield, executed in about 1922.
Smith is buried in the Wesleyan section of the Commercial Street cemetery in Pietermaritzburg, his memorial is of red marble, and the tallest monument in the cemetery.