Sunday 28th March 2010
Leader: Max Ramseier
Report & Pics by Rod Hart, with additional pics courtesy Roseanne Dix


As I was relaxing back at home after this hike, soaking my aching knee joints in a steaming hot bath, I noted that my wife had removed my hiking clothes and placed them on the veranda, mumbling about bio-hazardous waste. Well when you hike in a place that is called the "Valley of a Thousand Hills" don't expect an easy flat hike - not that this hike is not enjoyable, just challenging, and it certainly is a great privilege to be able to hike in such countryside and to have such a competent and knowledgeable guide as Max. It is just difficult to get sympathy when you are hiking alongside the likes of Keith Ashton who hikes these days with the aid of crutches. However Margaret was very compassionate and as sweeper made sure that I did not get left behind on the last steep downhill which was where the pain caught up with me (you will note my photo taking stopped shortly after the Inchanga station!).

But I digress, back to the hike, Rose has provided a stunning collage (pic above) of "Happy looking Hikers" emerging from the rocks, thank you Rose for your effort there, some of the pics that follow are also courtesy of Rose, and where they appear I will indicate credit to her. Getting started, Rose captioned her first pic "twenty-two Eager Hikers" that's me (Rod) on the extreme right of the photo. Starting out from the back of Max's garden we stepped out onto the railway line (pics 2 & 3 below of forward facing hikers, courtesy of Rose, my pic (third) shows the view from the back of the pack) and began our hike, our first stop being a short while later where Max (see pic below of Max, with cap and beard) explained some of the history of the line, which was completed in 1880 though officially opened some years later. Max showed us where the original station had been though there is unfortunately nothing left of that now.

After crossing the "old road" (Comrades Route) to Durban we got our first glimpse of the Valley (pic 1, below) but before going down into the valley we walked along the old old road and spotted some of the historic houses along it. First place of interest is the premises "Ravenscoft" a tiled wall panel (pic 2) proclaims that "On a clear day you can see forever". Of interest here is the large iron anchor (pic 3) which reputedly belonged to the HMS Birkenhead which in 1852 sunk off Danger Point after leaving Simonstown, because the Captain was trying to make speed by hugging the coastline - the significance of this tragedy lies in the discipline shown by the troops on board in remaining orderly and obeying, to the man, the order "women and children first" which to this day has become known as the "Birkenhead Drill" immortalised in Rudyard Kipling's words in his ode to the Royal Marines "Soldier an' Sailor too":
To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you've cover to 'and, an' leave an' likin' to shout;
But to stand an' be still to the Birken'ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An' they done it, the Jollies -- 'Er Majesty's Jollies -- soldier an' sailor too!
Their work was done when it 'adn't begun; they was younger nor me an' you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin' in 'eaps an' bein' mopped by the screw,
So they stood an' was still to the Birken'ead drill, soldier an' sailor too

A little farther down the road is a one-half scale model of the first train (pic 4) to operate between Durban Market Square and the Point (at a cost of one shilling and six pence return). My artistic efforts are portrayed in the next pic (pic 5) where I thought the slatted wooden fence made an attractive frame for the little statuette in the garden, moments after I took this pic a child's head appeared in the window of the house and while I would have loved to have reframed the pic to include the child I thought that may have been intruding on the family's privacy - oh these great pics that slip away... One thing we cannot say about Max's new hike is that it is not well signposted - see pic 6 below!

As we turned off the road to now start our descent we climbed first to the top of the hill where Max pointed out the old jail (pics 1 & 2) which had a prime view of the valley, we temporarily incarcerated Keith in the jail (pic 3), only to find that the oddly designed building did not have a back wall to the section Keith was in! Rose meanwhile had discovered a butterfly resting on a stalk of grass, though it unco-operatively closed it's wings when I came it did stay around to have it's photo taken (pic 4). Our next stop (still not having gone down into the valley yet) was at the Valley of Thousand Hills viewpoint along the old road, and view the view we did (pics 5 & 6)!

Now we did start our descent into the valley (pics 1 below), and were grateful (throughout this trip) for the overcast weather, whilst humid (hence the aforementioned bio-hazardous hiking gear I returned home in) we were spared the blazing sun and temperatures of the past few days. A solitary weaver nest hung somewhat forlornly over our path (pic 2). I spotted this interesting cactus like thingy which was sprouting leaves (pic 3) which I thought at the time was quite unique but according to my Google search it seems quite regular for some species and may be an "Euphorbia Ingens" (or similar) . The descent was quite arduous in places with avoiding vines and scratchy things (pic 4), that is Max's grandson, along on his second major hike, in the centre of the pic in front of Margaret. A short stop for water (pic 5) then a more serious break for a snack (pic 6) - note the decorative (yet still very practical) headgear being sported (pic 7)!

Coming out onto the higher area we came onto a dirt road (pics 1,2 & 3 below) into a settled area. Our passage was watched warily by this local hound (pic 4) (a good looking hound too). A little further we passed alongside this dwelling (pics 5 & 6) made, I assume, from sun baked mud bricks, also what I found fascinating was that many of the rough fence poles (pic 7) were growing!

Back into the thicket and while on a drinks break (pics 1 & 2 below), I captured this panoramic shot of the view we had (pic 3). To our left was the route we would take past this mountain of rock rising out of the ground, my pic (pic 4) does not show the whole mountain but zooms in on quite a substantial tree seemingly growing directly out of the rock face and clinging on by its roots. Up we climbed (pic 5), being rewarded at every breather stop by an increasingly elevated view of the valley (pic 6). Towards the top of our climb I photographed this little bundle of delicate flowers, mainly as an excuse for a longer stop.

Keith meanwhile had temporarily discarded his crutches and gone clambering along the cliff face onto a rock ledge to a better vantage point to see the view (pics 1,2,& 3 below). On the way back along the ledge we spotted Max's grandson high above us (pic 4) at what was to be our lunch stop, Rose's pic (pic 5) shows Max and some of the ladies tucking eagerly into lunch. My panorama (pic 6) shows the view from our lunch place. I spotted this Ceratotheca Triloba rather rudely pulling a tongue at us hikers (last pic - thanks Rose for the name & ref.(pg435 Wildflower Book))

Then it was off again and along the road Rose found an interesting caterpillar (pic 1 below) with an imitation pair of "eyes" making him/her/it appear far larger than it really was, I took the pic but was not as keen as Rose was to hold the rather scary looking caterpillar. Change of business plan: "InKhuKhu/Chickens for sale sign (pic 2) along the road over-riding the previous "dog food for sale" sign. And then we were at Inchanga station (pics 3&4) where Umgeni Steam Railways have a train outing from Pietermaritzburg and a general fun atmosphere prevails around the station with various stalls and pony rides, our hiking group is seen lazing in the shade (pic 5). The old station clock permanently shows the time as 12:28 (pic 6). While also lazing about in the shade by the side of the tracks I clicked the accompanying photo (pic 7) of an anonymous child concentrating on walking along the rail.

Off we set back out into the undergrowth (first pic) passing the ruins of a building (second pic) that Max tells us was not an historic building but was relatively modern, having been built by some people doing an agricultural project. Not much opportuntiy for photos as we climbed up through the overgrown path, and with my knees starting to take strain I kept he camera holstered from now on. Thank you Max and family for your hospitality in hosting us and for having pioneered this new and interesting route.