They said it would rain. It’s happened before. Despite heavy cloud cover directly along the ridge of the Table Mountain chain, and particularly across Silvermine Nature Reserve where today’s hike was scheduled, the surrounding skies remained fairly clear and we dared to be optimistic about keeping dry as we descended into the valley. Our refusal to believe the weather forecast bore fruit, and an occasional break in the clouds forced us to shed our rain gear. Bright patches of sunlight reminded us that autumn brings sudden contrasts and layers of clothing to be donned or shed at a moment’s notice are obligatory in Cape Town.
With the northwesterly wind on our backs, we made our way along the jeep track from the east side of Silvermine, not veering off to the left after crossing the non-flowing stream above the waterfall as we normally do when climbing the hills to Bertie’s Balcony, but continuing along the contours as this was a downhill hike with our destination the Sunbird Educentre far below near Dassenberg. Not for the purposes of education, mind you, but just because half of the cars were parked there so we didn’t have to undertake the considerable climb of a return journey.
The autumn fynbos is starting to put in its appearance, and the path was liberally lined with gorgeous pink and white gladiolus, the last of the scarlet tritoniopsis and scattered shrubs of wine-red erica, so named because of its deep burgundy hue. As we descended further into the valley, we were engulfed by thickets of invasive Port Jackson, some bearing evidence of clearing but in general an almost impossible task to eradicate, judging simply by the impenetrable growth on either side. Many people could be employed in this endeavour, and it should be considered an absolutely essential work programme if we are to preserve the area as a true nature reserve.
We stopped under the shade (yes, the sun was out) of an old oak tree that had escaped the raging wildfire many years before, but the huge blackened stump of its less fortunate companion remains to remind us of the fragility of the ecosystem. The ruins of the powder store from the time when men laboured in vain underground in search of silver are probably from the same era as the tree, planted by those who thought to stay awhile on the banks of this stream meandering down the valley to discharge into the waters of False Bay. A few attempts were made to farm vegetables in the area, but the fertile and level ground at the foot of Chapman’s Peak proved superior and is still farmed extensively in places. Way back in the mid-20th century, truckloads of crayfish bodies were transported from Hout Bay fish factories and dug into the ground – some of the finest fertiliser available. I know, it seems unbelievable.
We concluded our walk with no sign of rain overhead, but a good wind and billowing clouds looked promising for later in the day. Still waiting.