The Bel Ombre Meadow trail in the heart of the Constantia green belt never disappoints a hiker. No matter the season or the weather, the natural beauty of a forest with its myriad chattering birds, soaring trunks of stone pines or fallen giants criss-crossing the perennial streams is succour for the weary and down-hearted. One cannot enter this place without emerging revived in spirit and revitalised in body.
The start of the trail is indeed a meadow, and presently a purple haze of Paterson’s Curse (native to Australia, but does serve as fodder for animals in hard times) which despite its name is a lot more attractive than plain green grass. Behind this pretty meadow is a wide strip of tall orange flowers (not identified) and then a hillside of forestation, so it was a good start for the 28 hikers setting forth on a beautiful Cape Town morning to wander up the leafy trail to De Hel.
The meadow is about halfway up the green belt comprising the Diep River Trail and it took a while for some of us to get our bearings once we crossed the wooden bridge and climbed the hill to the first road. We wound through a few roads that pass across the trail, admiring the immaculately manicured verges of the mansions of Bel Ombre. Sometimes an older home would be nestled in a thickly treed garden, a little more modest than its neighbours but no less attractive – possibly the original home on a much larger plot before sub-division and densification.
The photograph gives a brief history of De Hel, which is one of the last places where indigenous forest has survived, although the most valuable trees have long gone. Pine trees are currently being logged and hopefully the natural forest will once again take over this conservation area. The track follows the contours deep into the gully below Constantia Nek with lovely views of the upper wine estates and a peek at a couple of the most isolated residences literally built around the trees in an attempt to minimise disturbance of the forest. A large landslip last winter has left an ugly scar at the top of the gully, exposing a huge amount of builders’ rubble and plastic guttering that has no place in a conservation area. One can only imagine it was dumped higher up as there is no road access, and lament the existence of those who have no respect for this earth, something we do often on hikes when we see the litter that blights the trails.
The canopy is too thick to see the birds that called out to us today – Cape white eyes, Klaas’s cuckoo, Sombre greenbuls, Karoo prinias and a Malachite sunbird – but an environment alive with bird and animal life is a healthy environment and their songs were sufficient. We sat on fallen logs to enjoy our coffee and rusks by the side of a babbling brook. The steep sides of De Hel block out the sound of the constant traffic climbing the hill up to Constantia Nek and we could easily forget that we were only a short walk from our cars and suburbia and really were in heaven in De Hel. You should go there.