A brief Introduction to the Littlewort Trail in the Newlands Forest

A couple of weeks ago, during a hike around the Newlands Forest, we came across waymarkers in the form of short pillars cemented into the ground, bearing letters of the alphabet. We followed the markers down a narrow little path, descending from (I think) J to A, until we reached the main thoroughfare at the Newlands Forestry and Fire Station. There, we found a sign that said that this was the start of the Littlewort Trail.

The start of the Littlewort Trail in the Newlands Forest

The start of the Littlewort Trail in the Newlands Forest

Next time, intrigued, we followed the markers from A until we reached the edge of the pine forest at the marker ‘R’. ‘S’ was nowhere to be seen, though, so we headed back down through the broad paths of the pine forest.

In the Newlands pine forest

In the Newlands pine forest

On another occasion, we found ‘X’, which was right next to a scree slope of large grey and white boulders. So where were S to W? The route seemed to just end at ‘X’, as we couldn’t find ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ anywhere.

Curious, I consulted the internet. There was surprisingly little information, but I did discover that the Littlewort Trail was an educational trail designed to introduce school children – and anyone else who is interested – to the ecology of an afromontane forest, such as found here in Newlands. I’ll quote bits from the WESSA document below.

“A brochure, which explains what you will see on the trail, is now available. Copies for school groups may be obtained from Table Mountain National Park, Westlake (021 701 8692). For tertiary institutions, from the Forest Ranger at Mountain Pleasant (021 689 4441), from the Friends of Newlands Forest or from AMIF (021 686 3964) for special interest groups. Although the brochure acts as a self-guided tour, guides can be arranged through the People & Conservation Officer at 021 689 4441.” (WESSA document)

I thus phoned the Afro-Montane Information Forum (AMIF), and spoke with Pixie Littlewort who was most helpful and enthusiastic. She explained the history of the trail and told me of the difficulties they had in getting it approved, laying it out, protecting it against vandalism (!) and maintaining it. Personally, I’m thrilled that they succeeded, because it’s a great trail! Eventually, I got a copy of the brochure from one of the forest rangers at Mount Pleasant (on the way to Rhodes Memorial), although a few pages are missing, which I still have to sort out.

“The emphasis is on forest nutrition and the role played by the lesser biota of the forest floor i.e. the ferns, lichens, mosses, liverworts and fungi.” (WESSA document)

I think these pretty orange-red ones are called ‘brackets’ rather than mushroms, but I don’t know what species they are.

Brackets growing on fallen and decaying trees

Brackets growing on fallen and decaying trees

“The trail passes through geomorphologically unstable terrain and rocks from the Pakhuis Series, Table Mountain Series, Graafwater Series and the bedrock of Malmesbury Shale. During winter the flash flood streams reach super critical flow resulting in Hydraulic Jumps (standing waves). Evidence of this occurs abundantly along the trail.” (WESSA document)

In the lower section of the river, there is a small pedestrian bridge. It always looked quite sturdy to me, but the heavy rains of two weeks ago appear to have caused a flash flood. It’s likely that some boulders were dislodged by the torrent of water, and that they whacked against the bridge. As a result, two of the support struts are no longer anchored in the river bed.

Damage to the bridge

Damage to the bridge

You can see the severity of the erosion all along the sides of the river bed, which is deeply gouged out. And so many of the trees have their roots exposed and virtually hanging in the air, that its just a matter of time before they topple over. Here you can see the network of exposed roots.

Exposed roots of a pine tree

Exposed roots of a pine tree

The tree in the next photo must have toppled over very recently, because I still remember walking past it and marvelling at the fact that it was clinging so tenaciously on to its perch at the top of the river bank. It’s so sad when they fall like this. The forestry workers had sawn off some of the branches blocking the path, but the rest of the tree was still lying across the stream: I wonder what will happen to it now? Will they leave it there?

A recently toppled tree

A recently toppled tree

If you follow the path further along the stream, you will eventually reach the Stone Bridge. There is a gravel road leading up to here, which is wide enough for forestry vehicles (and fire engines, I guess).

Here you will also find two wooden benches under the trees. The one bench is dedicated to two individuals – Jeanine Carol Thompson (09-05-1962 – 28-04-1993) and Charles Littlewort (17-02-1925 – 28-07-2006). The latter is the late husband of Pixie Littlewort of the Afro-Montane Information Forum (AMIF); they designed and created this lovely educational trail together.

Benches for resting your weary feet

Benches for resting your weary feet

Just below the Stone Bridge is this little artificial waterfall and plunge pool. Children and dogs love to paddle and splash in the water here (the children mainly in summer, but the dogs all year round – one of the benefits of having thick fur!), which probably contributes to the erosion you can see everywhere along the stream.

The Newlands stream just below the stone bridge

The Newlands stream just below the stone bridge

And just above the Stone Bridge, the stream is held back by gabions (wire-mesh cages tightly packed with stones). But even they cannot prevent flash-floods from occurring, and so there was a considerable amount of erosion here when we visted recently.

Gabions reducing erosion

Gabions reducing erosion

“Various tree species dominate the canopy. In the riparian zones Ilex mitis (Cape Holly or Without) and Brabejum stellatifolium (Wild almond) dominate.” (WESSA document)

I think this is an Ilex mitis (Cape Holly or Wit-hout in Afrikaans); it seems to be growing right out of the rocks in the middle of the stream. According to the brochure, it is dying because the soil has been washed away from its feding roots.

Ilex mitis growing on the rocky island

Ilex mitis growing on the rocky island

And I think these are Brabejum stellatifolium (Wild almond) trees. I call them octopus trees, because their long, thick branches seem to emerge from a thick trunk right near the level of the ground, and they intertwine with those of neighbouring trees, creating a dense thicket that allows hardly any sunlight to reach the ground.

Wild almond tree in the dark forest

Wild almond tree in the dark forest

“In the Renosterveld Afro Montane interface, Olinia ventosa (Hard Pear) forms forest pockets giving protection to shade loving species. Higher up growing in heavy clay derived from Malmesbury Shale, Olea macrocarpa (Iron wood) reaches up to 35 meters. These trees are hundreds of years old. No similar climax forest has been reported elsewhere from summer stress areas, so our precious patch may well be unique.” (WESSA document)

This is part of the Renosterveld area, with the brilliant blue sky and the mountain behind it. Beautiful, innit?

Renosterveld section

Renosterveld section

“Along the trail we see sieve deposits brought down by mud slides many thousands of years ago. These sieve deposits are possible sites where Gondwanaland arthropods, extinct elsewhere, could be found.” (WESSA document)

I haven’t found these ‘sieve deposits’ yet. When I do, I’ll post a pic!

So this was just a short introduction to an amazing trail. What surprised me most of all was that the forest changes from one weekend to the next, so it doesn’t become boring to walk through the same area. And there are so many little paths going off here and there, that – even on those days when the parking lot is overflowing with cars, people and dogs – you don’t feel as though you’re surrounded by large, noisy crowds.

A peaceful bench awaits

A peaceful bench awaits

I shall post more about this trail shortly!

12 thoughts on “A brief Introduction to the Littlewort Trail in the Newlands Forest

  1. I recently discovered the Littlewort Trail. Thank you for this article – very interesting and useful. Nice to see someone else loving the forest and documenting their adventures there πŸ™‚

    • Hi Helen – I’m so pleased you popped in on my blog and left a comment! I’ve often visited your own blog, because I admire the fact that you and your friends not only go for regular hikes, but also that you take the time to write about them! πŸ™‚ And it’s always nice to read about other trails. πŸ™‚

      If you want to get hold of the brochure, feel free to use the contact details on my post. If you don’t succeed, let me know, and I can make a copy for you of the document I have. Unfortunately, and frustratingly, it is incomplete – I don’t have a map (I *think* there should be one), and I am missing a couple of pages. But the person at Mount Pleasant who made the copy for me, did not have a complete original document either. I too wish it was available online, because it is very interesting.

  2. Hi again, Helen,

    I left a description of the rest of the route on your post. So you won’t get lost next time. πŸ™‚

    And I saw that you and your friends had also walked the trail on Sunday morning, which is when Richard and I walked it! (see Sunday’s post). πŸ™‚

    So I’m curious: Did you also see the helicopter practising water drops and the Toy Run cavalcade of motorcycles?

  3. Hi Reggie
    Thanks again for the info extra about the trail and your kind words about my blog.
    We were walking on Sunday afternoon so unfortunately missed the morning’s activities. Wow, seeing the helicopter in action must have been thrilling and your shots are great!
    best wishes, Helen

  4. Very interesting detailed description of the natural world. Thank you for liking the posts on my Europe blog. Hopefully they will get more interesting when I actually arrive there this summer. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you, Rosemarie, I’m glad you enjoyed my blog, and thank you for leaving a comment. I look forward to reading more about your planned hike in Europe – good luck with the intense training!

  5. Thank you so much for writing this all up, and I’m very glad you met Pixie! I’ve been on the trail with Pixie and her knowledge is so vast and interesting to hear; I’ve always felt it should be written up and spoken about, and developed but haven’t been able to do it myself. I was looking for beautiful forest pics in Cape Town and came across yours, then went to your page. I loved your pics accompaning the text. Please keep your blog up! Thank you again. πŸ™‚ Claudine

    • Hello Claudine
      Thank you so much for your sweet comment. We never met Pixie – we just spoke on the telephone. We really enjoyed the Littlewort Trail; we haven’t walked in Newlands Forest for a couple of years now, and I keep thinking, we should go back for another look at the trail to see how it has changed, and whether it is in fact still being maintained – and whether the signage has been improved. We found it really difficult to get hold of the information on the walk, which I think is a huge pity; it should be advertised and promoted better, because it’s a marvelous educational trail. You are very fortunate to have walked the trail with Pixie!

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