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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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?
“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.
I shall post more about this trail shortly!