Weekend in Stanford – Part 5: The ancient indigenous forest of Platbos is an enchanting place

While I was planning our stay in Stanford, I had read about an ancient indigenous forest on the slopes of the Baviaanspoort Hills, some kilometres south-east of Stanford along the gravel road that leads to Grootbos Nature Reserve. It was called Platbos Forest, and some of its trees were found to be over a thousand years old. Which is pretty old!

Moreover, it seems that this forest has survived against the odds, surviving extensive logging since the early days of the Cape Colony, prolonged droughts, runaway veld fires that devastated surrounding areas, and the steady encroachment of alien vegetation.

The start of the forest trails - with a bell hanging from a branch above the bench

I was delighted to discover that visitors were allowed:

“Come and discover this unique forest biome for your self. The forest trail is enjoyed by tree and bird enthusiasts, and the gentle terrain and sheltering canopy make it a suitable destination for young and old alike. Bring along a picnic or contemplate the peace of Platbos at the forest’s beautiful labyrinth. (Read more about the trail)”

It sounded perfect.

It is advisable to phone ahead before you go. So, after getting directions from the friendly person on the other end of the telephone, that is where we headed on Saturday morning.

We drove south from Stanford, took the gravel road turn-off past Grootbos, and soon made our way up a narrow track to a parking area tucked away amongst the trees. Melissa had told us to pop in at the nearby reception, where we would find a map and an information sheet, so that’s where we went first.

An ancient milkwood tree invites us to linger beneath its sheltering arms

Map and info sheet in hand, we took a moment to decide on our route. There were four loops, with loops 1 and 2 towards the west being the longest trails. As there weren’t any indications of length, distance or terrain on the maps, we chose the shorter loops 3 and 4 towards the east (those took us approximately 1.5 hours).

Besides, I had spotted the word ‘Labyrinth’ on Loop 3, and I was definitely going to explore that!

At the start of all the trails, a metal pipe hung off a branch, with a stick hanging next to it… inviting you to ‘ring the bell‘. So, symbolically saying a respectful Hello to the forest, we did – biiiiinnnngggggg!!!!

And then we followed the route markers into the depths of this enchanting forest.

En route, we stopped at the sacred labyrinth for a while. It was such an unusual and pretty labyrinth, made entirely of mother-of-pearl shells; I tidied it up a little, as some of the shells had been dislodged, and walked into the centre…. and slowly out again…

Ah! The Forest Labyrinth!

There were a couple of places with rustic wooden tables and benches along the way, where you could rest your legs, and have a picnic among these beautiful old trees. So we snacked on some apples we’d brought along. Next time, we’re bringing a proper picnic!

Although we frequently saw the spoor of what might have been a bushbuck, grysbok or common duiker, we did not see any animals. It seemed to have trotted along the path ahead of us. We walked as quietly as we could, but we did not see it.

Many of the trees were draped in Old Man’s Beard (Usnea), a type of lichen; this only grows in clean, unpolluted air – a good sign!

Also, at the start of the trail, there were boards identifying the names of specific trees, which were described in great detail in the information sheet. Ideally, one should take the time to stop next to these trees, to read up about them, and to learn how to recognise them. There is much to learn here. Their website is full of interesting information about the forest and the forest trail.

Winding forest paths caressed by the sunlight

I was intrigued by their Reforestation Project (described here). The idea behind this is that you can sponsor a tree to be planted at Platbos, and, if you wish, you can dedicate this to the memory of someone who passed away, or to the birthday of someone you love, or to a special anniversary, perhaps. It costs R70 to sponsor a tree, and for an additional R45, a beautiful forest greeting card can be sent to the person for whom you are planting the tree (more detail here). I think it would make a most amazing gift – and one that will (hopefully) last for many decades.

And if you have ever heard of or used flower essences, you may be interested to learn that Platbos Forest is the source of the African Tree Essences. Definitely worth exploring!

And now I will leave you to wander these sun-dappled forest paths yourselves… inhale deeply, for the air is crisp and clean… and listen, listen for the sounds of the birds, and the buzzing of the bees, and perhaps, even, the soft tread of a buck on the leaf-carpeted earth.

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To read the next instalment, click on A round trip via De Kelders, Pearly Beach, Baardskeerdersbos and Danger Point.


Here are the links to all the posts in this series, in case you’ve missed any:

  1. Goodbye, busy Cape Town
  2. Hello, serene Stanford
  3. An enchanting little fynbos garden
  4. Wandeling along the Wandelpad
  5. The enchanted forest of Platbos
  6. A round trip via De Kelders, Pearly Beach, Baardskeerdersbos and Danger Point
  7. A waterfall picnic at Salmonsdam Nature Reserve

2 thoughts on “Weekend in Stanford – Part 5: The ancient indigenous forest of Platbos is an enchanting place

    • I’m not sure whether that is what the bell was for – but there was something so special and symbolic about the whole experience, that it really made sense at the time to greet the forest spirits. I think the bell is intended to notify people at reception that there are people who would like to visit the forest, actually, but I prefer my more fanciful explanation. 😉

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