I arrived at hilltop village of Hogsback, South Africa to see if the magic that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s books still existed. Taking a map from the hostel I booked into, I set off in search of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Before heading into the woods, I got chatting to Pat, a local resident who ran 4×4 tours of Hogsback.
“That’s some view,” I said, admiring the sweep of the valley.
“Yea, I never get tired of it. It’s really a special place,” he replied.
Before I could continue, Pat interrupted. “Only thing wrong with the place is the lazy blacks. They’re bad for the country, never do a day’s work and only thieve off the state.”
I hung my head and smiled weakly at his increasingly vicious tirade before making some lame excuse to leave. I walked the next few minutes with his voice ringing in my ears, his caustic comments taunting me. I had to stop and sit down on a grassy ditch at the edge of the valley.
Why had I not responded to him? Why had I not informed him his views were outdated and racist? Why didn’t I repeat one of Mandela’s quotes from his book, such as ‘No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin and if he can be taught to hate, he can be taught to love.’
In the end, I felt I hadn’t been in the country long enough to make such statements. Who am I to judge the white people and their opinions? I had only been in their country three weeks and could hardly lecture them about how to behave. Instead of being judgemental, I chose to listen to what people had to say, as much as I might disagree with their opinions.
Middle Earth of Hogsback
Wandering along the earthen path, I delighted in the nature surrounding me. Ancient tree-roots snaked across moss-encrusted rocks and boulders, like the withered hand of a giant wizard. Along the way, cherry blossoms, rhododendrons, azaleas and lilies grew in abundance. A burst of green ferns, wet with tiny dewdrops, partially obscured the path, while alien-like fungi clung from decaying tree-stumps.
I stopped briefly at the Swallow Tail Falls and then Bridal Veil Falls. The ground was rich with leaves and twigs, snapping with each step. I stumbled over a fallen ivy-choked tree, slowly being reclaimed by the forest floor. I reached the Madonna and Child Falls, tumbling across a succession of rocks into a clear pool at the bottom. It was an idyllic place to rest and enjoy my lunch, accompanied by the gentle gurgling of the waterfall. Nearby, a single, magnificent shaft of sunlight illuminated a spot of forest floor, a leaf-strewn stage being readied for an unseen cast.
It was easy to see why these woods might have inspired Tolkien to imagine a world filled with fantastic creatures. As I ate my cheese sandwiches, I got the feeling I was being watched. It’s something peculiar to woods everywhere, the feeling there is someone, or something, lurking behind a tree, watching you. It would be very easy to imagine Hobbits trampling through the lush greenery, going for a swim in a rock pool or making a home in some earthen mound.
Extract from the book Cape Town to Kruger: Backpacker Adventures in South Africa and Swaziland by John Dwyer
Category: Cape Town to Kruger