Travelogue Eastern Cape 1: Hogsback

HOGSBACK
26-29 Nov 2020

Having last been to Hogsback for a surprise wedding - and having a truly fabulous weekend! - we jumped at the chance for a revisit with the then-bride and groom, Tim and Wendy, this time to participate in The Hobbit Trail run race. It was supposed to be in April but with 2020 doing what 2020 did, had been postponed to the last weekend in November, which magically coincided with the happy couple's 4 year wedding anniversary! 

With much excitement, we headed to OR Tambo Airport and found it to be tumbleweeds compared to its usual bustle. With a life-saving Wimpy on board (it had been a mad breakfastless panic to finish off last bits of work in the morning and Covid measures meant no catering in the air) we were ready for our next adventure.

Landing in East London, Chris secured our chariot and we were soon racing off in our Toyota Corolla, blazing trails into the mountains that would be our home for the weekend.

On Tim and Wendy's endorsement (they had stated there before) we had booked Bredon Cottage, on the Applegarth Estate. Cosy and homely, our accommodation was equal parts immaculate and welcoming. Our lovely hosts had left a bottle of red wine for our arrival and put chocolates on the pillows. We were just short a holiday dog or two to complete the picture.

Being Tim and Wendy's anniversary, it was a shoe-in to have dinner at The Edge, where they had been married. And their wedded bliss was perfectly paired with our dinner bliss over the oxtail-stuffed spuds and magnificent impala shank. 

With a fridge full of champers (from our 'grocery' shop en route) and a fireplace beckoning from our lounge, we eagerly made our way back to our cottage to enjoy our first evening in front of the fireplace, entertaining ourselves with the generous selection of retro CDs in our host's collection.

Late November and mid-summer or not, we woke to a chilly morning, with the mist rolling lazily through the valley view from our terrace. Warm enough in the sunny spots, we basked and admired the panorama as the morning became the midday.

The only thing we'd scheduled to achieve on Friday, being pre-raceday, was to take a walk to find The Big Tree, which had eluded Tim and Wendy on their previous trips. Consulting a map, it seemed an easy ask with a trail that led from Hogsback's main road (which was the dirt road at the end of our driveway).

Wanting to preserve our legs, we drove to the start of the trail and then followed the existing signage to our destination. It was a taste of what lay ahead for us as the trail was a bit muddy from the cold and wet weather and we did a fair amount of slip-sliding along the path to get to the 800 year old, 36m high tree.

Feeling we'd achieved enough for one day, we returned to our cottage to relax for a while until heading out for the evening market at The Edge.

Being cool but clear, we went out early, with time to do the twists and turns of the Labyrinth and then stare out into the sunset at the edge of the edge with the breaktaking mountains and valleys.

The 'market', it turns out, was 4 trestle tables that sold baked goods, hot chocolate, gluhwein and such, so besides buying some fudge, we were quite commercially safe. And given the opportunity to try The Edge's pizzas, which had been teasing us with the aroma of golden crisping cheese hanging in the air. Perfect carbo-loading for the sweaty Saturday that was to follow.

Tim had signed up for the 38km trail run, which was way beyond our interest or ambition. He was due to start running at 8 so Chris drove him down while Wendy and I were only rousing, with plenty of time for our very-civilised 8am start.
Soon enough though, we were lined up at the start; a very respectably socially-distanced collection of milling athletes rather than the anxious cluster that is normally champing for the gun to go off.

There really was no point in hurrying though. With the slippery course that started winding steeply downhill along the narrow and muddy trail we had taken the day before to get to The Big Tree, along rickety bridges and tip-toeing on mossy stones in trickling streams, and up the mirror-image on the other side... It was a cautious and careful balancing act more than an attempt to set any records.

Breaking out of the canopy of trees on the other side, we were welcomed by what looked like an easy dusty downhill. It didn't last long though and that downhill was matched by a very long and very steep uphill that had us puffing and panting and moving at hiking pace rather than a trail run race. The views were spectacular though and it was easy to see why this underrated race is so appreciated and evangelised by the runners who have completed it.

The last few kilometres were a bit more of a classic trail run experience, with a slightly quicker pace along paths with matted leaves that allowed for better grip and a collection of obstacles in the path that were more of a workout than a life threat.

Arriving at the finish line, we patted ourselves on the back for a job well done, coming in at 75th and 76th, which for us is a great achievement being first-time trail runners. 

The event sponsors, Merrell trail running gear, did a great job of welcoming everyone as they came in, and giving out loads of spot prizes so almost everyone got something. As they said, with formal prize-givings being forbidden under Covid restriction they had had to be a bit more creative and had actually spread the sponsorship more evenly across all the participants. Having little to compare to, the smaller field of runners suited our novice skills better and we would have had a far more pressured experience if we'd had runners pushing to get past on the narrow paths.

Tim came in several hours later, sweaty, sunburnt and caked in mud. The longer trail had included a lot more challenging bits than ours - and Tim had stopped to enjoy a dip in a waterfall pond along the way. The runners in the longer races have to carry backpacks with thermal blankets, windbreakers, food and water and all sorts of other things in case they get injured and need to sustain themselves. I can't imagine I'd have enjoyed having to do more than double the distance AND lugging a backpack!

We made our way home with intentions of refreshing ourselves and then heading out for dinner, but our view was so idyllic and the fireplace beckoning so we stayed home instead, clearing out the last of our supplies and recounting snippets of the epic day we'd had.