The water was piping hot, the pressure strong and the solar lamp worked fine, cheerfully illuminating the little outhouse while outside I knew the bats were flitting and the moon was rising over the rugged bush and farmland through which we had hiked that day.
Having made sure the braai fire was out and dishes were cleaned off and food pegged up so as not to entice unnecessary attention from nocturnal foragers, we trooped in Indian file down the old stone-walled passage, and found our room and beds – which the boys had chosen and arranged after some argument that evening – and were soon asleep.
Medbury Cottage where we were is a restored settler homestead on the Two River Trail (www.tworivertrail.co.za) on the farm Mosslands, the turn-off 18kms outside Grahamstown on the N2 to Port Elizabeth.
Built originally by an early trekboer, Medbury was added onto in the 1820s and changed hands several times before being bought along with the farm it was on at the end of the 1800s, by Henry Eedy Moss. The former transport rider farmed ostriches until the collapse of that industry then turned to citrus using the cottage as a packhouse for his fruit which he began exporting in 1922.
Down the years the focus changed to include dairy and sheep and then the decision was taken by the now fourth generation Moss family to add a bit of tourism so they renovated the historic cottage and included it in their Two River Trail.
The process took two years and the result is a delight for tired hikers. There are four bedrooms, a living room with a fire place and a barn which has been transformed into a dining and kitchen space where the starlings fly in to join you.
We had started our visit the evening before when we arrived at the trail head at Reed Cabins. Situated a short distance off the N2, the cabins are tucked away in a beautiful spot next to a dam and built from reeds harvested from below the dam wall.
My middle boy Nicholas devised a rod with a stick and tackle we had packed and spent some time getting tangled in the waterweed while the others explored and I had a few swigs of my box wine (having forgotten mugs) and got going with supper.
It was pasta that night by solar lamp while a storm gathered, then racing between the bathroom and the cabins as the rain started to fall, then lying in bed listening to the lightning crackle, thinking of the trail ahead.
It was drizzling the next morning but there is a lovely braai and dining table positioned under cover between the two cabins and I built a fire and we ate our cereal and contemplated our options. Having resolved postponing was not on, we divided what we had to carry, packed the rest in the car and set off on the 10km hike to Medbury (you can also stow baggage in a trailer for it to be portaged there by bakkie).
Hats and blockout and water and snacks were most important, I reasoned. Black bags to waterproof our bags would have been good but… there we go. You learn by your mistakes, and what you forget.
And remember. Crisscrossing the Assegaai River in the deep forest, Murkwood as Ben called it, spiders skating on the surface of the pools, euphorbias, yellowwoods, milkwoods and sneezewoods pressed close, old man’s beard and monkey ropes trailing, spoor of buck and bushpig and crunched crab scats of otter, the croak of the Knysna turaco and tok-tok of a woodpecker, the monotonous hammer and anvil gong of the tinker barbet.
The path was well marked but once having emerged tired from a long climb through the forest and with the drizzle starting again we mistook the way and spent some time scouting back and forth across the scree. The joy of finding the trail again and pride at ourselves for having worked it out gave us extra energy and we bounded along for the next kilometre or two.
The grassy ridges inbetween give one a marvellous overview of the forest between and you can see the cliffs sheering down and the cycads clinging to the ledges. Now and then farm fences appear but well-made stiles with steps made out of drums filled with concrete usher one across.
Medbury Cottage far below in a pasture of a green was a beautiful sight. In the garden a pump handle draws sweet water from a borehole, a process which delighted my boys. We drew a kettle-full and made giant mugs of tea and Jude, my youngest son, finished his book sitting on the fence.
Then as the sun set we divided our kudu steak, nicely matured in dad’s rucksack, and braaied it and the primo venison patties from Westville’s which we paired with a half loaf of Sasco’s new Classic Low GI. And I still had some wine left. Now that’s catering!