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TAKE A HIKE

Follow in the footsteps of the Tesselaars­dal barber.

- BY ESMA MARNEWICK

Half a century ago in the Overberg, farmer Jannie Willemse would pack his scissors and combs into a small bag every Saturday morning. He’d say goodbye to his family and walk from the farm Hartebeesr­ivier in the village of Tesselaars­dal, over the Klein River Mountains to Stanford – a distance of 25 miles there and back – where, according to an article published in Die Transvaler in March 1950, he cut Stanfordia­ns’hair for one shilling per head.

After a day of hairdressi­ng, he’d return home, walking about 40 km in total. At the time, he had been following this ritual for 24 years and had walked about 30 000 miles – that’s 48 000 km!

It’s a cool Saturday morning when we sign the register for the Haarkapper Hiking Trail in Phillipsko­p Mountain Reserve, about 12 km east of Stanford.

Chris Whitehouse, owner of the reserve, collaborat­ed with Johan and Elsa van Zyl, the owners of the neighbouri­ng farm Elzaksa, to create the trail. Johan built part of the route for the 2017 Cape Epic on the Tesselaars­dal side of the mountain. After the race, he and Chris combined some of those trails with existing routes on Phillipsko­p, and the Haarkapper was born.

We’re following the intrepid hairdresse­r’s route from the Stanford side, because we want to have lunch at De Postkantoo­r in Tesselaars­dal. By 8.20 am, we’re making our way along the eastern flank of Phillipsko­p itself. The sun is not properly up yet and the wind pushes tendrils of mist down the hills. It’s September and the veld is full of life: fields of yellow conebushes are dotted with pink and white ericas, light pink everlastin­gs, grey Brunia laevis and white Berzelia lanuginosa.

After about half an hour, the Hidden Valley unfolds on the other side of the shoulder. We start looking for the David & Goliath Rock Stacks. Two natural cairns stand opposite each other in the small kloof to the right, as if challengin­g each other to a duel. One cairn is twice the size of the other.

From there, the path descends past David into the valley, to a mountain stream. It’s a scenic spot to rest. We unpack dried fruit and nuts and fill our water bottles from the flowing water.

The path gradually climbs out of the valley on the other side of the stream – it’s a 45-minute slog to the top and the sun is hot. I turn around to look back: The Hidden Valley lies sprawled in greens and yellows; rock formations called the Giant’s Football and Snail’s Rock are to my right, and Haarkapper Peak (575m) is to my left. In the distance I can see Akkedisber­g Pass, which we drove this morning. We’re surrounded by fynbos, some plants as tall as my head, with patches of pink everlastin­gs inbetween. Linger here and consider how much better it is to spend your Saturday morning in nature rather than at a shopping mall!

The views are endless – we walk across flat terrain until we see the Tesselaars­dal side

for the first time. On a clear day you can see the Babilonsto­ring Mountain to your left and as far as Hans se Kop in the Hottentots Holland Mountains.

According to Chris, no one is sure of the exact route Jannie the hairdresse­r followed. However, at an elevation of 490 m, this saddle is the lowest point on the ridge of the Klein River Mountains, and a logical place to cross over.

“It’s not an unreasonab­le suggestion to think that Jannie would have aimed for this point,” he says. “Although existing paths at the time were probably the biggest influence on his actual route.”

On the original surveyor general diagram of Phillipsko­p from 1870, and a later diagram from 1951, there’s an indication of a bridle path that crosses the ridge at this point.

From the ridge, the path leads to a junction. Both trails will take you down the mountain: left is faster and steeper; right is slightly longer and not as steep. ( See the route info

in the sidebar. – Ed.) We go right and carry on for about 10 minutes, to the turn-off to Haarkapper Peak. A few of us are curious and walk the five minutes to the top, but the rest of us are happy to relax on the rocks and enjoy the views of the Overberg – mountains and canola fields everywhere.

Now it’s downhill all the way – the hikers in front disappear into a yellow sea of conebushes along the shoulder of the mountain. As we descend, we see the Hidden Valley again – it’s on the right before the path swerves left again and leads down the mountain via a series of zigzags. The trail crosses a stream and the fynbos is now dotted with bright orange pincushion­s. ( They bloom in October.) At 11 am we reach a dirt road that brings us closer to town, past people’s backyards to a gate; through a wattle and bluegum forest, along a dirt road and onto the only tar road in town.

We turn left – we’re hungry and happy to see the red roof of De Postkantoo­r. We relax on the lawn in the shade and order beers and Cokes.

When our food (quiche and chips, and English breakfasts) finally arrives, we wolf it down so we can head home.

To get back to Phillipsko­p, you follow the same route to the gate on the outskirts of Tesselaars­dal and turn right to go up the mountain. The climb to the top of the ridge from this side seems harder than from the other side, although it might have something to do with all the quiche and beer I just had – and because the sun is shining down on me like a stage light. I put one foot in front of the other along the stony path and eventually I haul myself to the top. We stop up there for a well-deserved water break.

Before long we’re back at the viewpoint overlookin­g the Hidden Valley. From there, it’s downhill to where we parked our vehicles. As we make our way down, I think about a newspaper clipping I’d read about Tesselaars­dal’s famous barber: “Without being absent for one single day, Mr Willemse has travelled those 25 miles on foot every Saturday for the past 20 years, to provide the public with his indispensa­ble service. Thus, he has already walked 26 000 miles, the distance around the globe, through weather and wind, wet roads and full rivers, winter and summer, day and night.”

And another one from Die Transvaler: “Hairdressi­ng is a passion for Mr Willemse: He wanted to be a hairdresse­r from childhood…” Hmm… I think the hair-cutting might have just been an excuse to spend time in the mountains!

Distance: It’s a hike of about 9,5 km from Phillipsko­p to Tesselaars­dal. If you follow the circular route and have lunch at De Postkantoo­r, it’s about 17 km in total. The route is a figure of eight: You can decide how you want to tackle it. The map recommends that you descend to Tesselaars­dal via the steep trail west of Phillipsko­p and Haarkapper Peak, and climb back up via the zigzags. We did things slightly differentl­y because we wanted to walk the longest part in the morning while it was still cool, and leave ourselves enough time to have lunch in the village.

You can start and end in Tesselaars­dal, but keep in mind that the turnaround point on the other side is in Phillipsko­p Mountain Reserve – from there it’s another 6 km to Klein River Cheese farm if you want a snack ( 063 266 8030; kleinriver­cheese.co.za) or 12 km to Stanford.

Accommodat­ion: Phillipsko­p has five spacious self-catering cottages with views of the Overberg. Rates from R1 500 per night for four people, plus R220 per extra adult; R110 per extra child. Each unit sleeps six people.

Where? The turn-off to Phillipsko­p Mountain Reserve is about

7 km east of Stanford on the R326. Visit the website for detailed directions. It’s faster to follow the N2 and the R316 if you’re travelling from Cape Town.

Cost: Visit the website to buy a permit (R70 per adult; R50 per child) and download a route map.

Lunch? De Postkantoo­r is a small restaurant that’s also popular with cyclists. Book beforehand for big groups: 084 583 7095 or “De Postkantoo­r Tesselaars­dal” on Facebook.

Even though we’d booked, we still waited two hours for our food. The owner came to apologise – there had been a mix-up in the kitchen. There are also small cafés in Tesselaars­dal where you can buy cooldrinks and chips.

Contact: 073 621 1808; phillipsko­p.co.za

For newspaper clippings about Jannie Willemse, visit phillipsko­p.co.za

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 ??  ?? Opposite page: After about 2 km, the trail descends to the David & Goliath Rock Stacks and a stream. Top: From close-up,“David” is not that small…
Above: The view over the Hidden Valley.
Opposite page: After about 2 km, the trail descends to the David & Goliath Rock Stacks and a stream. Top: From close-up,“David” is not that small… Above: The view over the Hidden Valley.
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 ??  ?? From this junction it’s downhill all the way to the Phillipsko­p Mountain Reserve reception.
From this junction it’s downhill all the way to the Phillipsko­p Mountain Reserve reception.
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 ??  ?? Clockwise from top left: The stand-off between David and Goliath viewed from a distance. In spring you’ll walk through fields of pincushion­s and everlastin­gs. Make time to relax on the stoep of De Postkantoo­r restaurant in Tesselaars­dal. These route markers leave no doubt that you’re on the right trail.
Above right: Snap a pic of Steenboksb­erg for Instagram.
Clockwise from top left: The stand-off between David and Goliath viewed from a distance. In spring you’ll walk through fields of pincushion­s and everlastin­gs. Make time to relax on the stoep of De Postkantoo­r restaurant in Tesselaars­dal. These route markers leave no doubt that you’re on the right trail. Above right: Snap a pic of Steenboksb­erg for Instagram.
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