Not many people know much about Hogsback, or where it is, for that matter, which perhaps is just as well given that its charm is something one might want to protect, and because the very essence of Hogsback is its almost otherworldly silence, where it lies high up in the Amatola Mountains, surrounded by centuries old indigenous forest.
All I knew about Hogsback, as we wound our way up the steep mountain roads covered in fine mist and rain at the beginning of December, was that I had read and heard enough to want to visit, and that we were probably in for a far colder week than my suitcase full of summer clothes was going to allow – despite our kind landlady’s good intentions at having emailed us to say that summer had eventually arrived in the village!
Hogsback receives its name from the three ridges, known as ‘three hogs’, that dominate the area and lie on the edge of the beautiful Tyume Valley. From different parts of Hogsback there are panoramic views over this valley and one is constantly aware of being enclosed by the Amatola Mountains.
The place is enshrouded in gorgeous gardens, dripping in rambling roses, indigenous St John’s wort and a mixture of exotics and local plants – everything seems to grow rampantly here, as if on steroids – and the bird life is fantastic. It’s also rumoured that Tolkien spent time here and that the surrounds influenced his writing of Lord of the Rings.
It isn’t hard to believe that faeries dwell in amongst the forests or that hobbits could well trundle out of the woods, their bare feet oblivious to the snow that falls here during most winters. And amenities in Hogsback reflect this play on things otherworldly with names like: The Fairy Realm, Mistyfell fruits and jam, Middle Earth organics, Rivendell campsite, The Ring hardware and bottle store, and the Enchanted Treehouse.
The place is alive with artists, painters, poets, musicians and photographers and community life thrives. As Rudi, from the Hoggest Shop that also has a buzzing little restaurant told us, he could easily get together a gathering of twenty five people for a spontaneous dinner, whilst in Cape Town, where he was formerly based, he wouldn’t have managed that.
Our reverie at entering Hogsback and being swept up in the beauty whilst making our way past a number of quaint wooden handmade and painted signs indicating the various amenities, accommodation and services in Hogsback, was rudely broken by our attempt to descend Winding Lane.
This is one road you need a utility vehicle to navigate! Set off the village, it was where our accommodation lay. A lot of Hogsback’s roads remain untarred and a number had been heavily eroded, despite there being a drought in the area.
But our accommodation in Hogsback, when we finally reached it, more than made up for any difficulty along the roads, and by the time we left Hogsback, we were behaving like seasoned dirt road fundis, despite owning a sedan. Winding Down cottage is a beautiful round house set in the midst of gardens and forest. Its centre is a diningroom with high ceilings in which skylights allow plenty of daylight. Off this beautiful room run a series of bedrooms, bathrooms, lounge and kitchen – each with its own unique shape. It was a lovely space in which to relax.
And we had our share of rain. Of the six days we spent in the beautiful town, three of them were subject to showers. Residents were celebrating at finally receiving much needed rain, and we entered into the spirit of things by setting out the minute there was a lull in the downpour.
Main Road, R345, is entertainment for a whole day and we wended our way through various shops, restaurants and hotels. Feeding off this major tributary, along which the odd truck carrying logs whooshed by, feed other roads with names like Orchard Lane, Nutwoods Drive, Holly Lane, Trewennan Lane and Dinwiddie Lane.
The village is extremely English and one could be forgiven for thinking that one had stumbled onto a different continent for a minute, if it were not for the South African hospitality and the tendency for Hogsback residents to wholeheartedly embrace interaction with those who pass through.
We met some amazing individuals, were able to see and experience some phenomenal attractions, and others off the beaten track. We sampled bread made by the local baker at his home in wood-fired ovens and sold at Nina’s near the Information Centre, we visited the beautiful little church of St Patrick on the Hill, we visited the Madonna and Child Falls, The Fairy Realm, and spent a wonderful lunch time picnicking a the Arboretum.
Best of all, we slowed down, learnt to breathe again and experienced, if only for a week, what it is like to live in tune with oneself and awe-inspiring natural surrounds.
Must Do’s in Hogsback:
The Labyrinth at The Edge
The Eco Shrine
The Fairy Realm (great for kids)
The walk to Madonna and Child Falls
Tea Thyme restaurant at the Edge
St Patrick on the Hill
Starways Pottery and The Rose Theatre
Numerous fantastic hikes, none of which we sampled but are the main reason many people visit the region
Avoid at all cost in Hogsback:
Clay and cement hogs sold on the side of the road (they might look cute, but they break within minutes of purchase)
Winding Lane from Main Road (approach instead from Plaatjieskraal Road).