Imagine riding in a different country every day for a week. Danielle Pascoe experienced something similar when she took a trail ride in the diverse terrain of the Western Cape, in South Africa.
Fast canters on empty, white sand beaches, gentle mountain climbs through varied vegetation, leisurely hacks in alpine forests and breathtaking scenery are all part of the riding experience in the Western Cape.
I took the six-day riding trail which starts in Cape Town, and travels east through the Cape. The riding pace varies with the landscapes, and because a few different stables are used throughout the week, the horses and tack style change too.
Trail leader, Carl Schwinges, has spent over 30 years living in Cape Town and has developed this trail ride to showcase all that it has to offer the trail-riding tourist – and it is easy to imagine you are riding in a different country every day!
Kleinmond Lagoon ride
Our first day's trail ride was at Kleinmond on the Atlantic coast, with horses from Manfred and Sue's stables, Klein Paradys (based in Bot River). After a beautiful drive along a coast road around False Bay, we drove along a quiet track, where we found our mounts tacked up and ready to go.
The horses were a mix of breeds, and I was given a little black mare – a Friesian cross – who was a little beauty, especially when it came to standing still for me to take photos!
We meandered along the edge of the Kleinmond Lagoon, a beautiful stretch of sea water surrounded by white sand and tufted grasses in gentle rolling dunes. As the roar of the ocean became louder, we were treated to seeing a pair of Oystercatchers – small black birds with bright red beaks. There's a plethora of wildlife in the Cape and often we rode in the company of egrets and huge herons. Less common are sightings of Sea Eagles, but they are resident and their call evokes a distinct sound of Africa.
We cantered through the last reach of the waves, on the edge of an ocean filled with surf. Ahead of us a smokey blue mountain range appeared like a shadow in a hazy sunshine.
After several hours of riding along the deserted route, we came to a picnic area, where families and dogs were enjoying a leisurely Sunday lunch in the sun – and with horses and all, we joined them! After a huge lunch it was a relief to know we would have plenty of time to relax and digest before mounting up again!
| Vineyard abode
From the beach we left Manfred and Sue to take their horses home while Carl drove us 20km to Beaumont Wine Estate.
Beaumont is a boutique vineyard and has accommodation in two cosy cottages with lovely views, and they are ideal for couples and families.
Unusual beach residents!
We took a slightly different route back on the other side of the lagoon to meet the local beach residents – a herd of wild horses! They were left over from the Anglo-Boer war, and are believed to have been turned free by a Boer farmer so the British couldn't take them. Ever since, the herd has managed to eke out an existence on this sparse terrain – albeit in diminished numbers.
Our next ride took us along forest tracks, and then we climbed gently up into the mountains following the Houwhoek Pass. The ox-wagon trail-pass was one of the first passes built at the end of the 15th Century to access the Hinterland, and the railway track was built next to it. The railway and the pass wind endlessly round the mountain bends. Manfred's timing was perfect and as we heard the daily freight train on its way towards us, we were able to watch it cross a railway bridge, from the safety of a clearing!
Splash of colour
Our lunchtime stop was a real treat at the 19C Houwhoek Inn. Our horses were turned loose in a lovely paddock bordered by pine trees.
After lunch, a refreshing swim in the hotel's pool and a bask in the sun, we were back in the saddle and heading up into the Groenland mountains. The sandstone rocks gave way to outcrops of granite, where King Proteas were about to flower. The small pink flowering Erica, and the orange flower of the pin cushion plant (also a protea) broke the green and granite landscape.
The afternoon's ride was slower over stony tracks, but the views were stunning, and apparently in spring when the flowers are out in abundance, the mountains are awash with colour.
After riding, Carl persuaded our tired group to stop over at the Bot River Hotel for a quick pint. The bar was full of locals, mostly called John! After quenching our thirst, Anna announced that she would see if she could buy a long-sleeved shirt locally, as Carl recommended this for a ride later in the week. Gloria, the bar's manager stopped her: "They won't sell shirts round here, but if you're not fussy, one of these gentlemen will give you their shirt", and she pointed at the row of Johns propping up the bar. To our amazement, John B happily stripped off and handed his shirt over to a stunned Anna. After some protestation, John remained adamant that he could do without it. Anna insisted on a deal so she acquired a long-sleeved shirt for 50 bucks! It brought a whole new meaning to the expression, "the locals are friendly"!
Back at Beaumont we enjoyed a winetasting tour from the young and talented winemaker, Sebastian. His parents, who own the estate, invited us into their beautiful home for dinner.
Sebastian's fiancée Nicky – a trained chef – created a delightful and beautifully presented meal, of pears stuffed with stilton and a remarkably delicious combination of ostrich fillet on sweet potato with a chocolate sauce – all complemented by superb home-grown wines!
From grey, craggy mountains to gentle rolling hills of golden stubby fields, day three and the scenery changed again. My mount was Lucas, a noble, gentle and graceful horse I'd had my eye on from the start – and I was not disappointed as he proved to be forward-going but surefooted and calm.
We criss-crossed a railway line and in no time were cantering up the rolling hills with the mountains behind us. We could have been in southern England on the downs, but for the abundance of cranes and buzzards! We were also lucky to see a family of blue cranes with their impressive cobalt plumage and long tail feathers.
Handbags and onions...
We stopped for lunch at a rustic restaurant called Dassiesfontein, located on the main road from Cape Town to Durban. Dassiesfontein is a lovely but quirky shop and eating house. The bread is made in an old bread oven in the shop before being served at the table, and they sell an eclectic mix of goods from iron stoves to handbags and onions!
Manfred led us back to his base for the last time, as day four would take us to a new set of horses. Manfred's outfit may lack some refinement, but it is quite clear that he loves his horses with a deep passion. The group had gelled very well in the first three days, not least because Manfred was such a fun character to be around, and we were all going to miss him.