When a section of a popular walking trail was re-routed, the old track was left for nature to re-claim and for me to discover. So as with the story of Briar Rose, whilst the protagonist makes his way through the tangle of bush and branch a hidden beauty lays waiting to be uncovered.
Along the length of the Heysen trail signs indicate re-routes to the track, some are temporary due to maintenance requirements or erosion control, but others become permanent offering an improved experience, easier conditions or as a result of negotiations with landholders. When a permanent re-route is established the old route is handed back to nature who will in time reclaim it by toppling trail markers, swallowing paths, and growing into the spaces where people walked.
A handful of years ago I came to a marker indicating a re-route and at the time, and indeed every time since, I have wondered what it would be like to walk the old track, where would it lead, what would I see along its way? It was time to scratch the itch.
Friends and I camped the night close by under a temperamental sky and whilst the wind played with the fire we cooked, ate and swapped stories. Gradually we became quieter, swayed by the flames hypnotic dance, then quietly we slipped into swags under a veiled moon. I had a fitful sleep being irregularly stirred by the rain’s pitter-patter on the canvas. Throughout the wind remained brisk.
We were swift in the morning with preparations and soon on our way. The season and mood was spring and things felt animated. The many petite native blossoms looked cheery under a blue sky light, water droplets from the night’s rain like little lenses reflected that light and like decorations adorned the bush. Our steps were light and easy. But finding the start of the old track wasn’t. The entrance had long since been covered up and the signs removed. We ventured in here and there, clambering over and crawling under but each time retreating. Then with an intuitive step through a face-full of leaves we found the trail.
Once beyond the obscuring bushes the pathway became clearer, not only in a physical way but also in the sense that if you were going to have a pathway through this country it felt that this is where it would be. The celebration was short lived though as once again the way became hidden under bush and we were back to trying this way and that, loosing then finding, perplexed then certain. Along the way we received validations from the faded pink strips of ticker-tape knotted to branches, old way-finding markers for some past orienteering event. Our ultimate confirmations were the occasional official trail marker slumped with age and neglect, though still providing a service. Overall our process of path-finding felt uncanny, meaning, despite natures continued obfuscation our collective guesses at which way were on the whole accurate.
I have heard it said before that many paths are made by the ones walking and less by design, that is people will make their own route that gets them efficiently to where they want to go. In many places foot trodden tangents, intuitively etched into the land depart from the provided pathway. The path we were on was perhaps made following some internal rules of path making and our repeated navigation to it was following similar rules.
Eventually we came out below the tree line and our first destination came into view. Between us and it lay a broad and deep thicket of Acacia Paradoxa, (a tough, thorny bush that scratches walkers as they clumsily brush past it) brush past that and we were at the cove. The maps note no name so I shall name it Abandoned Cove, because it was, at least by people. Unlike Briar Rose this cove was not as beautiful but its quality of peaceful isolation was just as endearing
The rain fell as we arrived so we took shelter in an slanting overhang of rock and watched the mist thicken increasing the sense of isolation. Once upon a time this cove would have been paused at by others, it would have been a place to eat, to shelter from rain or sun, to watch the sea lap or beat over the cove’s mouthful of rounded grey rocks. I liked knowing that this place was no longer on the beaten track, that we were likely the first and last for some time. It was our secret and that of the birds that swooped in the wake of the passing shower and the following sun.
A steep, slippery ascent took us out and away from the cove and over the headland to the next outlet to the sea along the rugged coastline. Occasionally looking back to the west I could see the curving banks of steep hill and cliff and I wondered, as with this abandoned track, if it was possible to make a passage over them too, possible even to reach them through what would undoubtedly be dense, scratchy scrub similar to what we had just negotiated. There would surely be other secrets to uncover, places visited only by the elements and birds. I realise now that the experience of landscape is endlessly unfolding, that there is always more, discovery is unlimited if you are curious to search.
In terms of our days walk we had only walked a quarter of the overall distance, though spent close to half of our time. It was a good trade. The remainder of the walk took us first over green headland to a trickling creek in the shine of sun but out of the way of wind. We looked over a long length of wave-washed beach then returned, our own heads into the wind, buffeted and in awe. Our way back to the car was via the re-route. I’ve walked it many times and on this occasions paid closer attention to the shape of the hills, the position of rocks, the fall and lay of creeks. I noticed the potential here and there for openings, knowing that if I were to intuit a path it may lead me through thicket and thorn to nature’s sleeping beauty.
Thanks for reading, comments always welcome, Ewan.