Monday, January 24, 2011

In the footsteps of the French fortkeeper

High above one of the most scenic drives in the world is a secret path, made by the wind and the rain and the long-ago footsteps of forgotten people.
            Chapman’s Peak Drive’s hidden but most beautiful twin threads in and out of cool, shady ravines, hugging the mountain over cliffs and through fields of everlastings and watsonias.
            Whenever I walk up here on the contour path, I often think of my imaginary Frenchman. He would have been the fortkeeper of the Eastern Fort, where we start the walk just after Chapman’s Peak drive leaves Hout Bay. He was probably there alone, with only the smoke of a far-away fire on the other side of the Hout Bay beach for company. I fondly call him Monsieur Chap (pronounced shhap, you know, like the French). I imagine he was a member of the French regiment who built the fort in 1792, but stayed behind to look after it. Naturally because he loved the mountain so much.
One of Monsieur Chap’s most important jobs would have been to walk up the mountain to go and fetch water from the stream that always runs down Blackburn Ravine. This would not be a chore, but an event much looked forward to, I’m sure. Next to the stream he would sit, like us, drinking some tea in the shade as the water splashed the small ferns and big flat stone next to the path.
            This Sunday I again imagined Monsieur Chap as the southeaster howled around us. He would have weaved his way through the proteas and I’m sure he would also have stopped to look at a sugarbird flapping with its long tail above a yellow pincushion and would have said out loud: Il est magnifique!
Then, back at the fort, he would take out his quill and his ink pot and write to his beloved Madeleine, who probably lived alone in a farmhouse in the rural district of Gers: “Dear Madeleine, I wish you could see this place, it is the most beautiful in all the world. The wind chases foam like small white horses all over the bay in front of me. Behind me the mountain pulls the earth up into the sky to fill it completely. Oh Madeleine, if only I could send you a painting.” This was, of course, in the days before Facebook, when Monsieur Chap could simply have uploaded a pic on his cellphone. Ah well.
More than two centuries later, we walked in his footsteps and the world immediately around us had not changed much at all. The southeaster still created a green wave of fynbos that danced to the wind. The sugarbird still flapped his tail above the pincushions and the mountain…well, it still fills the sky completely.
This Sunday we had an important mission. We had to introduce someone new to this beautiful place. Someone who had never seen it before and didn’t even know it existed. Okay, she is only three months old and this was Freya’s first time on Chapman’s Peak, heroically carried all the way in her kangaroo pouch by her mother Martine.  Freya fell asleep as soon as we started walking and opened her eyes at Monsieur Chap’s stream, as if to agree, magnifique! then promptly fell asleep again.
When it was lunchtime under the summer-dry waterfall halfway to the peak of Chapman’s Peak, Freya’s dad Heine showed her what the mountain looks like up-close and she clearly took it all in.
From Chapman's Peak's secret path you can see a million miles out to sea and the Sentinel looks as if it may slide into the water while holding its pointy head up high.It's one of my favourite walks and maybe one day it will be one of Freya's.

1 comment:

Ross Suter said...

Yes Judy, it is a lovely part of the Peninsula's mountains and the views are outstanding! I too love the countour path that links Blackburn Ravine and the saddle Between Noordhoek and Chapman's Peaks! Thanks for sharing your interpretation of this fine hike and area! I look forward to reading more of your blogs .. and am as of today one of your 'followers'!