Baynesfield 15km Hike, 6th June 2021 - Hike Leader Brian Henwood - Midlands Hiking Club

Report courtesy of Geoff Caruth; Photos courtesy of various hike participants

[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]

As we turned off the Richmond Road to drive the last kilometre to the historic Baynesfield Estate, a Grey Duiker emerged from the roadside plantation and executed a swift U-turn back to the safety of the forest on seeing our car. Another grazed further down the road and with a chilly but clear blue morning sky as backdrop, set the tone for our meeting with Trail Leader Brian Henwood and a hike around this beautiful farmland.

Captain Brian gave us a brief description of the 15 km route and we set off on our day's adventure shortly after 8.30. The farm was named after its founder Joseph Baynes who settled in the area in the 1840's. If ever there was an example of how a successful farm should be structured then the Baynesfield Estate is surely the prime specimen. Everything about this place is immaculate - the roads, the buildings, the fences, the vegetation, the farmlands are a standard for our country's future and all our people to strive for and maintain!

The first section of the walk took us down a tree lined road, neatly spaced on either side like two rows of Grenadier Guards greeting our arrival. We emerged into open mealie lands stripped of their crop with grazing cattle ambling in search of titbits. We came across the carcass of a Grey Duiker that had succumbed to a predator very recently. The chest and stomach area were stripped clean leaving only the head and limbs as the remaining shell of the animal. Most of us "City Folk" feel a sadness and sympathy for such creatures but the reality is that it kept another or others alive in the whole cycle that is nature. There was no spoor to identify the predator but my guess was either a dog/s, jackals or even Caracal! There was much evidence of abundant wildlife on the farm so in general the animals must be well protected.

We crossed the last section of open cropland and entered the riverine forest and trail next to a strongly flowing stream. Again, everything we saw confirmed what a well-run property this is. Neat signage, indicator dye and ring barking on alien trees and significantly, plenty of spoor - small and large antelope, water mongoose, slender mongoose and Bush Pig, their presence indicated by frequent grubs along the pathway. We also had a fleeting glimpse obscured by trees of what were almost certainly three Bushbuck, the only other possibility of that size being Reedbuck, but there was no characteristic alarm whistle so the former was probably the correct entry on the checklist! This time of the year is not the best for identifying trees and species diversity is much lower at this inland altitude but we saw Dovyalis sp. Coddia rudis and a large number of Halleria lucida with their nectar laden yellow to orange flowers strewn on the path at intervals. After approximately an hour and a half's walk Brian led us over a low level bridge, necessitating a removal and carrying of 'tackies,' and brief immersion in icy waters. We stopped briefly for tea and scones on the other side and then headed uphill to the contour road through a wattle plantation, offering beautiful views over the farm and its immaculate infrastructure including orchards, crops and a famous Piggery!! All along the road we checked for spoor with plenty of evidence of wildlife and occasional dog tracks. We descended once again to the farmlands below and crossed a simple timber and cable suspension bridge certified safe to cross by the Trails Resident Engineer and leader Brian! After a further walk back alongside the stream we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the warm sunshine filtering through the trees.

The last stage of the walk took us back into the open cropland section and an amazing sight - a group of 60 plus Crowned Cranes feeding in the remains of the Maize crop. This is the more abundant of our three Crane species but still an uncommon and wonderful twitch! We were unable to access the old farmhouse so took a track back toward our starting point with two other great sightings - a pair of Ground Hornbills, a rare and endangered species and a huge Ficus sp.-most probably natalensis and reputedly 140 years old. This gnarled giant is a magnificent specimen - these trees are an amazing mini ecosystem all of their own providing food , shelter, nesting sites, habitat for small mammals, birds, bats, insects and reptiles plus fruit on the ground for larger mammals. The last few hundred metres saw us(apart from some younger speed merchants ,wife included) drag our weary bodies to the finish and a welcome spot of tea, coffee and a few Ales and the like. A great finish to another wonderful hike with our friends of the MHC.

Thanks to all for company and friendship and especially to trail leader Brian.