Time to make the most of it

Western Cape

It’s autumn and there is frequently an invigorating nip in the air of a morning, when the skies are clear and the stars seem to have multiplied in number while asleep. On higher ground there will perhaps be frost and the grass may crunch under your feet.

The deciduous trees and the vines have started to turn glorious russet colours and the landscape has been transformed into a canvas of mottled hues, the paradoxically warm tones of a rapidly cooling season. It’s not uncommon now for your breath to fog the windows of the car and for the motor to be sluggish to start when you turn the key, as though like the rest of the world, it recognises the time to slow down and take stock.

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Weather-beaten: A cold front approaches. Pictures: tim rolstonseafood: A baboon scours the shore.Pretty: Houses in Misty Cliffs.

I love autumn, I love the colours and the relative lack of wind that comes with the recession of the sun to the north. I love the clear sparkling starlit skies at night and the often deep cloudless blue of the days. The cold fronts that are lurking to the south have begun to swing nearer but they have yet to make their concerted attacks of rain, wind and freezing temperatures that will define winter. Autumn can provide us with some of the most pleasant days of the year and wonderful opportunities for a walk without the oppressive heat of summer or the hypothermic risks of winter.

It was on just such a Champagne day that I recently took a simple walk along the coast from the Crayfish Factory past Misty Cliffs to Scarborough and back, part of the Strandloper Trail, and what a joy it turned out to be. It isn’t an onerous hike although rock hopping along the coast may be taxing if you aren’t used to the skip and jump technique required to make progress and maintain your footing.

As I clambered down from the road the smells of sun-warmed coastal fynbos rapidly gave way to the salty tang of the beach, the cooler air right next to the sea holding the scents of seaweed and brackish water. The first part of the stroll was on pure white sand that rapidly gave way to a path of little more than crushed seashells, as though it had beenlandscaped by some celestial gardener – all metallic whites and blues, crunching underfoot among the coastal dunes. The sea was impossibly blue, crystal clear and only sullied by the white foam of moderate surf that on occasion crashed against the rocks, throwing spray high into the air.

From here the path petered out on the marbled rocks of a weather-beaten coastline, convoluted and polished. The depressions formed clear rock pools where brightly coloured anemones swayed in the slight current and gobies and klipvis darted for cover at my approaching shadow.

It turned out to be a remarkably rich environment: gulls, wagtails and oyster catchers searched for tasty titbits in the pools and cormorants dived in the surf among the boulders, hoping to trap unwary fish for breakfast.

The local baboon troop was scouring the coast, too, digging among the weeds with dexterous fingers, obviously understanding that the low tide afforded them the best opportunity of finding a seafood meal to supplement a generally more vegetarian diet.

Passing the cliff-perched houses of Misty Cliffs you cross another short expanse of sand, and crushed shell. How many thousands of mussel shells must it take to make a beach?

In the distance the rocky outcrop of Scarborough Point was partly lost in the haze despite the generally clear skies and it is this slight and virtually constant sea mist that has given the place its name. The entire coastline is as pretty as a picture although perhaps gradually losing appeal as development encroaches and the coastal shacks are slowly replaced by more ostentatious dwellings – to my mind out of keeping with the environment.

Skipping over more rocks I eventually reached the long white sandy beach of Scarborough itself, the waves surging to and fro leaving trails of bright white spume in the clear waters. Surfers bobbed out in the waves, the primary colours of their boards in stark contrast to the blue of the ocean and the rapidly darkening backdrop of an approaching cloud bank which indicated the arrival of another cold front.

There is a childish pleasure in leaving footprints in the freshly washed and unspoiled sands exposed by a receding tide, and I walked at the water’s edge, my trail briefly laying claim to the beach before being scoured clean by the next wave.

Eventually I headed for the road and the return trip to the car. The baboons were on the warm tar and digging for roots on the roadside, apparently, like me, having spent enough time at the beach for the day. - Sunday Argus

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