There is Magic in them thar Hills

There is nothing like a change to focus one’s attention.  For twenty years, I have lived in the Magic Cottage on Old Kilgobbin Farm in Dargle.  This week, I become an Howickian for the rest of this year (at least).


While I really do appreciate most days living in the beautiful hills, these past two weeks, it seemed that Dargle put on her very best show – just for me.  There was dancing  (lots) and long walks, beautiful sunsets and spectacular stars. How lucky can a girl be?  I felt I simply had to share some of the Midlands treasures I have been showered with this fortnight.


Inhlosane is a Dargle icon.  Everyone loves this hill that one can see from across the Midlands.  Early one misty morning, I climbed it with some friends and the enthusiastic Everglades dog.  At the top we explored for hours and picnicked among the rocks.


Summer flowers were out in abundance. In hidden gorges, I discovered Berkheya leucaugeta which I had never seen before.  I love finding new flowers! Especially such cheery ones.


With late (very welcome) rains, the uMngeni was flowing strongly, so I stopped at the hidden Dargle Falls to pay my respects to Mama River.  I hiked down to the Dargle River too (particularly close to my heart), but sadly she was only trickling.


I walked a lot in the hills that I love so much.  Through hay fields, beside wetlands and over grassland. I saw three oribi, a few bushbuck, a couple of duiker and some reedbuck too. Dizzy and I will really miss these walks that have been so easily accessible from our back door.


Orchids have been flowering particularly well this season. I stopped often to photograph them, and the spectacular Brunsvigia natalensis too.


I showed off the magical mist-belt forest to my friend, Xola. It is always nice to have someone appreciative to share things with. I took my first ever selfie to celebrate!


There were plenty of beautiful fungi,  delicate Steptocarpus in flower and the Samango monkeys clicked in the tree tops. We drank from the spring and sat quietly on moss covered rocks simply soaking in the sounds.


On the veranda of il Postino, I crammed in more pizza than I have for months!  I love hanging out with the super friendly Mzamo, Wonder, Lucky, Anna and Thembelani so it wasn’t a hardship.  I enjoyed wood-fired pizza during a stoep schlurp afternoon with my pal Judy, with friends for a Dargle Conservancy committee meeting,  with my family who came all the way across the hills from Boston and on a particularly memorable night – with strangers. On this evening, the restaurant was full, but the owner, Chris,  kindly whipped a reserved sign off my favourite table and declared “I have been keeping it for you!”  A little later, a smart woman and her elderly mother arrived searching in vain for a spot for supper – we offered them space at our table. We had charming evening and then, to top off the magic with more magic – they paid for our meal!


I read one of my favourite Midlands poems, by Chris Mann, at the epic monthly Poetry Evening at Steam Punk Cafe. This gathering of creatives is so special and inspiring it is almost impossible to describe.  On this occasion, I was privileged to be asked by Midlands legend Helen Shuttleworth to read one of her poems too.  I love the juxtaposition of the dusty car park with noisy trains trundling by as poets perform with passion.  Catching our breath at interval, we devoured Ayesha Thokan’s delectable veggie breyani.


At home in the evenings, I drank champagne on my veranda,  wandered along the road – greeting strangers that appeared out of the dark –  saturated in the surround sound of owls and frogs. I marveled at the night skies from my very best bench-with-a-view.


I harvested fresh food from my garden for the most delicious meals – cavalo nero and purple beans, new potatoes, tomatoes and wild greens. I invited friends for lunch – under the tree on perfect afternoons, or beside the fire when it mizzled all day.


As the first chill of Autumn swirled about our ankles, lots of butterflies came to celebrate my garden with me. My neighbour Barend – whom I always look forward meeting on the road as we have so much to chat about – dreams of re-branding the D17 – Butterfly Valley.  Lovely idea.


Of course, I swam in the dam as often as I could – it really is my favourite thing to do. Early some mornings, late in the afternoon and even in the midday sun. There are thousands and thousands of tadpoles in the shallows and dragonflies wearing jewel colours flitting about on the edges.


Dawn rambles in the farmyard are a morning staple – cup of tea in hand.  Just the donkeys for company and maybe the Barn Owl swishing by, if I am early enough.  Piggy-Sue usually takes a walk at about the same time as Dizzy and me.  On one morning, while Dizzy was scavenging in the scraps of hoof the farrier had left, I watched as Piggy-Sue chatted through the fence with the old donkey Jack. Gently putting their noses together in greeting.


I laughed and stretched at our regular Pilates class, hosted by Helen with energy, grace and an abundance of kindness. This gathering reminds us twice a week to value our community, to breathe and to stand in self-carriage.


Also at the Lion’s River Club, I spent a happy hour watching the local frisbee club in action.  What a game this is!  I am in awe of their skill and commitment to the spirit of the game. No contact, self refereed and when they compete, three of the seven team members must be women.


I could hardly believe my good fortune when invitations arrived to join two fabulous evenings of music. The first in the gorgeous Red Barn at Corrie Lynn – Tim Parr, Steve Fatar and friends – and the irrepressible Cech Sanchez who had us all dancing in a flash!


The Solar Powered Stage created by Kim Goodwin at the Zuvuya SunFest was magnificently, magically memorable.  Surrounded by love and good friends, we enjoyed poets and singers before the incredible duo of Nibs van der Spuy and Guy Buttery took to the stage, entrancing us with their guitars.  The clouds covered the cliff tops, the late sun streamed on our backs while kids frolicked in the dam.  A perfect Dargle afternoon.  As evening fell, the pizza oven disgorged deliciousness, the dogs chased the sparks around the bonfire and a variety of local DJs set us all dancing wildly. Marvellous.


I enjoyed conversations with the Zulu staff, many of whom have lived at Old Kilgobbin for longer than me.  Sad that I won’t be around every day, they invited me to stay in the spare room in the staff compound with them – what a lovely thought!   I visited Baba Sokhela who has lived here for over 50 years – expending all his youth, energy and strength on this farm before he retired. He even built my Magic Cottage many decades ago.  Over the years, the Sokhela family have invited me to share so many celebrations – membezo, weddings, umgezo and more funerals than any father should have to cope with. It has been an honour to participate.  They have so graciously coped with my vegetarianism – letting me know not to come too early when an animal will be slaughtered and even giving me a gift of meat to take home for my dog!


With lovely fellow Darglians, Pauline and Rose, I spent a fantastic morning learning about Regenerative Gardening with the effervescent Eidin (who until recently, was a Darglian too).  We bounced along the back road to Notties, chatting happily, dreaming of abundant gardens and admiring the views.


Last Sunday, I took my other favourite back road – to Boston past Inhlosane – to join my friend Carol’s Mindful Walk and Forest Meditation morning.  What a treat that was. I especially observed how the folk who usually live in town reveled in the beauty, tranquility and fresh cold country water that I may occasionally have taken for granted.


If I could have had one wish, it would have been a Dargle Trade barter morning to top everything off. This regular get-together of like-minded, self-sustainable types is thriving and makes me feel pleased about all the effort I have put into Dargle Local Living over the years. However, I can still drive out to share, swop and catch up on gossip as it is actually only 15kms away…

In Zulu culture, after a big celebration or ceremony, the day after is called ukulanda isigqoko – the fetching of the hats.  The hosts need to cook a bit more food and prepare extra drinks for those who may have left belongings behind and come to fetch them.

I left my red hat at Zuvuya last week, so I guess I will simply have to go back to Dargle to collect it.


Thanks Anthea Taylor and Xola Keswa-Dlamini for taking the pictures of me.

20 Comments Add yours

  1. summertownpictures says:

    Nicki you are an inspirational South African woman! I love the way you see the world! I’m just so happy to have found you X


    1. Oh Katie – you are too sweet. Must say I am delighted to have found you too!


  2. Erica Platter says:

    Phambili, Nikki! May the future be as memorable as the past.


    1. Thanks Erica – pretty sure of that!


  3. Christeen says:

    Delightful happenings to mark a new beginning… I’m sad you are leaving your beloved Magic Cottage and so happy I have memories of visiting you there. I have no doubt however with your energetic zest and enthusiasm there will be many adventures around the corner… xxxx


    1. Thanks Christeen – Howick is an adventure already! See you when you come ‘to town’. xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Christeen says:

        Looking forward to hearing about your new adventures! xxxx


  4. beautiful description, makes me want to move to the Midlands immediately! I’m up at the end of March grom the 24-27. Would love to meet you and have a cup of coffee if you are around?


    1. Yes, of course Marita – would love to connect. Will diarise. Glad you enjoyed the tale. The Midlands really is magical.


  5. phillylycett says:

    What a typically Nikki-ish description of the life you live in the place you love! Beautiful …
    Howick has NO idea of the full-time magic you are going to sprinkle on them. Lucky people ….
    pots of love and luck xxx


    1. Oh Phil – you are adorable. Howicxiting!


  6. phillylycett says:

    What a typically evocative description of the life you live, in the place you love!


  7. Mqatshaadmin says:

    why oh why are you leaving them hills??????

    would you be amenable to helping us with some promo type stuff (making afew clips? some printables etc) for our new Green Trust funded project?



    1. Will call you and explain Nicky!


  8. Rose says:

    Wonderful story, Nikki, it really is very hard to leave Dargle, such a magical place. You will always be a part of Dargle and it won’t be quite the same without you, so we hope to still see you often. Enjoy your new adventure in Howick!


    1. Thank you Rose. So far, Howick has been marvellous, but I will see you soon. Dargle Trade next week? COnservancy function the week after…


  9. naturebackin says:

    A lovely tribute to the places and people dear to your heart. Good luck with the changes ahead, and enjoy fetching your hat!


    1. Thanks Carol – exactly my intention – a little tribute.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. penny says:

    Beautiful words, beautiful memories….. thank you for sharing with us


    1. Thank you Penny. Pleased you enjoyed the story – lots of memories. Making new ones as we speak!


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