100 Days (and then Some) in a Village

On the 14th of December, 2023, I embarked on a journey with Charlie-cat, Vincent, and Tony in my car.  After an 11-hour drive from Gauteng, we finally arrived in Hogsback, where my new adventure of living in a village started after being a city girl for 39 years.

“Living in a village has its charm of offering a slower pace of life for those who value nature, community, and a quieter environment.  However, it also comes with challenges, particularly regarding access to amenities and job opportunities” – a definition. 

My brother says that living in a small town is a skill one can add to your Curriculum Vitae.

Here are some positives and negatives that I have experienced so far:

😚The Positives:

Hogsback is a magical place.  George Wherry once said, “True, it may be noted that the outside of a mountain is good for the inside of a man.”  I constantly feel like I am on holiday.  I breathe in the fresh mountain air, and I’m surrounded by nature.

Nestled in the Amathola mountains, we can have sunshine one day, and the next day, the fog rolls in, and the fairies come out to play.  Trevor Webster writes in his book about Hogsback, “It is a popular place of magic and mystery, mists and mountains that make for special experiences and wonderful memories“.  The Tyhume River, with its numerous waterfalls, runs through ancient  indigenous forests.  I live in a town where real red fairy mushroom houses grow wild.  I live in a town where flocks of Cape Parrots fly home at sundown, and swarms of fireflies light up the night sky.  

In the village, animals reign supreme.  Traffic jams on Main Street consist of a herd of cows blocking the road.  The “moo-ing” of the cows in the morning is pretty calming.  Dogs are welcome in eateries (but don’t feed them!).  Nigel, a black Labrador, has the Freedom of Hogsback and comes and goes as he wishes.

The houses on the property where I live are not fenced off.  Vincent and Tony (note the absence of Charlie-cat, who passed shortly after our arrival) have natural enemies.  It includes dogs, troops of samango monkeys, baboons, and snakes.  I was even warned about the eagles.  I met Iilia’s mom.  Her little Yorkie was caught by an eagle.  It is a different world out here, and I carefully keep my cats safe.

The weather is magical.  My neighbour-turned-friend Trudie explains, “She does nothing when it is hot (and January and February are very hot) because it is too hot.  When it is misty, she watches the fog roll in (chasing fairies, Trudie); when it rains, she is watching the rain”.  The Autumn leaves are beginning to fall, and I cannot wait for all the Autumn colours in the garden.  I predict that I will be keeping watch over the trees.  Maybe it snows in Winter, and then I will oversee the snowfall.

The weather plays an integral part in Hogsback life.

I find that life is unassuming and unpretentious, so my priorities have changed.  Getting things done in the slow lane requires a little bit of planning and a little bit of patience.  With a sense of community responsibility, there is always somebody to help in this tight-knit community where everyone knows your name.  No wonder this is the place to look for a quieter, more relaxed alternative lifestyle.

I was never a sporty person.  In Kokstad, where I grew up, sports were compulsory.  Damn, I hated it.  Now, on Saturdays, I play lawn bowls and run park runs.  It is liberating not to leave my house at 6 to find event parking.  Sometimes there are 16 people, sometimes we are eight, but it must be the prettiest course in South Africa.

🤓Stranger things for city-zens:

Often, one has to have a can-do attitude in problem-solving.  You can get anything delivered by courier, buy it or manufacture it locally.  The ingenious cat flap in my front door is an example.

There is only one grocery shop, a hardware store, a petrol station, a liquor store, and numerous eateries.  The chapel, St Patrick’s on the Hill, offers solace for the soul.

Making use of amenities takes a little planning.  The petrol station closes early – ensure you have petrol if necessary.  There are four ATMs on the mountain, but they sometimes run out of cash, so it is better to keep a stash around.  Medical services are scarce, and there are no doctors on the mountain.  The nurse is kept quite busy.  A vet visits the village every two weeks.

We are a trusting bunch here on the mountain.  When I had to replace a light on my car, I ordered it from Qonce (King William’s Town), and the local mechanic fitted it.  He did not have sufficient change, so I short-paid him and gave his mother (who cut my hair) the difference when I saw her at church.

Social life is buzzing.  Here is always something going on for locals and tourists alike.  The community has very active WhatsApp groups where events are advertised.  Every Saturday, locals sell their wares at the local market. 

Or, of course, hiking in the Amatholas is a necessity.  It brings you close to the mystical forests and maybe Tolkien’s Middle Earth. 😉 Anything from the mighty Amathola Trail to hiking one of the 22 permit-free trails.  Public service notification: It is vital to stay on marked trails because if you fall and break a leg,  or you disturb a snake – where does one send the rescuers?

😢The Negatives:

Despite the idyllic life in Hogsback, the village has an underbelly that brings its own challenges.

The ongoing debate about protecting their way of life versus economic development is an issue.  Employment is scarce, and the unemployment rate is high.  The town relies heavily on tourism as part of the timber industry and the farming community.  Here are about 50 tourism establishments that all want a piece of the tourism pie.  I  also notice some racist and classist undertones in the community.  Why can’t we just get rid of that? 

Understandably, newcomers take a while not to be seen as “newbies.” Sadly, even offering to volunteer is only sometimes, accepted.  I have time, but I concluded that volunteering must be overrated – sometimes citizens fiercely guard their territories.

A Last Word

To wrap up, I enjoy the slower pace of life, the value of nature, the community, and a quieter environment.  Will I do it again?  Without a doubt.

To see my #RoyalAffair adventures, follow @mathildachasingfairies on Instagram.

Read more on Hogback at  https://visithogsback.co.za