A Moonlit Hike up Table Mountain in 1861

It defies comprehension to imagine what it would be like to walk up Table Mountain on 24th October 1861.

That’s 154 and a half years ago.  The hike is documented in the book,  “Life at the Cape 100 years ago” by A Lady, (published in 1963). It appears she got the idea after reading of Lady Anne Barnard’s journal, who stayed at government house from 1797 to 1798 and is believed to have organised a walk up Table Mountain with a lavish picnic at the top. Whether or not Lady Anne went for sunrise, I’m not sure. This is The Lady’s account:


To understand this narrative, I must tell you that our party was made up of Arthur P, facetious Mr. G, Mr. W, Dr. P and his wife, ourselves and an artist friend – 8 in all. They had a hearty supper at our house, after which, for fear of accidents, we made up rough beds for them all – and sent them to their rooms – prepared to turn out at 1am, so as to avail ourselves of the light of the moon, then a little beyond the full.

It was quite a brilliant moonlight morning, as, preceded by three helpers carrying provisions, and waterproof rugs to keep us warm on the summit, we walked briskly through the suburbs. The streets and houses at that hour were weirdlike in their silence; every tree and object strongly defined in outline, but strangely altered by the moon-beams, – nothing stirring but the mounted patrols muffled in long dragoon cloaks, who challenged us gruffly, and the fresh air cold enough to bite off your nose off.

In about an hour after starting, winding and twisting our way upwards, and ever upwards along a rough footpath leading to the “Platteklip” (a broad smooth ledge of granite, slippery as grease from the wearing of a little brook that glides like liquid silver over it), we ordered a halt, to rest a bit, take a ‘soopie’, and admire the calm beauty of the scene spread out before us. Here Dr. P nearly came to grief by walking quite carelessly across the slippery slab – for a minute it tripped up his heels, and sent him sprawling on his back. Meanwhile our helpers kept steadily at a slow, even pace, wriggling their way up among the loose round stones paving the dry gully which leads to the top, and we could hear them scrunching and rattling over the avalanche of water-worn pebbles far above our heads, long after we had lost sight of them in the gloom and deep shadows cast by the moon. Another ‘soopie’ was then served out, and we too prepared for the awful fatigue of following in their footsteps. Slipping back two feed for every yard we advance, we, too, dig our heels and long sticks into the shifty rolling stones, and slowly but wearily mount up an almost vertical track. Oh, how my chest did pant and heave, and how the muscles of my thighs seemed to stiffen, and grow numb from the steepness of the ascent; but I determined not to look back! At last we were all brought to a standstill by an enormous castellated rock which frowned down upon us poor puffing creatures, and barred any further apparent progress, until Mr. W, who had been lagging behind, as an old stager guided us round it and, lo and behold! there we were in a narrow funnel cleaving the mountain obliquely, and up which we all tottered, rather than raced, to see who should be the first to arrive. Be sure, I was not the last.

Platteklip trail with a far more beaten path than in 1861

Platteklip trail with a far more beaten path than in 1861

We were now three thousand five hundred feet up in the air, and a great deal too cold and shivery to do anything but dash at our rugs, and crowd round the big fires which the helpers had already made up for us. Wrapped in our waterproof blankets, we charged the gentlemen to run about and collect bush and heather, so as to keep the fires going, while we at once made some coffee, and enjoyed our bread and butter and ‘biltong’ like hungry school-boys. We soon, however, began to nod, till the morning gun announced the dawn; when creeping to the ledge of the mountain (while a substantial breakfast was preparing for us), J & I peeped down cautiously over the dizzy precipice.


The Lady goes onto to write about how they walked across the top of the mountain towards Constantia.

The mountain can be a perilous place at the best of times – the idea getting up it in the dark and then across it with no proper path or map more than 150 years ago is mind-boggling!  Lady Anne Barnard had written about her exploits 60 years earlier (108 years ago!) We can now read both and only imagine what life in the Cape was like then.

And so we live and breath in 2016 – suspended in time – it is our chance to experience life in the Cape. Sixty or 100 years from now, others may read what we have written – the coming generations may plan to walk where we have trod. The onus is on us to do what is right – to be ancestors with a good record – to pray for those who are coming and to leave a legacy that not only has value upon the earth on which we live but also spiritual value that directs those to the world to come.

For we will all gather there.

John 11:25-26

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?

This is not all there is.

These are the days, but the best is yet to come.

Keep the smile going.

God bless you!

In His Grip,

Helga xx 🙂


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