Cumberland by Alex March r (2)

Photo by Alex March

Cumberland Private Nature Reserve is one of the Midlands’ hidden gems. Easy to reach on a good dirt road, an honesty box payment gives you access to this special place – a haven for creatures hairy and feathered, for plants tiny and tall, a place for us humans to relax and revitalise. This is the piece of paradise that John and Stella Behn have created from a farm that once reverberated with the noise of machinery savaging the landscape to provide sandy soil for the building industry.

The grassy picnic area is situated in an extensive grove of Acacia sieberiana trees, built-in braais and wooden picnic tables with benches attached dotted around at discreet intervals. There are spaces for large parties and there are more private spots tucked away from the madding crowd. Clean toilets are provided and a large tank of fresh water is available for the thirsty.

At the end of the track through the picnic site you will find a large map, detailing the walks available and roughly how far each one is. Whether you want to potter along, just enjoying the glorious open landscape, or need a good long hike to get rid of those city cobwebs, you will find it at Cumberland. If you need more than a day out to restore you, overnighting in Krantz Cottage, or one of the other self-catering units, will do the trick. The reserve is perched high above the Mngeni River with stunning views down to the river below.

Cumberland is the ideal spot for a bird walk. Just sitting at your table, sipping that first delicious cuppa, you can begin to tick your list: African Hoopoe, Black Flycatcher, Greater Honey-guide shouting for ‘Victor’, a pair of Pygmy Kingfishers feeding a small lizard to their youngster, and the distant wail of the Trumpeter Hornbill. Peer carefully over the edge of the gorge and you might spot the nest of the Crowned Eagle that has made this valley its own.

Then there are the trees; over one hundred different species live here. Faurea saligna enjoys the sandy soils, crush a leaf of the Lavender Tree Heteropyxis natalensis as you pass by and enjoy the delightful scent. Four different species of fig mingle happily with Ekebergia pterophylla and Rothmannia capensis on the steep and rocky cliff edges.

For flower lovers this is pure heaven. Over 300 species have so far been identified and there are lots more just waiting to be found. Spring and summer are obviously the best flowering times, but even in the dead of winter some brave flowers pop up and demand attention.

Written by Sally Johnson