Words by Anne-Marie Wallace, Craghoppers Competition Winner
Growing up in a small seaside town in Northern Ireland at the foot of the Mourne Mountains I was always going to be ‘outdoorsy’. Every weekend was spent climbing up Slieve Donard or Slieve Commedagh mountains with my friends and, as we got older, sitting up all night near the Icehouse under Blackstairs waterfall. It was pretty magical and we knew that even then.
After moving to Belfast I found myself climbing less and less but my love of walking never waned – Northern Ireland is full of incredible places to walk like Cave Hill, Glenariff Forest park or Tollymore and i always found that getting outside and breathing in the fresh air lifted my spirits. I became a mum a few years ago and now have three babies. Life is busy and can be quite stressful. I started feeling very anxious a couple of years ago and that’s when I really feel like walking saved me. I sometimes felt like my head would explode and I never had any time to myself. I wasn’t sleeping so in the end I decided to just get up before the sun rose and walk my dogs. I’d be out from 5.30am to 7.30am each day listening to music and walking in the parks around Belfast. Slowly my anxiety began to lift and I began to day dream about places I wanted to visit. Right at the top of my list was South Africa, particularly Table Mountain. I’d learnt about Table Mountain and its unique ecosystem at school and dreamt of one day climbing to the top to overlook the stunning city of Cape Town. After having my kids I guess I thought that it would only ever be a dream. That’s where Craghoppers stepped in!
My dad would have worn Craghoppers gear when I was growing up so I always would have owned one of their waterproof jackets and the walking trousers. In 2018 I noticed a competition on their website to #chooseyouradventure – this involved taking photos of that defined your adventure no matter how big or small. The prize was £6000 to spend on a dream trip with Wildfoot Travel plus £500 of Craghoppers gear. It was an incredible competition and one that I put my heart and soul into. I set off with my camera to take pictures on treks around Silent Valley and Spelga Dam, all wearing my Craghoppers clothes. I also entered pictures from my trip To Havana in Cuba with all the brightly coloured crumbling buildings – to my huge surprise it was one of these photos that won me first prize. To say I was shocked was an understatement!. After many, many tears of joy I was put in touch with Simon from Wildfoot Travel and he sorted out a trip to Cape Town, not just for me, but for my three children as well. In Easter this year myself, my partner and our three children, set off for South Africa kitted out in our finest Craghoppers clothes.
Flying into Cape Town is one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever witnessed. The Twelve Apostles mountain range with Table Mountain and Lion’s Head standing proudly over the city is a sight I’ll never forget. My little boy had been learning about Africa at school and he could barely believe that he was able to stand in front of that iconic mountain that is oh so recognisable.
After settling into our apartment in the Camps bay area of Cape Town we explored the beach and parkland but ultimately we were all desperate to get to the top of Table Mountain. The thing about Table Mountain is that you need to really plan your trek and time it just right. The mountain is often covered by a ‘tablecloth’ of clouds due to the SE wind blowing up the slopes meeting colder air creating a thick mist at the top. The clouds and wind move in so quickly that within 10 minutes the cloud could cover half of the mountain and can be treacherous to hikers.
The kids are still so little I didn’t want to bring them on a trek so we took the cable car to the very top at the first opportunity and we weren’t disappointed. Standing on top of Table Mountain feels like you’re standing on top of the world looking down at the turquoise ocean where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Not only is the view stunning but the mountain range is full of flowers that grow nowhere else on earth and the most incredible wild animals ranging from porcupines and mongoose to snakes and the table mountain ghost frog!
Visiting South Africa will always involve animals to some degree. We made the decision not to take the kids on a safari to see The Big five as we felt they were still a little young. This was a trip centred around exploring Table Mountain but as it’s so full of wildlife we got to see some wonderful animals. We spyed a rock hyrax which is a small, furry little creature that looks a bit like a stoat, the Cape Skink lizard and a variety of beautiful birds like the Cape Rock Thrush, and Cape Sugarbird.
I trekked up Table Mountain on my own a few days later but of course, like with any popular mountain trek, you’re never alone. I walked up with different groups of people of all ages and we stopped to admire the incredible flora and fauna and kept a good eye out for one of the 20 varities of snake that calls Table Mountain home. There are 5 species that are a threat to humans so I was definitely on my best behaviour.
Whichever way you decide to travel to the top of Table Mountain you will be rewarded with the most spectacular views and also a very welcome and well stocked bar/restaurant to help cool you down and keep you up there a little longer. One of the other highlights of this dream trip was a visit to the wild penguins at Boulders Beach. These lovely little African penguins are some of the most endangered penguins in the world with only two pairs remaining back in 1982 but now, thanks to the work being carried out at the Boulders Beach colony, there are now over 3000 of these fluffy little penguins who are more than happy to give you a nip if you get too close!!
I would love to bring my children back to SA in a couple of years for them to see rhinos, tigers, elephants, cape buffalo and leopards but also to see the work involved in ensuring these majestic animals are kept safe. While in Cape town they saw many furs for sale and it made them think about how we need to protect these species – my little boy in particular has talked a lot about protecting animals and what can be done to stop hunting. This amazing adventure has enriched the lives of my children and highlighted again how travelling is so good for your soul. While South Africa is a dream destination and really hard to beat, simply getting outside and soaking up your surroundings wherever you are has the power to clear your mind and make you feel stronger.
This trip changed me. I am so much happier within myself and I’ve realised you’re never too old, or never too settled to follow your dreams and achieve goals you thought were long gone.Thank you Craghoppers and Wildfoot travel for taking me and my little family on the adventure of a lifetime.