Dargle valley lies at the foot of Inhlosane mountain, visible from just about anywhere in the Midlands. Rolling hills, healthy rivers, hidden valleys and interesting people make this a very special place.
The first settlers in the valley were the Fannin’s who were transported to the area by Dick King in 1847, apparently passing a herd of 94 elephants in Westville before arriving at Maritzdaal, previously owned by Gert Maritz. The area reminded him of his home in Ireland and he named the stream and the area after it – ‘Dargle’.
Many of the fences in the area are still strung between Sneezewood posts. These were cut by the settlers and much sought after as besides being hard, the peppery oil they contain repels insects and prevents them from rotting. Saw pits where big Yellowwoods were felled in the forest for furniture and building are still visible today – there are many in the Kilgobbin Forest.
One of the most obvious natural landmarks of the Midlands is Inhlosane – 1976 metres above sea level – at the head of the Dargle valley. The silhouette can be seen from as far away as Noordsberg. During the Bambatha Rebellion, Inhlosane was the furthest point that troops came – their cries from the top of the peak chilling the blood of the pioneer settlers in the valley. Beautiful dry stone walls built by Italian prisoners of war criss-cross the Dargle hills. In 1945 a big fire was lit on the peak of Inhlosane to celebrate the end of World War 2.
The first hundred years of pioneer habitation of Dargle were interesting times. Brian Griffin in collaboration with others, has produced a book entitled My Dargle, collating stories about these years. Brian recalls that he, his siblings and cousins grew up as ‘wild children’. There were tales of afternoons spent dancing in the kraal, of riding a horse to town, of entire days alone in the veld at the tender age of five and wonderful celebrations which included eight month olds and eighty year olds.
Austin Roberts, of the bird book fame, spent holidays exploring the area with his Aunt, Marianne Fannin, and there can be little doubt that the special biodiversity of Dargle and the Starred Robins he spotted in the forest, inspired his love of nature. A number of plants found in the area are named for his Aunt – in particular Streptocarpus fanniniae and delicate Disperis fanniniae. Nowadays, residents feel privileged to live in this part of the world and make the most of every opportunity to enjoy their surroundings – climbing Inhlosane, swimming in the Mngeni river, chatting to the horses and cows which abound in the fields and listening to the jackals and wood owls which call in the moonlight.
Far sighted landowners have collaborated to have a large area of moist grassland and indigenous forest officially proclaimed as a Nature Reserve as part of the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme to protect areas which contain critically important habitats. The Dargle mist-belt grasslands and indigenous forests, host many endangered species including the Cape Parrot, Oribi, Samango monkey, all three Crane species, orchids and other special plants. The wetlands, including neighbouring 600ha Mngeni vlei where the Mngeni river rises, are critical elements of the water supply for much of KwaZulu Natal.
Many landowners are keen to share the splendour of their surroundings and regular, guided walks take place in Kilgobbin and Lemonwood forests. These are very popular with those who don’t usually have access to the countryside, and serve to inspire everyone to value our biodiversity and understand the eco-system services which these areas provide humanity. Members of the Conservancy contribute to a monthly wildlife sightings record which is shared widely and is likely to be valuable in monitoring biodiversity adaptations to climate change.
There is a strong sense of community and always something going on. The Lion’s River Club hosts polo matches, yoga classes, touch rugby and ultimate frisbee sessions. Quiz Night in the bar at il Postino with plenty of pizza, is a popular occasion. The Dargle Conservancy screens regular movies at Tanglewood Country House, where friends and neighbours enjoy a long table supper afterwards – most of the food sourced in the area.
Recognising that food and lifestyle are conservation issues, (biodiversity is severely threatened in areas affected by drought, crop failure and poverty), the Dargle Local Living initiative began in 2011. We are fortunate that there are many small producers of vegetables, trout, chicken, honey, cheese, herbs, meat, milk and eggs in the valley and most homesteads have a food garden to supply their kitchens and surplus to share with neighbours. The Dargle Local Living blog lists everything which is locally produced in a small, sustainable way and is constantly being updated. Resident, Gill Addison says “We plan to begin to build a better and more sustainable future for our community. Of course, this does need to include everyone in our community – not just the ‘foodies’. We also need to think seriously about building resilience in surrounding areas too if we are to avoid some of the scary effects of Climate Change.”
Many local people have accepted that it is necessary to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and the industrial food chain, and have responded by making real lifestyle changes with some now committed to living as locally as possible. To inspire others, visits are arranged to showcase best practice and highlight avoidable pitfalls. From biogas digesters, fabulous compost heaps, to straw bale houses and solar fridges – Dargle has some remarkable examples of low impact lifestyles.
The Dargle Local Market, on the first Sunday morning of every month, is popular in the community and is an occasion to barter with neighbours, share saved seed, taste new things and show off prize pumpkins.
In the Dargle there are plenty of folk who are perfectly happy to do without eggs for a few weeks while hens follow their natural Spring cycle and sit around broodily all day hoping to hatch their eggs. Others wait patiently until the calf is weaned, forgoing the extra milk which would be just perfect for making yoghurt. Some are prepared to give up their favourite spot on the veranda so that the swallows can raise their chicks in peace. This is conscious country living – not making unreasonable demands, taking only what is needed and being mindful of every moment..
In the Dargle we take our role as custodians of an important water catchment and some of the most vulnerable biodiversity in South Africa seriously. Our actions impact on a far wider community, including Pietermaritzburg, Durban and beyond.
Learn more about Dargle http://www.dargleconservancy.org.za