Wow! What a wonderful ending to the APT Trail when the group was met by Fr Shabalala and Fr Mota at Mariannhill and given a special blessing in the church. Fr Shabalala called up each person to receive their certificates of completion and a blessing.
Over 12 days from Reichenau to Mariathal they passed through farms (were invited to stop for tea and coffee by a farmer) forests, veld and villages, visiting 8 missions and staying over at two. They were kindly welcomed by all the people in the villages – especially the owners of the Spaza tuck-shops when they stopped to by cold drinks! Fr Paul blessed many people along the route and continued to offer spiritual guidance and mass. One memorable mass was in the tiny, abandoned chapel of St Bernard high in the hills above Lourdes. The locals arrived and sang in the chapel.
As you know they spent two nights at Ashtonvale, owned by Carol and Russell Hill and two nights at Myddelton Farm where they were hosted by Linda Hodson. At Kevelaer Fr Mhlongo set up mass before they arrived so that Fr Paul could offer mass and Communion. They were all thrilled to see the APT Trail piece of slate with the yellow Trappist cross, at the base of the reliquary which holds the relic of Our Lady of Kevelaer.
Fr Ignatius at Centocow was a hit with the group and his kindness and wonderful cooking was memorable! Fr Paul rang the bells for them and offered a special mass. What was great about the masses is that non-Catholics who attended could go up for a blessing.
When they arrived at Lourdes they were met by Sister Sylvia, Sister Imelda and me with cold water, juice and biscuits. Because there is no accommodation at Lourdes our hired bus and driver took them to Emaus for the night where the wonderful sisters cared for them and cooked for them. The plan was to return to Lourdes the next day and walk to Emaus, accompanied by Sister Imelda (Emaus) a Koinonia Sister from Lourdes and Bishop Dziuba. But, torrential rains turned the road works along the front of Emaus into an impassable muddy quagmire and no vehicles could get out or in. With no network to make a call or send a message, the folk at Lourdes waited in vain for the group to arrive. Our hardy pilgrims decided to climb the Stations of the Cross at Emaus instead. Sister said that perhaps Abbot Francis wanted them to spend another day at Emaus and experience his Stations!
The next morning Bishop Dziuba arrived at Emaus at 7am for an interview with the film crew, but had to park on the muddy excavated road and slip and slide through the mud into the Emaus property. The group walked in the puddles and mud to Umzimkulu accompanied by Sister Imelda and the APTTA chairman, Trevor Kohwa. Trevor is not a regular walker and told me that the next day he was walking like a wind-up soldier and had difficulty getting up and down from a chair! He has a new admiration for the mainly over 70 year-old hikers in the group.
As they approached the small mission of Maria Hilf (Mary Help) they could hear singing. A crowded celebratory mass was in progress, with choirs singing and congregants reaffirming their faith. Fr Msomi gave the group a warm welcome and has invited them all to return for a braai one day!
They spent a night at Korongo Valley with Sue and a night on St Isidor Farm at the beautiful Kings Grant retreat with Cheryl Biggs. The next day they walked to Mariathal Mission where Fr Khumalo welcomed them with water, juice and scones. The group was accompanied for the first 6 days by a film production crew, filming a segment for the SABC religious program ‘Hosanna’. Another film production crew walked with them all the way filming the first APT Trail, which will form a part of a promotional video for the Harry Gwala District and will be offered to the SABC. Fr Khumalo offered to take the film crew back to Kings Grant to get their car and also to drive our wonderful Trail Guide, Mdu Zuma back to Reichenau. (Ngiyabonga Fr Khumalo!)
I must admit that when the group set off, I had feelings of trepidation about the safety of a team which consisted mainly of ‘abelungu’ walking through remote tribal lands and villages but they were met with kindness, curiosity, sometimes excitement and goodwill wherever they went. People were delighted to see a priest with the group and Mdu was invaluable, with his wide smile and confident manner, he claimed the team as his own and proudly told everyone that they were his group which he was leading for the church! When the team had a farewell for Mdu at the end of the walk, he sang for them, tears pouring down his cheeks.
We are going to be raising funds for R8000 for the purchase an APTTA focussed 5 – 10 minute promotional video, which has to be done in a studio with a voice over artist. If you have any ideas, or are part of an interest group that might be able to help raise money for this, please let us know. My husband has offered to pay R5000 for a longer video on the trail itself which will be a memento for the walkers on this pioneering walk. If you would like to buy a copy of the DVDs, let us know and we will add your name to our list.
We want the APT Trail to be accessible to everyone so we have planned to have group in July to cater for school teachers; in September, November (a Slow Walk) and early March next year. The November walk will be a ‘Shongololo Trail’ (walk-and-ride) with stages no longer than 8 – 10 km for people who can’t walk 20 km per day but would like to walk to each mission and experience the trail as a pilgrim. Please share the link with friends or interested people. https://abbotpfannertrappisttrail.weebly.com/book-a-trail.html
The APT Trail group met at Mariannhill on Friday 9 March and after a tour of the monastery they had a group photograph at the grave of Abbot Pfanner before boarding their bus for Reichenau. You can read an article here written by Duncan Guy for the Saturday Independent.
We’d like to thank the people of Underberg who came to Reichenau to meet the group and watch the erecting of the first APT Trail stone. The Mountain Echo was there as well – thanks Paul. The two bishops of Mariannhill and Umzimkulu dioceses said the blessing. There was a special blessing of the group in the church and Peter Frow did a tour of the mill (thank you Peter for coming to meet the team).
They spent two nights at Ashtonvale Guest Farm and Fr Pawel from Centocow, who has joined the team for 6 days, says a blessing at the start of each day and offers mass and communion at the end of the day. Duzi Productions have also joined the team and will walk with them each day, filming for a Harry Gwala District promotional video. Also with the team are a crew from DV Productions (they did that wonderful Trappist Trail documentary for the SABC in 2014) filming an issue for the SABC religious program Hosanna. They have cameras and a drone which was quite disconcerting to start with as it sometimes hovers overhead, or follows alongside the path and even in front of the group. The photograph shows Jon (group leader) pointing out the drone with his walking pole.
The first day’s walking was long and hard but the pilgrims were all on a high after making it from Reichenau to Ashtonvale. Yesterday was a long, hard slog from Ashtonvale to Kevelaer. They got caught in a rain and hail storm close to Kevelaer and arrived freezing and sopping wet. A few hardy hikers attended mass offered by Fr Pawel and they were then taken to their lovely warm accommodation prepared for them ay Myddelton Farm.
Last week our two teams spent 4 days trail blazing the final off-road paths through stunning parts of the lower midlands and East Griqualand. If you have never driven (or walked!) from Centocow to Lourdes you have missed some of the most spectacular scenery in our beautiful province.
Two teams did the trekking whilst Finn and I provided vehicle support , clocking up over 900 km in 4 days. We would especially like to thank Fr Ignatius from Centocow who kindly allowed Fr Paul to walk with the team to Lourdes Mission after the planned for walking guide did not arrive. The people in the villages loved seeing the Father in his white cassock walking through their villages and Father blessed many, babies and children and octogenarians, as he walked.
The final test of the trail will be between 9th and 20th March, from Reichenau Mission to Mariathal Mission.
(We still haven’t finalised the way to walk from Mariathal, over the Umkomaas river, passing Einsiedeln and on to Mariannhill but hope to do this soon).
The proofs for the pilgrim records, the APT Trail certificates, and the artwork for the 9 self-inking stamps are at the Mariannhill Mission Press and will be ready by March.
We are thrilled to welcome four new accommodation partners on the ‘APT Trail’ list - Ashtonvale Guest Farm (Bulwer), Myddelton Farm (between Creighton and Donnybrook), Smithfield Guest House (Creighton) and King’s Grant Retreat (Ixopo). All have been added to our ‘Preferred Accommodation’ page on the website. We haven’t included any tariffs because we know that these could change in 2018.
Special thanks to Cheryl Biggs from Kings Grant who has offered a 15% discount on accommodation booked by APTTA friends. So anyone who wants to visit the historic St Isidore farm that belongs to King’s Grant, and have a look around, don't forget to mention that you are a friend of the APTTA. You can read about the Kings Grant retreat and the Trappist history here: http://www.kingsgrant.co.za/history
Trail finding news:
From 8 to11th January Jon, Jenny, Trevor and Anna will be bundu-bashing between Reichenau and Lourdes whilst Finn and I provide vehicle support. If you see a group of four seniors traipsing cross country in the Bulwer, Donnybrook, Creighton and Riverside areas, give them a hoot and a wave!
Trail signs and markers:
We have had a lot of discussions about marking the trail and realise that it isn’t going to be easy.
Top left: We thought of wooden stakes with the APTT symbol painted onto them embedded in strategic places. Problem – they could be removed to be used as firewood!
Centre: Painting a symbol directly onto rocks, trees, fence posts. Problem – if the route needs to be changed it will be difficult to remove these.
Top right: Painting a symbol onto a small slab of slasto or slate. These could be placed in strategic places and can be easily moved if necessary in future. If you have any ideas please share them with us!
The Bottony, or Budded Cross:
This is the Cross shape we have chosen as our symbol. The cross on the bottom left is the ancient Chaldean Cross from 550 BC. It appears in the 5th century AD Mar Saba Monastery 10km from Bethlehem. It also appears in many Catholic churches and you will see it in Trappist cemeteries all over the world. The cross on the right is that of Brother Edward in the Centocow graveyard.
Each bud has its own symbolism. The most common is three, which represents the Trinity: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling,
and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke;
and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa.” ©
The Abbot Pfanner Trappist Trail - the first long-distance pilgrimage trail in South Africa - is being established in the beautiful southern regions of KwaZulu Natal, between the Southern Drakensberg, the Midlands Mist Belt and the Eastern Cape.
Strung out across the hills and valleys between the Drakensberg and the sea are twenty-two Trappist missions, like the knots on a string of Rosary beads. Established over a century ago by extraordinary Trappist monks, led by Abbot Francis Pfanner, the Mission churches are hidden treasures that we want to share with the world.
The trail will extend for ± 250 km through stunning countryside, farms, grasslands and forests, home of the rare Blue Swallow, Cape parrot, Purple-crested Lourie (gwalagwala) and the Black-winged Plover (titihoya).
“About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of
the birds of the veld. Below you is the valley of the Umzimkulu, on its journey from the Drakensberg
to the sea; and beyond and behind the river, great hill after great hill; and beyond and behind them,
the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand.” ©
The pilgrimage will start at Reichenau Mission, the first satellite mission built by the Trappists in 1886, about 18 km from Underberg in the Southern Drakensberg, and will end at Mariannhill Monastery the burial place of Abbot Francis Pfanner near Pinetown. From Reichenau the trail meanders through rural villages and country towns, visiting 9 of the historical Trappist missions, each with a beautiful church designed by Brother Nivard Streicher, a humble German monk, over a century ago. The missions include Kevelaer, Centocow, Lourdes, Emaus, Maria Hilf, Mariathal and Einsiedeln, before arriving at the ‘Mother Mission’ at Mariannhill near Pinetown 14 days later.
As you follow in the footsteps of the Trappist monks and Sisters of the Precious Blood, who served at the missions, you will learn about the history of the Trappists and their missions; fascinating folk-lore and legends, the landscape, and the fauna and flora of this wonderful trail.
Initially, the first 14-day accompanied walks will be offered by amaWalkers Camino - dates and costs to be advised. Once the pilgrimage is properly established, churches, clubs and other interest groups will be able to organise their own group walks on the APT Trail. For security reasons, solo pilgrimages or walks without trail guides are not recommended.
Quotes from ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ by Alan Paton with permission
This is a short report back on the last day of trail finding. It also includes a challenge for the priests!
After a very successful day from Lourdes to Emaus Jenny wrote:
“Having spent 3 days driving and walking the trails we all think that when it finally comes together it is going to be fantastic and utterly unique. There is nothing like this anywhere else. We loved walking in deep, rural Umzimkulu area and the scenery is spectacular. We have felt very safe.”
Their guide for the day, Cyril, arrived on time and although they had difficulty finding the right place to start, doing a long deviation, Jon got them back on track. Next time Cyril will meet them at Riverside and they will walk from there. Jenny said that they will definitely want to use the services of Cyril again as they felt that he could grow into the role of guiding and welcoming at Lourdes. (He works at the mission and went to school there.) We will just have to steal him away from his job every time there is a group to lead! It might be necessary to have two more trail-finding outings but they think they might be able to walk the whole route by March next year. The locals were so excited to see Sr Imelda walking them that Jenny is challenging some of the young priests to walk with the team next time!
When they have done a final test walk of the whole route in March we will organise the first ‘dress-rehearsal’ and walk the route from Reichenau with a group before we start advertising the APT Pilgrimage Trails. We would like to have a big party at the start of this walk, with all the bells and whistles, a chevron tape at the start - which the Bishops can cut – and a good send off! On this walk we will mark the trail, try out the accommodation and food, test the walking guides, luggage transfers etc.
We will keep you updated on the progress of our trail-finding.
An update on our intrepid trail-finding team. Although these are veteran pilgrim walkers they are not youngsters ( two men and two women - average age 68) but they are strong, stubborn, and determined!
Where possible they are driving the dirt roads and walking sections where vehicles can't go. Yesterday they did a part of the walk around Mariathal and decided to continue further down on the dirt tracks to Maria Hilf. Here they had an unexpected adventure when their vehicle got stuck in the mud and they had to be towed out!
They were a couple of km from Maria Hilf (Maria Help) when they got stuck. After trying to put stones and vegetation under the back wheels they realised that the could not move. Jon stayed with the car and the other three very hot and mud splattered pilgrims trekked to the mission where they found help. A bakkie was sent to help and towed them out of the mud. (Thank you Maria Hilf!)
Our plan was to walk from Maria Hilf to Mariathal in one day, but the team have found that the difficulty of the landscape and the circuitous trails have made it a much longer stage. So, we will go back to the drawing board and re-plan this stage.
They spent the night at Emaus. This morning, when the 2 strong-young men who were supposed to be their guides didn't turn up, the wonderful Sister Imelda and Albert decided to walk with them from Emaus to Umzimkulu. When they arrived at the small village of Emvugukazi and stopped for a drink, Jon turned around to walk back to Emaus to fetch the car. He will meet them on the road.
Tomorrow they will leave from Lourdes and Fr Michael has confirmed that a guide will be there at 8am to walk with them. (Thank you Fr Michael!)
Photos: The Farm St Isidore (on Kings Grant land). In the forest: The team trying to lay stones under the stuck, back wheels: A very muddy Anna and Jenny on their way to Maria Hilf for help: The mission bakkie towing them out of the mud: Sr Imelda and the team on the way from Emaus to Umzimkulu.