Hogsback – a slice of magical Middle Earth in the Eastern Cape

Just whisper the name “Hogsback” and someone’s bound to pipe up: “Isn’t that where Tolkien grew up?”

It’s a common misconception that Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien grew up in rolling green hills of this lush corner of the Eastern Cape – and the Hogsback locals don’t do much to discredit this. In fact, there is such an atmosphere of magic about this quaint village that it’s not disappointing in the least to find out that, in fact, it is the Amatola Forest that’s in the same area that is claimed to have inspired this iconic writer’s dark, mysterious Mirkwood in his classic novel.

Hogsback is named for the three flat-topped mountains – a formation that has the geological term ‘hog back’ – that overlook the village. It’s a place that is steeped in the wonders of its beautiful, unspoiled surrounds, as well as the legends that inspire many of its attractions. One of its most beautiful features is the many waterfalls that splash down from their source in the Amatola Mountains, to trickle through the misty forests below.

The award-winning Earth Eco-shrine, created by artist Diana Graham, is a must on any visit to the Hogsback. To reach it you travel down an avenue flanked by Hazelnut trees, into a clearing where cement enclosures have been exquisitely carved, displaying mosaics, sculptures and oil paintings in the open air, and framed by views of the Tyume Valley and Hogsback mountains in the distance. This magical place has to be seen to be believed, and is open to the public on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays and daily during school holidays.

Another Hogsback landmark is the labyrinth at The Edge Mountain Retreat which has been laid out in a similar design to the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. Walking a labyrinth is a spiritual experience; some people do it as a form of meditation, others for inspiration, and others still as a way to marks a binding vow, such as a marriage commitment. The Hogsback labyrinth is am 11-circuit, 1.4km walk to the centre and back out again, and is claimed to be one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Exploring the Camelot Fairy Meander is another popular Hogsback activity. It’s a 400m garden pathway that is dotted with delightful sculptures of fairies and gnomes, ponds and colourful flora. Nearby you can also stop by the Big Tree, an ancient 2000-year-old yellowwood tree that towers more than 36m high and is the biggest tree in the Eastern Cape, called the Eastern Monarch.

Artists and writers are drawn to the Hogsback. The Plaatjieskraal Arts & Crafts Trail is a drive that takes you past Starways Pottery & Gallery where you simply must stop for a cup of mint tea, then Mafika Pottery, and onto Wrought & Rustic where metalwork arts are made. Grab a bite to eat at Somerset Gardens & Art Gallery, and finish off your excursion at the Hogsback Dam. Not on the route, but still worth a look-see is The Little Studio at Moonshine in Tor Doone Lane.

While searching for accommodation, you’ll notice that many places to stay in the Hogsback are named after magical places and characters. For instance, you can spend the night in the Camelot, Merlin, Lothlorien, Mistyfell, Applegarth or Granny Mouse House self-catering cottages – to name just a small handful – or the backpackers’ hostel called Away with the Fairies. Hotels include the Hogsback Inn (which was first established in the 1880s), and Kings Lodge.

Day or night, the Hogsback is a countryside getaway that truly is charmed.