Stanford Valley Guest Farm and its great trail network (and incredible outdoor playground) awaits just beyond the tranquil and tiny village of Stanford. Set alongside the winding water course of the Klein River and at the foot of the rugged Akkedisberg range, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more scenic riding destination.
Words and Photos by Jacques Marais
Fynbos ridges, forested kloofs, sedge-lined wetlands and verdant grass pastures edge the valley as you travel inland into the Overstrand ‘breadbasket” surrounding Bredasdorp and Napier. The route itself traverses private properties, including the stunning Stanford Valley Guest Farm and Paardenberg Cottages, with free trail access to guests staying at either of these establishments and everything from views to riding rate as downright superlative.
About 10km from the village of Stanford, you will reach the scenic spread of the Stanford Valley Guest Farm, part of a diverse conservancy protected by a group of committed landowners. This 440ha property lies at the heart of the new ‘Ultimate Southern Pass Trail’, and mountain bikers will be able to ride amidst rare plant species such as the Erica Shannonea.
The trail network connects via mountainous singletrack to the exquisite Paardenberg, and the pristine natural surrounds brim with life. Sunbird species galore feed on fynbos flowers, while rhebuck, eland, grysbok, caracal and even scarce Cape leopard roam here (we were lucky enough to see its spoor).
Stanford Valley brims with opportunities to star gaze, indulge in nature photography, partake in yoga or meditation retreats, sample world-class cheese, wine and craft beer, or just relax to your heart’s content. One thing is for sure, the ‘Ultimate Southern Pass Trail’ is calling: for information, please go check out www.stanfordvalley.co.za
One of the great things about a route like the Ultimate Southern Pass Trail is that you have a variety of trail heads to start from. The most popular of these regional destinations will definitely be Stanford Valley Guest Farm or Paardenberg Cottages, with both of these establishments boasting top class accommodation options.
There are a number of route options if you start from the Stanford Valley side, with the Tower loop featuring the most recent of these additions, known as ‘Valley Vista. First drop into a magical little forest section before you crank into a winding ascent taking you past the local telecom tower on a rambunctious 4km singletrack loop. The cornering is tricky in places, but gorgeous views across the Akkedisberg add ample gain to the pain.
You also have the option to head from Stanford Valley Guest Farm past the gorgeous swimming dam, where the route splits to offer two options: keep right onto ‘Skin & Bones’, a gritty climb up to a viewpoint bench, before you bang all the way back down to join the main route network (after 2.3km) at the start of one of several Strava segments.
This one sticks to the valley to the left of the dam and is known as ‘Slipstream’. Imagine a lazy Cape cobra slithering into the fynbos ridges towards Paardenberg; stream crossing and tight ess-bends boom you into fynbos fields for 1.8km before you eventually connect onto the jeep-track descending from the tower.
Keep right here and continue climbing into the high watershed sky-lining above Stanford Valley Guest Farm, keeping an eye out for wildlife and leopard spoor. Apparently, there’s a massive stag – with an impressive antler rack – ranging free amidst the craggy outcrops, too. The total distance from the farm to the apex along the ‘Beloftebos Stairway’ is around 8km with around 850m of altitude gain, and from here you can pin your ears back as you bomb into the downhill.
Paardenberg Farm – this stunning family-friendly destination in its own right – nestles in the lee of the fynbos ridges. The descent makes for fast, flowing riding suited to riders with more experience, but beginners will be able to comfortably keep it together. The first descent section is ‘Hole in the Wall’, with no less than eleven switchbacks, before you granny-gear into the steep ‘Horribult’ climb.
Keep it tidy as you charge into ‘Sunrise’, ‘Hings-se-Bult’ and ‘Running Start’, all the while feeding your singletrack stoke. The trail passes a couple of hide-away cottages, including Melk-en-Heuning (Milk & Honey), where there are currently a few new segments of trail being constructed.
Give it gas through the poplar forests near Lighthouse Cottage and then cross the main dirt road to Salmonsdam. The riding here is exquisite and keeps on getting better as you blast over a wooden suspension bridge and into the ‘Lord of the Rings’ scenery of the ancient Beloftebos oak tree forest.
Before you know it, the oaks morphs into a stand of giant eucalyptus blue-gums. Keep following the river course until you connect to the ‘Oom Salie’ singletrack, powering along a gradual climb on to Sterkfontein. All the new additions will allow you to vary your route, and push the total trail distance to well over 35km, or you can add in some of the gravel roads to bump your ride up to a 60km circuit.
Riders who have entered the annual ‘Stanford MTB Classic’ might well recognise some of these world-class singletrack builds, while trail runners and other weekend warriors have long since discovered the breathtaking scenery of the seductive Stanford Valley landscape.
Salmonsdam Nature Reserve is situated adjacent to Beloftebos, at the foot of Paardenberg Mountain. Although there is currently no designated MTB Route in the reserve, plenty of riding options exist on a jeep-track network within Salmonsdam, with scenic views of Walker Bay, Caledon and Bredasdorp – www.capenature.co.za.
Best Time of Year
Stanford boasts a moderate Mediterranean climate, with warm summers and colder, wet winters. You can play outdoors for most of the year, though.