Sunday, 11 March 2012

Veranda Mountain

Veranda Mountain, an inselberg lying east of the Shai Hills, is easy to find but hard to get to. We turned off from the Stone Lodge road and headed along one of the many tracks leading to isolated cattle stations. But as we got closer, we found our route blocked: by scrub along one route, impassable animal tracks along another, and finally by cattle themselves. 

It took several bouts of head scratching and even more U-turns before we found a way through. Michael and Priscilla’s skilful driving took us over a landscape of deep ruts and rocks I would never have considered crossing. Clearly growing up in southern Africa prepares you for these things in way that Wiltshire doesn’t. 

We parked, unloaded the cars and set off for the mountain. My fellow campers had described the walk up as easy going, so I had been liberal in my packing. A bottle of South African wine, a bird-watching book and novel, spare water, jellybeans, some spare food, and even sandals for the evening. It all seemed a good idea back in Accra – nothing like a few treats while out under canvas. But while Veranda Mountain is not high, it certainly is steep. And we had set off in the mid-afternoon heat.

And it's covered in dense scrub. We had discussed what kit to bring during a pre-trip drink at Roby’s Dutch pub, but not got around to deciding who would bring what. So while three of us lugged up potatoes for the campfire, no one had brought a machete to cut through the thorny branches. Slowly we picked our way, trying to find the path of least resistance. 

I can’t have been the only one wondering if it was worth the effort as we staggered to a steep rocky step near the summit, covered with treacherous dried grass. My thoughts took an unsavoury turn, contemplating whether to share the wine weighing down my rucksack or hide it in my tent until everyone was asleep. Michael’s moral dilemma must have been harder still, as he lugged up a backbreaking cool bag packed with meat for the fire.

But all negativity soon slipped away as we reached the mountain's eponymous 'veranda'. There can be few better camping spots in Ghana; a platform of flat rocks with ample room for tents, fires and sleeping bags, set off by spectacular views across to Lake Volta and the nearby hills. 

We set up camp and got the fire burning as a storm rolled in from the north. It passed between us the lake, providing a spectacular backdrop as we started grilling the assorted goods: Boerwurst, tilapia, spuds and veg, barbecued ribs, and plenty of marshmallows for the younger campers. At least the packs would be lighter on the way down.

I woke early the next morning and headed to a small clearing on the summit, just behind our campsite. The scrubby slopes below were already busy, with several White-throated Bee-eaters flitting about almost close enough to touch, and many other calls came from the scrub below, including the high-pitched call of the Black Kites high overhead. The grunt of a lone baboon also drifted over, but I couldn’t spot him. As the sun rose, Andrew’s binoculars helped us to spot Grey Hornbills, Senegal Long-tailed Parakeets and a pair of Red-headed Lovebirds. 

Further below, the residents of the cattle stations started on the long walk to church in brightly coloured dresses and shirts. The cattle made their way to the watering hole for a drink, before being herded out to the tinder-dry plains to search for nourishment. It was a vivid picture of rural Ghanaian life, and our mountainside perch was the perfect place from which to enjoy it.

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