by Geoff Dalglish

The dream of a modern source-to-sea pilgrimage walk along South Africa’s Eerste River will become a reality during September 2020 when a diverse group of people will come together to honour the sanctity and preciousness of water and all the life it sustains.

They’ll follow in the footsteps of the ancestors along a multi–day route that starts at the pristine waterfalls in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, traverses the historic Western Cape town of Stellenbosch, and completes where the river meets the ocean at False Bay.

Water protectors Geoff Dalglish and Lydia van Rooyen say the inaugural Eerste River Source-to-Sea Walk is an invitation to celebrate the sanctity and preciousness of water as our common ground, while gaining a greater understanding of the inspirations, impacts and challenges unique to this watershed.

The walk is intended to be both a prayer and an action to raise awareness and encourage healthy synergistic practices, and it is hoped that it will bring together representatives from diverse social and cultural groups that depend upon the Eerste River for their livelihoods and wellbeing.

“Many of us are driven by a great love affair with the natural world and a recognition of how our footsteps have brought us to this pivotal time and place when humanity needs to heal its damaged relationship with Mother Earth and her waters,” Geoff said. “We see each footstep as a prayer and a blessing, given and received, and I imagine each of us will walk with the question: what needs to happen and what is mine to do?”

In 2018, and again this year, a group walked from the waterfalls at source, following crystal clear mountain streams towards Stellenbosch, where farming, industry, rich and poor residential communities and an invasion of alien vegetation have their increasingly negative impacts.

In places the water is polluted and unpleasantly odorous, although there is also evidence of positive human developments, among them an ambitious and energetic initiative to clear alien vegetation, remove plastic pollution and rubbish daily , plant indigenous trees and help restore natural systems. This scheme also provides employment to people from less privileged communities.

Lydia van Rooyen of WILDTRUST, which has a Greening Your Future project, says: “We are passionate about protection of our water sources and natural landscapes, especially in this iconic Eerste River. We hope to continue our excellent relationship with the Stellenbosch Municipality, partners and the public to restore more and more of the ecological river systems by removing alien invasive plant and replacing it with indigenous riverine vegetation.”

Next year’s planned pilgrimage event will coincide with Stellenbosch’s annual month-long Heritage Festival where the walkers will be welcomed and offered a platform to spotlight their vision and water initiative as part of a celebration of our natural heritage.

Anyone interested in learning more about the river will be invited to join along the way and walk with the waters on a part of the time-honoured journey to the ocean. More details will be published soon.

The pilgrimage is the vision of members of the Eerste River Crystalline Water Tribe and four years ago it was agreed to follow the example of the California-based Walking Water initiative from high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Los Angeles and Long Beach where the waters spill into the ocean.

During 2018 a small South African group walked part of the Eerste River route as an exploration and recce, with international water activist Geoff Dalglish among them.

He stressed that the walk was not intended to be a march or a protest, but in common with the ideals of Walking Water is a prayer and an action that recognises that Water is Life and our common ground worldwide.

“Water connects us – humans, animals, plants and all life – and this pilgrimage walk is intended to be a celebration, an exploration and an opportunity to listen in humility to the waters and the many voices of our watershed and ask: How might we serve?

“We walk toward the vision of a regenerated environment and the healing of both humans and all life sustained by water. Water is Life. Our approach is to walk in a way that is synergistic, collaborative and future-orientated, revolving around a simple bottom line: for the enhanced protection of all life.”

Geoff Dalglish is an award-winning photojournalist who has enjoyed a lifelong love affair with wilderness and wildness. In 2011 he gave up his worldly possessions to walk with messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth, covering more than 10,000 miles. Most recently he walked all 3 years with Walking Water.