Way back in 1932, in the heart of the Aberdare Ranges, Lady Bettie and her husband Major Eric Sherbrooke Walker, a one time secretary to founder of the scout movement Lord Baden-Powell, built a private two-roomed tree house to provide a safe platform for viewing and shooting, with cameras of course, wildlife.
As fate would have it, the tree house’s location with an unparalleled view of a waterhole surrounded by salt deposits resulted in a demand to cater for more guests.
The tree house hence started hosting overnight guests acting as an adjunct to the Major’s other property, the Outspan Hotel.
Open only on nights with a full moon, the tree house was touted as probably being the most expensive in its day, costing a
|Outside view of Outspan Hotel in Nyeri.[Photo:Standard]|
smashing ten pounds (Sh1,320).
The year was 1952 and Treetops would host its most famous guest yet. Twenty-five-year-old Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary and her husband Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, were visiting Kenya as part of their Commonwealth tour. A personal visit to the Walkers would not have been complete without a visit to his now popular tree house.
Not married long, this was the couple’s maiden visit to an African forest and its enchantment could not be shrouded as they excitedly clicked away, especially after a rousing welcome by a herd of angry elephants.
Sadly, however, as the pair enjoyed themselves, King George VI, who had been ailing for a while, lost his battle to lung cancer, thrusting the Duke of Edinburgh into princehood and transforming the princess into a queen.
With its newfound relationship with the British Crown, Treetops became a popular destination as other VIP guests and dignitaries trooped to the Aberdares, among them Walker’s former boss, Baden-Powell, who went on to commission a cottage christened Paxtu on Outspan’s extensive grounds.
All was not rosy for the lodge though. The Mau Mau would also troop under the cover of the forest and darkness, albeit for different reasons.