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Sportsman’s Arms Hotel: A witness to Nanyuki’s story

By Nduku Muema | September 15th 2016

If towns in Kenya were to be ranked, Nanyuki would probably take the trophy home for its uniqueness. Nanyuki is a small town that defines Kenya’s pre- and post-colonial eras in a very simple but outspoken manner.

The town’s location, at the foot of Mt Kenya and just a few kilometres from the Equator crossing line, and its pleasant weather are enough to get it to the top. Couple that with it being home to the Kenya Air Force, white settlers and the British Army Training Unit in Kenya. Not to forget being sandwiched between the chilly weather of the mountain on one side and rolling plains on the other. No other small town would boast of these and other varied unique elements like Nanyuki does.

Nestled in the heart of this unique small town is the Sportsman’s Arms Hotel, a facility on 17 acres that is synonymous with Nanyuki Town and its rich history. It has literally been a witness to Nanyuki’s story, both past and present.

In its heyday, the hotel was a centre of leisure and entertainment in the larger region, attracting revellers from as far away as Isiolo and Meru. The hotel has for a long time been a hit with the army, with the British Army Training Unit next door and the Kenya Airforce’s Laikipia Airbase within reach. Add to this an eclectic mix of expatriates and civil servants and you have a melting pot of cultures.

The just-ended long Idd-Adha weekend, gave me a reason to be at the Sportsman’s Arms. It was not my first time there, though, and I was amazed the place just gets and feels better with time, like a bottle of fine wine. I had been here purely for leisure before, but this time around I went with a little twist to find out more.

Best of two worlds

The hotel was established in the 1950s, and in 1993, the ownership of the facility changed hands from an Asian-Kenyan family, the parents of PR guru Gina Din, to its current management by the Gitongas.

The hotel buildings encompass a blend of both worlds, with evidence of tradition, old and new in its architecture and styles. From the wooden cabin blocks, stone block cottages to modern finish flats. It is a style from two different eras side by side. One a witness to a rich history in Kenya’s early years and the other a glimpse into the changing times and tastes.

These luxurious one and two bedroom cottages are complete with a lounge area, en-suite bathroom, a kitchenette and a classic fireplace.The cottages are spacious and within an enclosed courtyard.

Two out of their four blocks face Mt Kenya. This gives one a spectacular view of the country’s biggest mountain. I had to wake up early in the morning to enjoy the view and take photographs. The swimming pool has a coastal touch, with palm trees and beach-like pool furniture around.

So why the name Sportsman’s Arms, you may ask? Do they sell arms? Are they sponsored by Sportsman, the cigarette brand? Neither. The facility got this name because it started out as a place where white settlers would go to practise and play archery.

The hotel has not lost its first glory as an archery centre. When I was here, staff from one of the Kenya Police departments were practising on the range at the facility.

From the hotel, you can visit sites like Mt Kenya Game Ranch, Mt Kenya National Park and Reserve, Meru National Park, Olpejeta Conservancy, Thompsons Falls in Nyahururu among many others in the region.

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