Wild life

My battle with the dreaded ‘black cotton’

Laikipia, Kenya By the time I set off from the farm before dawn we’d had 22in of rain in the past month. At the bottom of the valley I saw in the headlights that our lugga, or seasonal watercourse, had become a roaring torrent of brown water after yet another downpour overnight. If I tried

Am I having a heart attack? 

Nairobi Some of our medical practitioners in Kenya advertise their services on street corners. ‘Bad omens, lost lovers, broken marriage, BIG PENIS,’ say hand-painted notices nailed to telegraph poles. ‘Love potions, LUCKY RING, Do-As-I-Say Spells, business boosting magic, land issues, lost items, herbs from the underseas.’ I admit to needing help on many of these

The family water stories that have become legends

Laikipia, Kenya When I met him as a boy, Terence Adamson was an elderly fellow whose face had been half torn away by one of his brother George’s famous lions. His disfigured features made him hard to look at, but Terence taught me how to dowse for water. He’d pick up any old stick and

Viazi the dog had a lucky escape from a baboon

Laikipia Viazi is a Samburu mongrel bitch with a curly tail. She is one of the most delightful, wonderful creatures I’ve known in my life. Her energy is boundless, she is always cheery and she’s been my great friend. When our collie Sasi had her litter of puppies in a heavy thunderstorm on the farm

The lure of Kenya’s empty shores

Malindi, Kenya coast As I walked along the empty shore on our stretch of Kenya’s north coast, I noticed a big fish, a giant trevally, swimming in the gentle waves parallel to me. When I came to the coral rag cliffs at the end of the beach and turned around, the fish also turned around

How Hannes took on a buffalo – and nearly paid the price

Kenya Hannes became a professional hunter because, as he says in his fine book Strange Tales from the African Bush, he missed ‘the smell of cordite… the clatter of the helicopters and the memory of the blood brotherhood that few, other than soldiers under fire, are lucky enough to know’. He’s a 14th generation white

Life was simple when we had just a tent in the bush

Laikipia, Kenya Twenty years ago, we pitched a tent in the wilderness which became the farm where we live now. We were starting from scratch. At twilight we saw a low, silver mist descend into the trees, making halos around the distant giraffe and elephant, and settling into the grass. The constellations came out, the

The nuance of Kenya

On Remembrance Sunday in Nairobi nearly a decade ago, an ancient Kenyan veteran told Sam Mattock, a British ex-cavalry officer, that he had lost his second world war service medals. Could Sam help replace them? In a culmination of Sam’s personal efforts, King Charles III, on his visit to Kenya with Queen Camilla next week,

The joy of yaks

The Mongolian taiga After driving across clean, fast rivers and through forests turning golden, orange and red in the Mongolian autumn, we came upon herds of yaks grazing the taiga. The yak, or Tartary ox, is the Shetland pony of cattle, as drawn by Norman Thelwell: not much higher than a big ram at the

Hassan still has no dhow to captain

Kenya Hassan was our skipper. He’d take us in his dhow out on the Indian Ocean for trips along the Kenya coast, south among the secret wave breaks or north towards Formosa Bay. Once he took my brother on a proper voyage to Lamu island, which needed several days even in calm weather. With his

A farewell to alcohol

Laikipia Some are saved by Jesus and they are sober. For others, drunkenness is as natural as love-making, roasted meat and weekend football. In northern Kenya we brew a honey mead called muratina; then there’s a millet beer and strongest of all is a moonshine, changa’a, which you can smell from several huts away and

The beauty of Boran cattle

The Farm, Laikipia Outside the nightjars were calling and a zebra brayed in the valley. The constellations were still bright as the dogs all piled into the Landcruiser with me for the drive out to the yards. During two years of drought we’ve been unable to sell cattle, which have cost us a fortune in

Progress is coming to our remote corner of Kenya

Laikipia The principal of the local polytechnic was waiting for me in the kitchen. Frequently in the kitchen there is a chief or a surveyor, or geese, or the cats Omar and Bernini, the dogs Jock, Sasi and Potatoes, foundling lambs or calves gambolling about hoping for milk, or stockmen with news of a sick

We survived the worst drought in a generation

The Farm, Laikipia I realised the worst drought of this generation was at last over this morning when two Samburu gentlemen arrived on the farm, asking to buy rams. My nomadic neighbours sense very well when it’s time to put a tup in with the flock. In just this month a full moon and the

How Moscow can pervert the course of Africa’s future

On the lengthy train ride to Kyiv I read my Plokhy as we trundled through seas of mud, passing villages with blue timber churches topped by golden domes gleaming in the spring dawn. A metastasis of Putin’s atrocities against Ukraine has been the entrenching of Russian influence, powered by guns and agitprop, across my home

My conversations with Wilfred Thesiger

When Wilfred Thesiger arrived in the port of Al Mukalla after his foot crossing of the Empty Quarter desert with the Bedu in 1948, he wore only Arab clothes. My father lent him a pair of trousers and a razor so he could get cleaned up before going to dinner. A friend of mine this

The man who makes money where no one else dares to go

Rwanda The mineshaft is dark, the air humid and starved of oxygen. I follow Marcus Edwards-Jones out of the muddy tunnel towards a window of light and at last we emerge into the evening. The sun is going down over Rwanda’s green hills, dotted with banana groves and eucalyptus stands, with a river snaking away

My nonagenarian father-in-law has embraced East Africa

Kenya My father-in-law Gerry Taylor is 91 and walks daily on our Kenya ranch among herds of buffalo, giraffe and zebras. A few days ago he inadvertently came within 20 feet of an elephant and the both of them pretended not to see each other. He says he enjoys highland Kenya for its open spaces

In praise of missionaries

Kenya Tonj is a war-battered settlement on a river that eventually feeds into the White Nile, in South Sudan. When they are not feuding over livestock, Dinkas from remote cattle camps, dressed in garish jalabiyas, saunter down the dusty main street. For months at a time, tropical deluges turn the surrounding mud hamlets into islands,

The energy of the world is shifting south

Kenya Greetings from Africa, my beleaguered cousins. I’ve written before about how in 1973, Uganda’s Idi Amin telegrammed Queen Elizabeth, promising to send shiploads of bananas to feed her subjects after ‘following with sorrow the alarming economic crisis befalling on Britain’. Now that you rival Burkina Faso in the number of times you’ve changed your