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July 2013 travel news 21
The Ghosts of Happy Valley
by Juliet Barnes
Juliet Barnes has written for all incarnations
of this magazine over many, many years.
We obviously like what she does, and well
she does it.
She has grown with us over the years,
starting out as she did with a long series
on the old churches of Kenya to include
their graveyards, and more recently the
old homes of Happy Valley, the obvious
genesis of this book. She is presently
writing a series on the old homes of Eburru
for us (see page 36).
I was very happy to learn six months ago
that Juliet had found a publisher in London
to put into print her account of her travels
and findings in Happy Valley or, more
correctly, the Wanjohi Valley. I was very
happy for her and now honoured that she
has asked me to review her book.
To correct a misconception, Happy Valley
is not named after all the shenanigans that
went on there in the 20s and 30s. Geoff
Buxton, the first colonial farmer in the area,
had moved up from the dry arid Rift Valley
with its meagre rivers and a relentless
dusty wind that gave Gilgil its name. And
so, after finding his ideal farming country,
he delightfully called this new haven,
Everyone I mentioned the book to said ‘Oh
no, not another book about the unsavoury
goings-on in Happy Valley so long ago;
and please don’t tell me there is a new
theory about the death of Lord Erroll.'
Well, in the main, it is none of the above,
The book is essentially about the old
homes of both well-to-do aristocrats and
impecunious colonial farmers in the early
days of the Kenya Colony, through to
independence and the 21st century.
It's about who farmed where, who built
those lovely old homes (the few that
survive), the histories of those who lived
there all those years ago.
We meet Simon Gitau, her erstwhile
travelling companion and guide – an
arch conservationist who dangerously
campaigns to save the ever-diminishing
indigenous forests and the last few troops
of Colobus monkeys that live in the valley.
This book is both travelogue and social
history lesson; anthropological in parts;
and above all, a personal quest.
As someone who has edited Juliet’s work
for many years, I cannot be critical of her
writing, not from any other viewpoint than
there is little if anything to fault in this book.
Her descriptions draw you to the story
which is well structured, interesting and
informative. The research that has gone
into this book is mightily impressive; facts
have been checked and re-checked, and I
found no glaring errors or omissions.
While this book might not be to everyone’s
taste, it is a history of the homes and their
occupants in a valley in Kenya that, aside
from its notoriety, has valuable historical
I have to say I was disappointed with the
images used in the book; many of them
have been used in this magazine - perhaps
a copyright issue. As my schoolteacher
said repeatedly, ‘Could have done better if
he tried harder’.
That aside, it’s an extremely enjoyable
read, and I’d highly recommend it to you.
The book is available for sale
on amazon.com, and at the
following bookshops in Nairobi:
(Village Market & The Souk)
Bookpoint (Moi Ave)
Bookstop (Yaya Centre)
Textbook Centre (Sarit Centre)
Books First (Nakumatt)
The UK launch is set for 4th July, so watch out for Juliet doing the TV breakfast
show rounds that day.
Additionally she will be at the following locations in the UK, for a brief talk (30-
40 minutes), and a Q&A session followed by a book signing.
Hungerford – 3
rd July @ 7.30 pm. The Hungerford Bookshop at the Bear
Hotel. Ring 01488 683480 to secure a place.
Lewes – 5th July @ 7.45 pm at All Saints Centre. Click HERE to book online.
Woodstock – 6th July @ 6.00 pm. Woodstock Bookshop at Woodstock
Methodist Church. No advance ticket requirements needed.
Stow-on-the-Wold – 9
th July @ 6.00 pm. Borzoi Bookshop at the Unicorn
Equestrian Centre. Ring 01451 830268 to book.
London – 10th July @ 7.00 pm. Woolfson & Tay, 39 Bear Lane SE1 0UH.
Click HERE to book online.
Space is limited at the events. Bookings essential, and the sooner the better.
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