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History of the Aberdare Range

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The Kikuyu called these mountains Nyandarua (“drying hide”, for their silhouette) long before Joseph Thomson, in 1884, named them after Lord Aberdare, president of the Royal Geographical Society. In their bamboo thickets and tangled forests, Kikuyu Mau Mau guerrillas hid out for years during the 1950s, living off the jungle and surviving thanks to techniques learned under British officers during the Burma campaign in World War II, in which many of them had fought. Despite the manhunts through the forests and the bombing of hideouts, little damage was done to the natural habitat, and Aberdare National Park remains one of Kenya’s most pristine forest reserves.

On the western side, the range drops away steeply to the Rift Valley. It was here, in the high Wanjohi Valley, that a concentration of settlers in the 1920s and 1930s created the myth of the glamorous, decadent Happy Valley out of their obsessive, and unsettled, lives. There’s not much to see (or hear) these days. The old wheat and pyrethrum farms were subdivided after independence and the valley’s new settlers are more concerned with making their market gardens pay. The memories live on only among veteran wazungu. The Kinangop plateau was settled by Europeans, too, but in 1950 the high forest and moorland here was declared Aberdare National Park.

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