Christine Nicholls’ Blog, 8 October 2011

In trouble with my car the other day, I remembered stories of the early Kenya roads. Nairobi was a bottomless bog of black cotton soil in the rainy season, while in the dry season the soil baked dry and became a fine powder. Everything was covered in dust. Sometimes mules had to be shot and left to sink because they could not be extracted. But when the Governor got stuck in mud in 1907 the first serious improvements to Nairobi’s roads were made.  In the countryside several settlers made the roads themselves. Barbie Nightingale said: ‘The road from the Kinangop to Eburru was originally cut by my husband in about 1919, through a solid bamboo forest. He had one Ndorobo and no theodolite. When they found they were going down to the left, they would come up again. They cut a three-foot path, staying on the ridge. To this day the road almost follows the same line.’ Mervyn Carnelly remembered the ‘splash’ at the bottom of the steep hill into the Rift.: ‘What a hill that was and what cars did it all on wooden-spoked wheels. It dropped steeply down over rocks to what became Mayer’s ranch and there you crossed the hot spring that is the source of the Kedong stream. Those going down cooled off their brakes and tyres and those going up topped up their radiators and we all picnicked and swapped news from up and down the country. The whole area was full of hard-boiled eggshells.’ Maintaining wheels with wooden spokes was tedious. They had to be bathed in linseed oil to keep the wood ‘full’, or otherwise the rims and tyres came off.

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