Memories of the man who carried the new Queen’s baggage

The Times of London
Nyeri, Kenya

There’s nothing left of the Treetops Hotel in which the young Princess Elizabeth stayed on the night her father died and she became Queen.

The original two-bedroom tree-house, built in the splayed branches of an enormous fig tree and reached by a series of ladders and platforms, was the brainchild of an eccentric Englishman, Major Eric Sherbrooke Walker: vicar’s son, Oxford graduate, war hero, bootlegger, hunter and hotelier.

There are few still alive in Kenya who witnessed the royal visit by Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in February 1952, but Nahashon Murithi is one.

The 84-year-old lives with his wife, one of his sons and four grandchildren just outside the town of Nyeri, where the ragged snowy peaks of Mount Kenya overlook the wooded and terraced valleys.

His home is a three-room wooden bungalow with a tin roof, a dirt floor, no electricity, no running water and no glass in the windows.

Mr Murithi, who never went to school and speaks no English, started working for “Chief Walker” when he was just six years old.

Reminded of the Queen’s visit 60 years ago, he unfolded a lopsided gap-toothed grin and said through a translator: “Ah, the Queen, she must be old like me now. I am so glad she is alive and well. Please greet her for me!”

Mr Murithi was working as a porter in 1952. He carried the Princess’s luggage to Treetops and, the next day after the death of George VI, he carried the Queen’s luggage back.

“We did not talk but I remember she was a beautiful young woman, very well-dressed and wearing a gold necklace. That was amazing! And she so wanted to see the animals, she climbed straight up the ladder,” he recalled.

The notebook of Jim Corbett, a renowned hunter and guide who accompanied the royal party, lists the animals spotted that night from a high viewing platform overlooking a watering hole: elephants, rhinoceroses, waterbucks.

It was not until the next day, returning from the isolation of Treetops, that the Princess learnt of her father’s death and her accession to the Throne, the news being broken to her by Prince Philip.

Two years after the Queen’s visit, Treetops was burnt down during the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule.

Today, a copse in a paddock marks the site of the original hotel.

Undeterred, Major Walker rebuilt his hotel three years after its destruction, larger and more conventional in design, though still resting on stilts, and it eventually expanded into a 50-room hotel.

It overlooks the same watering hole high in Kenya’s Aberdare National Park, a place of heaths and rivers that bears a striking resemblance to the desolate beauty of the Scottish moorlands and the Queen’s own Balmoral estate.

Over the decades Treetops attracted a high-society following but lost much of its grandeur becoming tired, rundown and outdated. Under its current owner, Aberdare Safari Hotels, it is now undergoing a £1 million refurbishment and is due to re-open as a luxury game viewing lodge in April.