When Kate Middleton described her 2010 proposal up at Rutundu Lodge, a log cabin very high up (10,500ft above sea level to be precise) on the slopes of Mount Kenya as “incredibly romantic”, the lodge made its way firmly onto my bucket list.
I was determined to go and see what this epitome of romance was and by some miracle, in mid December a couple of years ago, I managed to drag not only my family but a couple of extra teenagers up there (it’s great when you are in charge of the itinerary isn’t it?). When I explained that there would be no electricity, no wifi and for kicks we would be hiking up to Lake Alice, the teenagers (politely) took the news in good humour.
We drove directly up Mount Kenya for three and a half hours, almost as far as you possibly can drive over unforgiving, off-road terrain. Fortunately my husband was in his element but I can’t say the same for the rest of us. There was heavy mist, a muddy rutted track, extreme jerking about, damaged sustained to the car (after a particularly vicious pothole) and a bout of nausea from one of our passengers. I am not sure if Wills and Kate helicoptered up there or borrowed a Landover to do the same drive but for us, after an hour or two, we started experiencing never-going-to-get-there-itis and it was disheartening.
Once arrived, the journey is not yet over. You are faced by a very steep gorge and a strange pulley system for swinging luggage and supplies in a basket across the chasm. Rutundu is self catering so we were advised to bring not just food but also firewood, so there were a fair number of pulley ‘runs’ required, which were fun to watch – until it started raining.
We then walked 20 minutes through the gorge to climb to the two log cabins on the other side. The log cabins can be best described as Lord of the Rings in style and decor. They reminded me of building childhood camps in the woods. Spaces between the logs are stuffed with moss and inside ceilings are low. And when it gets dark, man, it’s dark! The stars are incredible, if you are lucky enough to get a clear night.
So I quizzed the lodge caretakers at length about the engagement. Apparently the couple arrived entirely alone (without protection officers) and sadly it was raining cats and dogs from the time that Kate and Wills arrived, to the moment they were picked up the next morning. They were polite and extremely grateful for everything but probably would have been rained into that little cabin, which is a bit claustrophobic to be honest. Doubtless the weather caused them to bail early on the visit, as they only stayed one night instead of two and were collected early the following morning. They didn’t manage to get up to Lake Alice to fish and stayed less than 24 hours. Added to that, the high altitude makes your heart race so it’s hard to sleep. Undoubtedly Kate’s mind was racing like crazy once she had ‘put-a-ring-on-it‘ anyway.
We had a great hike up to Lake Alice but it was a properly strenuous trek up and over the steep crater (well done to the kids who did not complain). For bigger budget visitors, it is possible to get there by helicopter (weather permitting). None of us were fishermen, so we just enjoyed a picnic that we had thrown together ourselves. One remarkable thing that far up Mount Kenya was the stunning, high-altitude plant life, interesting birds and very clear skies but it was definitely chilly – so worth packing warm clothes (as Wills noted in the Rutundu visitor’s book). You bring your own food but there are two caretakers based at the cottages who will lay the table, warm your food (best to bring pre-cooked dishes that you can warm on a stove) and wash-up.
Fly Camping in the Mathews Range
In addition to the night at Rutundu lodge and a stint at Lewa, in 2010 Kate and Wills did a spot of fly camping with friends up in the Mathews Range, organised by the exclusive and very discrete camp called Sarara. Fly camping (i.e. sleeping under nothing more than a mossie net), or even just straightforward sleeping in a tent can be rougher around the edges that it looks in the brochure. Lying wide eyed at night to the sound of hyena whooping, zebra munching and lion coughing with very little protection between you and the great outdoors can be daunting for some. We also spotted a ton of leopard there, the dried out river beds were the ideal habitat for them. It’s also scorching hot in the middle of the day and there’s no escaping the heat. I was lucky enough to stay at Sarara Luxury Tented Camp just a year after Kate and Wills had visited (and shortly after Ashton and Demi had been there – which shows that it was a little time ago…). In fact Ian Craig flew up to Sarara for lunch while we were there. He was looking for a piece of fallen wood from which to fashion an especially meaningful wedding gift for the happy couple. The lodge manager confirmed that Wills hung on to his day-pack rucksack (that contained his mother’s engagement ring), for dear life throughout his stay.
“Our porters kept offering to carry it and he was like; no, no, it’s fine thank you.”
My Sarara Luxury Tented Camp photos
So all in all, while the 3 week ‘engagement’ holiday, for Kate, would have been memorable, unusual, full of new experiences (perhaps more used to beach holidaying in the Caribbean or skiing in the Alps). Undoubtely some creepy, crawlies would have made an appearance. It would have been scary, comfort zone stretching and rough around the edges. There definitely would have been #nohairdryers and this might explain why she has been less than eager to come back since that momentous 3 week stay.
- So do Princesses like Kenya too? Part 1
- If you fancy a real ‘Lord of the Rings’ log cabin adventure (or are a keen trout fisherman) then visit Rutundu Lodge
- If you would rather nip up there by helicopter than face the long drive then contact Tropic Air.
- This Kenyan blogger, Sharon Mundia, was surprised by a very romantic proposal by Lake Alice on a day trip via helicopter. This is Ess – My Engagement Story
- My initial blog post on visiting Sarara: Busman’s holiday – travel writing Sarara
- And the controversy that followed that Sarara post: Contraversial blog posts: Sarara Camp!
*I lost my own photos of Rutundu Lodge, so had to harvest these images from online. So annoying! I even had a short video taken while walking around the log cabin. Will keep trying to find them.