The 2003 Classic Safari Challenge
A three week marathon drive across the heart of Africa.
"As English as Virginia Water"
A few words about this place. It ias English as Virginia Water, or, for that matter, Brightwel-cum-Sotwell. A fantastic rambling old house, set in the middle of nowhere.
To get here, gilt mirrors and leather bound books were carried on the heads of many porters, who had to trek 70 miles, only to then put it all in a canoe. It is truly remarkable. We are sitting out on the lawns under the patio of a giant red brick pile built in the 1920s, if you want to know the full fascinating story, and, who got off with whom, and who fancied who, and the life and times of the 1920s party set, read a paperback called The Africa House.
There were no roads then. We pumelled down a long, long straight from Lusaka, between high grasses and rolling hills, with a ribbon of road stretching out to far horizons. We left at the crack of dawn, and got here for a beer or three at around 2.0pm.
Shiwa is The Africa House, and you drop down a long dusty drive that must be hell when it rains, to glimpse a view of the lake and valley that enchanted the Gore-Brown, nephew of Locket-King, who had built Brooklands. Books and pictures of Brooklands abound around the creaking house, which is in a ramshackle state of repair. If its not the rains trying to get it from the top, the beetles are doing their best from the bottom up. Most of us are in sort of tents on another lawn, capped with plastic sheeting. We are in for a most interesting night. The tents, the showers, the flush toilets and everything else to make us welcome is the results of a fantastic amount of work put in by Jo Harvey to make us all welcome. "We can usually only sleep eight people", she says.
The rally checkpoint of the day was set up in the archway as you arrive of a small lodge come gatehouse, and the clock in the tower looks rather familiar. Of course! It was carried here, shoulder high, from the clubhouse of Brooklands.
Here in the middle of Africa is a little bit of England, and it’s wonderful, evocative, and oozing the past from every creak of the polished floorboards. You would never believe such a remarkable old house could be here…. with the Jo and Charles Harvey, descendants of the family, tackling the restoration and trying to keep it going, along with the estate, the lake, one hospital and two schools. They have their work cut out.
Paul Merryweather is looking seriously worried, so his complaints of gearbox problems must be taken seriously. Everyone else is wondering if they can remember the words for Ging-gang-gooley, as there is a camp fire and barbecue for tonight…. rather fitting for a mob about to sleep under the stars. (Or a plastic sheets, if you prefer the less romantic truth of our sleeping arrangements - it has rained hard here over the last four days, but today is gloriously sunny).
There is an Invicta under the trees with a brace of Bentleys…. it could be the 1920s…. old Gore-Brown would be tickled pink if he could see that Great English Eccentricity is alive and well at Shiwa House.
And the sun is setting on another hot but remarkable day.