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Lord Macmillan’s Castle: A perfect tourist site with a rich history very few know about.

Lord Macmillan's Castle Kilimambogo.

Situated 65 kilometres from Nairobi off the Thika-Garissa Road and 15 kilometres from Thika town, Mt Kilimambogo (known by the Akamba people as Kyanzavi) is at the heart of the Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park – a park which has a rich history and beauty that stands out in contrast with its dusty neighbourhood.

The peak height of the mountain is 2,145 meters about 9 kilometers.

The park is covered by mountain forests and is home to abundant species of birdlife. Buffalos are the dominant animals in the ecosystem, about 250 buffaloes can be found on the slopes. Other wildlife found in the park include baboons, bushbucks, pythons and monitor lizards.

This park was once home to Lord William Northrop Macmillan (1872–1925), a house is estimated to be the size of three basketball pitches.

Macmillan was a decorated American soldier and knighted by the King of England, even though he was not British. He was a huge man raised in St. Louis, Missouri, United States and arrived in Kenya in 1904 on a shooting expedition.

Macmillan’s castle is one of those old houses where you wish the walls were filled with pictures of those who once lived in it. It was a mansion at one stage, a military hospital during the First World War and a prison in the Second World War.

In 1918, Macmillan built the house, more like a mini fortress that has come to be known as the Macmillan House or Ol Donyo Sabuk mansion. A glance at its walls tells of painstaking adherence to detail. It is built wide enough to be a protection and is a testament to the architecture of the time. 

Later, its hefty build facilitated its services in the first and second world wars.

Macmillan owned this house and its surrounding lands at the foot of Ol Donyo Sabuk Mountain, stretching towards 14 Falls. An ambitious man, it is said he also wanted to own the mountain.

This 32-roomed castle has had a glorious past and has seen illustrious guests such as Ewart Grogan, former American President Theodore Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Sir Evelyn Baring and Prince Amedeo, (Duke of Aosta, the commander of the Italian Forces in what was known as the East Africa Campaign when Italy declared war on the United Kingdom and France on 10th June, 1940 during the Second World War).

Roosevelt and Churchill were on game hunting trips to Kenya when they visited the castle. 

But more interestingly is the fact that the idea to arrest The First President of Kenya Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was mooted in one of the bedrooms that overlooks the Ol Donyo Sabuk hills. Moreover, the late Tom Mboya was born at Ol Donyo Sabuk where his father worked as a casual labourer at Macmillan’s sisal farm. 

This single-storied, high ceiling castle with underground bunkers was built in the early 1900s by Macmillan. The house was gazetted in Kenya on 19th December, 2008 and plans of turning it into a museum are underway.

It is said that Macmillan and his wife stayed in each wing of the 32-roomed castle for six months before moving to the other. 

Macmillan’s castle was, like Grogan’s and Delamere’s castles, a scene for scandals, affairs and wife-swapping parties. The mansion retained the happy valley atmosphere with lavish parties. Colonel Ewart Groan is said to have organised wild parties here. These parties made the locals nickname the house kilav (the club).

Macmillan’s abode was also the site for Hollywood blockbusters like the 1950’s Mogambo starring Ava Gardener, Grace Kelly and Clark Gable.

Macmillan died in 1925 and was buried on Mt Kilimambogo. Beside him is his faithful servant Louise Decker. The grave of his dog is also on the mountain.

After his death, his wife Lady Lucie built the Macmillan Library in Nairobi Central Business District in his honour.

For a long time, the house was in the hands of Muka Mukuu Co-operative, Today, the estate which covered over 100,000 acres is privately owned and some of it subdivided into 2 to 3 acres plots for the cooperative members.

However, in 1999, the Tourist Trust Fund embarked on a rehabilitation exercise in a quest to have the house marked as a heritage site.

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