Terrific Taveta from Grogan’s Castle

Grogan’s Castle in the plains of Taveta in southern Kenya. Photo | Rupi Mangat

What you need to know:

Grogan may long be dead but his aura lingers in the handsome castle, the square clasped by the tall three-storey tower with an eagle’s eyrie from where Grogan had a 360-degree view

We’re en route to Grogan’s Castle in the far-flung corner of Taveta bordering Tanzania, driving through Tsavo West National Park to reach the white-washed Moorish-styled castle perched on a hill surrounded by 360-degrees of amazing landscape. 

When Colonal Ewart Grogan of the Cape-to-Cairo fame for the love of a woman built the castle, it was intended to be an agricultural college. This was in the 1930s when Grogan had thousands of acres planted with sisal, citrus, linseed, introduced the tough breed of zebu cattle from Asia, stocked fish ponds and more despite the Colonial Office writing off the area as useless for agriculture. Grogan succeeded in making the desert bloom – and all because he saw the power of harnessing the waters of Kilimanjaro with a maze of irrigation canals.

Back to the park. Standing on the fringe of Shetani, the devil’s flow of solid black lava that burst out of the Chyulu Hills 500 years ago, a family of klipspringers – the parents and young – stand in its midst. Rarely seen, the small antelope is superbly adapted to living on rocky terrain. With its pointed hooves like a ballerina’s, the klipspringer struts its rocky abode with ease. 

The drought is biting with no sign of rain despite Kilimanjaro decked in cloud for the entire weekend much to the chagrin of first time visitors. The Maasai giraffes with their young browse effortlessly on the acacias while nearer to the crystal clear Mzima Springs whose waters are filtered through the porous Chyulus, we’re treated to a spectrum of Africa’s antelopes – the impalas and Grant’s gazelles, the long-necked gerenuk, Fringe-eared Oryx with long pointed horns, the Lesser kudu with superbly spiralling horns, the eland – Africa’s largest and the dikdiks – one of Africa’ smallest mingling with the common zebra, warthogs and waterbuck. The water draws them like a magnet in the dry land.

Suddenly the crocodile’s snout breaks the surface of the crystal clear pool. We hurry to the unwater glass observatory, hoping to have an eyeball encounter with it – but it’s more keen on reaching the opposite bank. The endemic Mzima barb fish keep us entertained, swimming helter-skelter. The hippos snort in the lower pools with the monkeys chattering on. Finally, a herd of elephants appear past the doom palm forest lining the Tsavo River as the sun makes haste to set behind the invisible Kilimanjaro’s lower flanks.

We drive out of Tsavo’s Ziwani gate where Grogan broke ground around the 1920s.Until recently it was a rural scene with a dusty murram road but now we’re on to the fast tarmac (with the annoying bumps) to Grogan’s abode.

Grogan may long be dead but his aura lingers in the handsome castle, the square clasped by the tall three-storey tower with an eagle’s eyrie from where Grogan had a 360-degree view of his vast estates and stunning views of Lake Jipe, Kilimanjaro and the Pare Mountains in Tanzania with plenty of black rhinos and huge herds of elephants in view.

Whereas Grogan was Spartan – he slept on a metal frame in a wire enclosure to keep the mosquitos at bay, we’re living in the lap of luxury with the castle updated.

The eight rooms around the quadrant with a water fountain are huge with arches and wide windows and original doors. Grogan liked bathrooms in the rooms, so he had them fitted in that still gush hot water from the original steam water heater. Grogan had open holes above the doors and in the walls for cross ventilation – these are now fitted in with colouful Kitengela glass and air conditioning installed.

And Grogan entertained big – the kitchen runs the length of one side of the castle. The large dining table and side tables fitted in the grand dining room are as he left them – the gigantic table made from a single slab of timber that can seat some 20 people.

Grogan would be amused to see us laze at the infinity pool (which he didn’t build). When night falls, the enormous chandelier in the lounge is lit with a sparkling sky showing the Scorpion unfurl its tail in the sky.

To do from Grogan’s

Visit Lakes Jipe and Challa, Tsavo, WW1 sites like the slaughter aka Salaita hill, exploring the conservancy or just laze in the castle.

The castle also boasts a games room, lounges in the tower and great cuisine. 

Jipe Estate (where Grogan's Castle is located) during his time was 35,000 acres. However, he owned 92,000 acres in Taveta (three Sisal estates: Taveta, Ziwani and Jipe).