“Cock your hat,” Frank Sinatra once said, “because angles are attitudes.”
But in Borana Ranch, a sprawling 32,000-acre property situated on the eastern rim of the Laikipia plateau in Northern Kenya, it’s a little more than just about angles and style.
There, the sun is ruthless and so you cock your hat to save your eyebrows from getting singed.
However, if you squint north – past the aeronautically gliding Kori Bustards, you might catch a glimpse of the magnificent Mt Kenya, weather permitting.
And if you look south, past the sea of bowing red oat grass, you’ll catch a glimpse of some of the 4,000 or so cattle that graze this land, perfectly co-existing with all the big five you will find in the park.
Borana Ranch – named after the Borana cattle – has a history that dates back just after the First World War and through three generations.
After the war, the British government handed out land in empty areas of the highlands to settler soldiers and encourage agriculture in the areas.
One Will Powys, drew several thousand acres of land around the Kisima springs in the foothills of Mt Kenya where he started a farm.
Later – because he wanted an area suitable for sheep farming – he bought land around Ngare Ndare River (“River of Sheep” according to the Maasai language) and set up a ranch on which Borana ranch now sits.
Will married Elizabeth and together they got three children, one of who was Rose.
Rose later married Tony Dyer, who ran the ranch for years before one of his sons, Mike, took over in 1984.
But 1984 was a disastrous year because it refused to rain for the next 18 months and Mike lost 700 head of cattle.
The loss prompted him to rethink the business. He decided that conservation was the only other way to go. Borana Ranch took a new turn.
Together with his wife, they built Borana Lodge in 1990, a plush and exclusive 8-cottaged luxury haven on the lip of Samangua Valley.
When they opened its doors to the first guests, the response was so overwhelming that it featured in Architectural Digest – An American magazine aimed at an affluent and style-conscious readership which bills itself as the “International magazine of interior design”.
Borana Lodge is built around nature. This means that if, during construction, they encountered a rock in the way, they simply incorporated it into the design.
In short, there are no straight lines on Borana Lodge; everything runs alongside the contours of nature.
Every so often, the still air of Borana Ranch will be filled with the metallic sound of a chopper or a small aircraft buzzing overhead.
That could either mean the arrival of new guests or their pick up. There is a private airstrip a few minutes’ drive from the lodge and a helipad on the property.
However, how you arrive is not as important as what you may choose to do after your arrival.
And there is plenty to do. First you could frolic in the private pool by your cottage.
Or you could unwind at the main pool, which “hangs” on a cliff offering a picturesque view of the valley below and the hills beyond.
Order a cocktail and listen to the sound of nothingness. Later, when the sun goes down, you could hop into one of the camp vehicles and drive off into the ranch for a game drive.
You will visit the Elephant Bar, a cylindrical half tank that is fed water by a gigantic windmill, which thrusts out of the landscape defiantly.
You will cross a gigantic man-made dam, past elephants, elands and other animals grazing, and then drive up ragged hills and finally, thick in a brush, you will stumble upon a pride of lions in the process of waking up from their slumber.
We counted 12 of them, the highest number of lions I have seen anywhere, after Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.
After the success of Borana Lodge, another property – booked on an exclusive basis – came up on a plateau 8-clicks away from the lodge; Laragai House.
If Borana lodge is luxurious, Laragai House takes luxury up a notch higher.
The private home, owned by George and Lucilla Stephenson, is a super-exclusive property that has another eight cottages that overlook Lolokwe and Wamba Mountains to the north and Mt Kenya to the south (if you look over the clouds). This is splendour at 3,000 feet.
Originally built as a country retreat by Lords Valentine and Michael Cecil, now it’s a getaway for celebrities like actress Urma Thurman, the late Steve Jobs, and legendary Rolling Stones rocker, Ronnie Wood among other A-listers who have stayed there.
On your last day, the lodge will organise a trip out to Ngare Ndare House where Mike’s parents – Tony and Rose Dyer still live.
It’s a one-hour horseback trip that also doubles as a game-watching exercise.
The trip is a matter of courtesy for guests who might want to get – from the horse’s mouth – the history of the ranch over a glass of lemonade.
You will find Tony – now in his mid 80’s – sitting at the veranda, leaning on his cane; a man with such astute memory, intelligence and coherence even at his age.
His wife, Rose, not any younger, still rides horses.
Borana Ranch is many things; It’s the exquisite luxury experience, it’s the divorce from the rest of the world and the proximity to nature’s ruggedness.