At the Kenya coast in Watamu, a few metres from the Darakazi beach, sits a Scottish castle dating back hundreds of years.
The little known treasure was apparently built by a Scottish man who very little is known about.
The Watamu castle, as it is known, stands tall on a hill. It is a magnificent building that has maintained its original state so many years down the line.
From afar one easily spots the Scottish flag hoisted on a tower at one end of the castle. The middle part flies another flag, this time a Kenyan one perhaps retaining both the heritage of the owner and the country that adopted him.
The castle has an expansive roof terrace providing a clear view of the ocean.
The Watamu castle, built on one and a quarter acre piece of land, is one of the most sought-after venues today. This is because it has been turned into a holiday home costing Sh20,000 per night.
The location of the castle is perfect. It borders the Arabuko Sokoke forest and is a walk away from the ocean.
Watamu castle has three floors, the ground floor hosts the dining area, kitchen and two guest rooms, first floor is used as a lounge with two other ensuite bedrooms ideal for a family, while the top floors contain more bedrooms.
In total, the house has six-bed rooms and expansive terraces with a balcony facing the beach.
As expected of high-end real estate development, the castle has a swimming pool with a bridge leading into the castle.
However, the enchanting, manicured gardens of the Watamu house cannot match Lord Egerton’s castle in size.
Lord Egerton castle, built by Lord Maurice Egerton of Tatton in Njoro in the late 1930s is an enormous building with 52 rooms.
The Lord’s name and motto has forever remained engraved in the institution he helped set to date. He was a noble man who, during his life, donated 1,000 acres of his land to be used to build an agricultural institute for the settlers’ children.
“It is this school that grew into Egerton Agricultural College and eventually Egerton University. Later, he bequeathed an additional 3,000 acres of his Ngongogeri Farm to the College. He was an extremely generous, philanthropist and in many ways an exemplary man. He had established a reciprocally humane relationship with his workers whom he treated with care,” stated Professor Emilia Ilieva, associate professor in Literature at Egerton University and Chair of the Standing Committee on the Lord Egerton Castle Museum.
“After Lord Egerton’s death, the castle fell into the hands of a succession of users, none of whom seem to have appreciated its value or to have assumed responsibility for its preservation. It was thus gradually falling into a state of disrepair,” she says.
After the university attained its status as a university in 1987, it sought to preserve the estate of its founding father by reclaiming the dilapidated castle.
“In September 2001, the Lord Egerton Castle was handed over to the university together with 20 acres of the adjoining land. Unfortunately, it had suffered neglect and vandalism. Luckily, it was in a fairly good condition externally,” she explains.
Plans are already underway to transform the castle into a museum with the help of relevant government ministry and parastatals.
The museum will contain a library with books on colonial settlers, a permanent photographic exhibition on the life of the Lord among other artefacts.
Died in solitude
The university is also calling in citizens to bring back some of the items that belonged to the castle. According to Prof Ilieva, a mattress, bed, and Bible are some of the items they have so far recovered.
The castle, which took 16 years to be completed, was built for the Lord’s fiancée who had first turned down his proposal for marriage claiming she did not like the house Egerton was staying in. She termed the six-bedroom house a bird’s nest.
Challenged, the Lord decided to build the castle which she also dismissed calling it a museum.
The heartbroken Lord retired for five years of solitude in the castle, dying there in 1958. During his lifetime, he never allowed chickens, women, or dogs to enter his castle.
Another castle owner, Ewart Grogan, on the other hand, lived a happy life. He was a maverick who travelled widely and bought many parcels of land in Kenya.
Grogan road, now River road was once his part of his estate. To express his love for life and perhaps to satisfy his material desires, Grogan opted to build a castle on top of a hill overlooking the Taita Taveta plains.
Much has been written about him, especially his Moorish castle as he would once describe it in a letter to his friend.
Basil Criticos, a former MP for Taveta, is the current owner of the white castle which sits sandwiched in his expansive land on Jipe Hills.
In England, where Lord Egerton had built another castle before coming to Kenya, most of the castles have been turned into museums or fun spots.
He had an almost a similar castle in Cheshire, where he once hosted the royal family. Such were the purposes of castles in England.
However, the love for unique Victorian house designs has not eluded indigenous Kenyans. The Brookehouse International school last year completed a building which is designed like a castle.
The building’s lintels resemble a Kings crown while the roof is cone-shaped and elevated with a draw bridge.
It was designed by a local architectural and interior design firm.
According to Prof Chris Wanjala who spent most of his time researching on the Egerton castle, institutions are opting for the Victorian design to give it a homely feel.
As you ponder on this marvellous piece of art, make a point to one day visit the house on James Gichuru road that is also designed like a castle.
Like the others, it too was built by a settler. However, its ownership has since changed twice. The Ministry of Immigration department of refugees is the current occupant. They have rented the building but are looking forward hoping to buy it one day.
As I walk around the rooms, I remark about how cold it is.
“Yes. We need the chill because our work is hot, It cools as off,” says Badu Katelo the immigration commissioner laughing.
It is a magnificent work of art with stair cases leading to the pool area that is no longer in use. Inside the castle, some rooms have remained unchanged.
Although the immigration department have used many of the rooms by turning them into offices, there are still many others that remain untouched.
One thing Badu is happy about is the fact that they have saved the heritage of the building that was almost being turned into a hotel for lack of occupants.