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God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
Nathan M. Adams
December 22, 1975
The season inspires warm memories of an angling holiday at Christmas, when the Brown Trout Inn in Kenya was a haven for Englishmen far from home
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December 22, 1975

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

The season inspires warm memories of an angling holiday at Christmas, when the Brown Trout Inn in Kenya was a haven for Englishmen far from home

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Once there was a high and lonely place in East Africa where it was always October, a year-round harvest of crackling mornings and brilliant noons. Soft breezes of evening brought the smell of ice and bamboo from the slope of the mountain the Kikuyu called Kirinyaga to the lake which was located amid dense pines and giant fig trees. A few miles to the north the equator bisected the gut of the continent. Unlike the mountain, the name of which meant House of God, neither the lake nor its name, Sasumua, was of any significance.

At dusk clouds of ephemeroptera drifted over the quiet water like puffs of dun-colored smoke and the stillness was broken by the slurp and splash of feeding trout. With such an abundance of insect life and the natural cover of weed beds and log falls, brown and rainbow trout existed there in great numbers. None were lunkers. But they were respectable.

The trout is not native to Africa; they did not arrive on the continent until 1892, when the first brown trout eggs were transported from Britain and hatched in South Africa's Cape Province. In 1905 they came to Kenya.

It was Major Ewart (Cape to Cairo) Grogan who worked the miracle. Grogan was a folk hero of some note in East Africa, his renown based largely on an epic 7,000-mile trek he had made from Cape Town to Cairo. It was the era of settlement in Kenya, marked by the arrival from England of hundreds of adventurers in search of free land far from the queues and clutter of Oxford Street. Among them were men like Grogan, former Guards officers-turned-gentlemen farmers.

Africa's empire builders suffered two stigmas. One was a touch of madness; the other, a case of homesickness. For a squire of any sort of taste, trout were as much a part of the England he had left behind as tea and sympathy. Civilized survival depended on the presence of both. Thus, Grogan knew where duty lay.

It was a problem of logistics best solved by a soldier, a combined operation of sea and land forces. The eggs first arrived in Mombasa by steamer. Amid great fanfare they traveled inland via the recently completed rail link to Nairobi. The final stage of the journey was made atop the heads of sweating porters who safaried into the Aberdares and seeded the eggs and fingerlings in likely streams.

Four years later, in 1909, a survey showed that the experiment was a success. The eggs had hatched, the fingerlings survived and multiplied. As word leaked out, a fad of trout fishing swept the colony. Farmers deserted their lands and families to don knickers and tweeds and batter through the thickets to the pools. Pipe smoke mingled with the odors of the forest; curses and cries of joy joined the shrieks of the Colobus monkey.

No one strayed far on these expeditions without the protection of a heavy express rifle. Besides rhino and elephant the Aberdares were infested with Cape buffalo, a larger and far testier breed than its plains brothers. In the close quarters of the forest they reacted to surprise with the power and speed of a trip-hammer. To be ambushed by such a creature was a terrifying experience—and often fatal.

While Grogan delivered the trout, the tea and sympathy would later be provided by the Brown Trout Inn (what else?), a bivouac of thatch-roofed cottages built on a hill above the Sasumua, an hour's hike from the most productive streams. It was a settler's inn, far from the beaten path. So isolated was the Brown Trout and such were its surroundings that a gingerbread house would not have seemed out of place.

There were neatly barbered lawns and hedges, flagstone walks and "The Buttery" teahouse. Snooker and darts were in the bar. So were caricatures by Spy that portrayed lean and comical Englishmen at sport. Here a Kitchener might sip a shandy after exertions afield. And Cecil Rhodes could tell outrageous tales before a roaring fire. So there was this about the Brown Trout: it was a time capsule. And a lonely settler could enjoy a game of let's pretend—"let's pretend we are in Sussex-by-the-Sea."

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