Sheldrick's Fig Tree

Generations ago a magical spot was discovered within Mweiga Estate, a beautiful farm once owned by the Sheldricks in the deep forests now known as the Aberdare National Park

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Generations ago a magical spot was discovered within Mweiga Estate, a beautiful farm once owned by the Sheldricks in the deep forests now known as the Aberdare National Park. A mighty fig tree once dominated this unique spot overlooking a lively watering hole and natural glade, which was a much treasured hideaway of David Sheldricks father, Alfred Henry William Sheldrick. Alfred spent many hours watching the ways and habits of the wild animals of the forest from a simple platform he built nestled high within the tree’s hefty boughs. Little did Alfred know that his secret tree-house would one day be the site where a princess would become a queen and where history would be made.

Alfred’s friends came one after the other to spend time in his tree-top hide until one day he received a visit from Sherbrooke Walker in 1932. Walker was so captivated by Alfred’s hide that he insisted that the platform be extended and private guests be brought to absorb the wonders of the outstanding wildlife teaming below the branches of the fig tree.  And so it was that Sheldrick and Walker began work on the ‘Upstairs Hotel’ where a sign pointing along a twisted path through tangled undergrowth led to a wooden ladder scaling upwards into the branches above.

From modest beginnings the ‘Upstairs Hotel’ was soon named ‘Treetops’ and visitors flooded from the ends of the earth to spend one magical night in this unconventional hotel in a giant fig tree. The vision of the lodge was to allow guests to marvel at the magnificence of nature in safety and comfort whilst remaining unseen to the wildlife below.

A White Hunter with his rifle loaded and slung over his shoulder would greet the guests on arrival and lead them along the well-trodden path through the dense forest towards the fig tree, pointing out the many forest nomads within the surrounding bush along the way. At intervals along the path ‘escape ladders’ were accessible, leading into the trees for safety, which Sheldrick and Walker thought prudent to build should any of the guests come face to face with one of the forests more inquisitive beasts.

Guests would spend hours on the observation veranda, binoculars in hand, speaking in bated eager voices, enthralled with the wild stage forty feet below, where huge herds of elephants performed, rhinos browsed and a host of wonderful beasts gathered at the shrine of the fig tree. Some guests would stay up all night and others would retire to their rooms and immerse themselves in the sounds of the tree and the goings-on on the ground below.

And so it was that in February 1952, a Princess and her consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, paid a visit to Treetops dawning the second Elizabethan age in Alfred Sheldrick’s modest tree-house, in his most favoured spot in the Central Highlands of Kenya.