Happy Valley was the name given to the Wanjohi Valley in the Kenya Highlands, where a small community of affluent, hedonistic white expatriates settled between the wars. While Kenya's early colonial days have been immortalised by farming pioneers like Lord Delamere and Karen Blixen, and the pioneering aviator Beryl Markham, Happy Valley became infamous under the influence of troubled socialite, Lady Idina Sackville, whose life was told in Frances Osborne's bestselling The Bolter. The era culminated with the notorious murder of the Earl of Erroll in 1941, the investigation of which laid bare the Happy Valley set's decadence and irresponsibility, chronicled in another bestseller, James Fox's White Mischief.
But what is left now? In a remarkable and indefatigable archaeological quest Juliet Barnes, who has lived in Kenya all her life and whose grandparents knew some of the Happy Valley characters, has set out to explore Happy Valley to find the former homes and haunts of this extraordinary and transient set of people. With the help of a remarkable African guide and further assisted by the memories of elderly former settlers, she finds the remains of grand residences tucked away beneath the mountains and speaks to local elders who share first-hand memories of these bygone times.
Nowadays these old homes, she discovers, have become tumbledown dwellings for many African families, school buildings, or their ruins have almost disappeared without trace - a revelation of the state of modern Africa that makes the gilded era of the Happy Valley set even more fantastic. A book to set alongside such singular evocations of Africa’s strange colonial history as The Africa House, The Ghosts of Happy Valley is a mesmerising blend of travel narrative, social history and personal quest.
JULIET BARNES was born and schooled in Kenya, and went to St Andrew’s University, Scotland. Today, she lives with her two children Lord Delamere’s ranch beside Lake Elmenteita in Kenya’s Rift Valley, looking out over the mountains surrounding “Happy Valley”. She writes for magazines and newspapers in the UK and Kenya and has had children’s fiction and non-fiction published in both countries.
'Beautifully told travelogue and historical quest. With family histories woven in, this is a moving, entertaining and enlightening read, and an honest exploration of Kenya’s colonial past.’
'Barnes merges travelogue with history, visiting the ruined and reclaimed homes - once opulent abodes with rose gardens - of the wealthy and often ennobled white settlers of Wanjohi Valley, near the Aberdare mountains in west central Kenya. The author's journey to find out from locals where the set lived is determined and admirable.'
"A page-turning exploration of historic houses & Kenya’s notorious ‘Happy Valley’. Truly a book of our time, this is a must read if you want to get under the skin of the last 100 years of Kenya’s social history."
'Numerous books have been written about Kenya’s infamous Happy Valley, but the latest edition, The Ghosts of Happy Valley: Searching for The Lost World of Africa’s Infamous Aristocrats, offers a fresh, much needed, perspective. This book is highly recommended for those interested in this part of Kenya’s history and wising to understand the current state of things.'
"The author does a good job of presenting the various views, with added insights after visiting the homes and hearing local lore about some of the main players. In the end a well-thought-out blended theory of the motive for Lord Erroll's murder and the possible perpetrators gives yet another twist to this unsolved mystery.... the book is a valuable addition to the library of anyone interested in this period of Kenya's history."
‘A problem with the depiction of Happy Valley arises when you encounter stories like that of Mary Miller, to whom I am very distantly related. Juliet Barnes hears that Mary ‘lived off lorry-loads of champagne and booze before shooting herself…’ Also that she and her husband were on the edge of the notorious party set in their home near the Wanjohi or ‘Happy’ Valley, a chilly cleft in the Aberdare highlands near where Barnes herself lives today. The gossip is entirely untrue, as Barnes, a white Kenyan whose book thankfully begins to debunk the Happy Valley silliness, discovers. Beautifully written.’