At the far end of the expansive Outspan Hotel in Nyeri, beside a grove of bamboo and lush green grass, stands a house with a rich history. This is the house the founder of the Boy Scouts movement, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, called home for three years before he died.
Paxtu Museum, as it is known, is among the most visited places in the county. In it are Lord Baden-Powell’s original paintings, writings, photos and scouting relics.
He was the first head of the Boy Scouts Association.
Besides his artistic works, the walls of the museum are adorned with flags from different parts of the world either left by visiting scouts or sent by visitors as soon as they went back to their country.
His favourite spot
On February 22 every year, thousands of Kenya Scouts and Girl Guides association members host hundreds of their counterparts from around the world in Nyeri to honour the founders of the Scouts and Girl Guide movements.
A wooden breakfast table and four seats that he carved during his stay in Nyeri sit still at the exact place where he sat every morning admiring the beauty of his surroundings as he enjoyed a cool breeze from Mt Kenya on the east.
It is here that, after founding the Scouts movement in 1907, Lord Baden-Powell wrote three books, among them Birds and Beasts of Africa, in which he described his relationship with the animals around Paxtu.
His feelings about moving to Kenya are captured in his last book, More Sketches of Kenya, published in 1940, which begins with the statement, “The Nearer you are to Nyeri, The Nearer you are to Happiness … and certainly I am happy here.”
But why Paxtu?
Since Lord Baden-Powell and his wife, Lady Olave, had named their home in England Pax Hill, they decided to call their Nyeri home Paxtu, with tu meaning “only” in Kiswahili.
Mr Benson Njoroge, the curator, said the museum never has any dull moments. “I have over 3,000 people coming to pay tribute to Baden-Powell every year, and it is always a thrilling experience for both the young ones and old,” he noted.
Paxtu was gazetted as an international pilgrimage site for scouts and girl guides in 2001, putting Nyeri County and Kenya on the world map as the home of the two movements aimed at nurturing young people.
After creating a world movement with a following of more than 50 million in over 160 countries, Lord Baden-Powell and his wife settled in the Paxtu cottage, built for them by his old friend Eric Walker, a hotelier.
“He left $600 (Sh60, ooo today), which was a lot of money then, for the construction of the three-room house which they intended to use every winter,” said Mr Njoroge.
Among the dignitaries who visited the museum in the recent past was the secretary-general of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, Ahmed Alhendawi.
And although the master is long gone, his possessions remain intact, including his bed and furniture.
“The rooms can be booked for guests on request, and for members of the Scouts movement,” said Mr Njoroge.
For bed and breakfast in Lord Baden-Powell’s room, guests are charged Sh6,800 while non-residents visiting the museum pay Sh500 and locals Sh400. Members of the Scouts movement and Girl Guides are admitted free.
After his peaceful death in 1941 on his bed in the cottage, he was buried, according to his wishes, with Mt Kenya in sight, about a kilometre from Outspan Hotel.
When his wife died in England, her body was flown to Kenya and buried next to his.
Their gravestone at St Peter’s Park is decorated with Scouts movement symbols.