“I’ve been going to Kenya since I was a child, so it’s always been a special place for me. More recently, I have been visiting Elephant Watch, in the Samburu National Reserve in the north of the country. Situated on the edge of the Ewaso Nyiro river, it’s run by my friends – Saba Douglas-Hamilton [the conservationist and wildlife documentarian] and her husband Frank Pope. I’m godmother to one of their children. They took over Elephant Watch from Saba’s parents about three years ago and I’ve been a few times since with my son Fox.
The main attraction is the elephants. There are all kinds of other animals – leopards and lions included – but they’re often harder to spot in the thick Samburu bush. The encounters are very authentic – to the point that I once had to help Saba free a crocodile caught in a fishing net by the river. Saba, incidentally, has the best stories from her lifetime in the bush, which she tells guests over campfire dinners. She and Frank are bringing up their three children there – it’s a completely magical existence.
The camp really pioneers conservation tourism and Saba’s father’s Save the Elephants research centre is 7km downstream – it’s a place where you can get real insights into elephants and their lives. While the camp isn’t zero impact, it’s eco-friendly. The thatched buildings and most of the furniture – bed frames, tables, chairs – are made from recycled local wood. The tents – there are six – are in a style I would describe as simple luxury: basic but comfortable and never too ‘done’. There are king-size beds, and colourful bedspreads and drapes. Each one is built around a tree, where you can wash under the stars with a bucket of hot water. It’s not unusual for an elephant to come right through the camp while you’re having breakfast; I’ve lain in bed with an elephant a few metres away, just the other side of my tent wall. It was incredible.
The camp is staffed by Samburu warriors who take you on safari and bush walks and teach you about the flora and fauna. One evening they dressed my son in traditional Masai beads and he walked, barechested, up to a lookout point to watch the sunset. Then the warriors performed the adumu dance for us, jumping up and down with spears. I’ve been on lots of safaris in the Mara where there are so many vehicles crowding around each animal it feels almost voyeuristic. At Elephant Watch, it’s gentle and discreet. You’re learning about wildlife, elephant life especially, but you’re wonderfully isolated. It’s so unspoilt, it feels like a secret.”