The Aberdare range is traditionally Kikuyu land, known originally as Nyandarura the name for a traditional rack for drying animals skins and hides, which the spine of the range resembles. The Kikuyu have long used these fertile slopes as farmland. For more details on Kikuyu Culture, go to Mountains and visit the Cultural Safari under Mt Kenya.
The current name was given by British Explorer Joseph Thompson in 1884, to honour of Lord Aberdare then President of the Royal Geographic Society. Thompson was a prodigious bestower of names, particularly his own. He is responsible for the Thompson's Gazelle, and in the foothills of the Aberdares, the local landmark of Thompson's Falls can also be found.
These falls, just outside Nyahururu are popular with Nairobi day trippers and travellers on transit to points North. The lodge overlooking the falls is a pleasant, old fashioned hotel, and is the perfect place to stop for a tea or coffee break.
The colonial town of Nyeri, to the east of the range, was the centre of the Happy Valley settlers, a group of British aristocrats and adventurers who became infamous for their decadent lifestyles and exploits during the 1930's and 40's. The town still has the atmosphere of a sleepy English village, an impression bolstered by the cool air and morning mists.
Just outside of town is the Outspan Hotel, a colonial landmark that has become a place of pilgrimage for the World's scouts. A small cottage in the hotel grounds was the last home of Lord Baden Powell, founder of the scouting movement, and he is now buried outside Nyeri. His home now has a small museum dedicated to his life and memory.
The Outspan is also the base for visitors to Treetops, the safari lodge which also played its own role in British history. Queen Elizabeth was staying here on the night of February 6th 1952 when her father King George IV died. As a result this forest lodge, surrounded by herds of elephant and buffalo, became the place where she officially marked her passage from Princess to Queen.
By contrast, during the struggle for independence from Britain, the forests became of great importance to the Mau Mau freedom fighters who used the forest as a secret base from which to control their operations. The forest proved an ideal cover, allowing them to easily evade capture.
Today the Aberdares are a gazetted National Park, and the surrounding slopes are predominantly Kikuyu farmland.