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The missionary position
From Scottish architecture to permaculture in Malawi. Words: Rhiannon Batten
‘ oilcts with a \ icw” said tltc lcallct. flicked idly open on I a cracked stone table at (‘hitimba Beach resort. As far
as selling points go. it wasn't the best I'd read. bttt iii this part of Malawi there wasn‘t a great deal of choice abottt where to stay and. under the circumstances. it seemed as good an optioit as any.
It was our last week in the country and. torn between the sun- baked. lakeside sands and tlte massiy c escarpment bursting ottt of the landscape behind us. my friend .lct'citty and I chose the latter (well. if the toilets were boasting abottt the view. imagine what else there must be up there. we thoughtt. 'l'hc only trouble was. we had to get ourselves tip there.
Without a pttblic btts scry ice or transport of our own. the only way was tip. for scyct‘al hours. on foot. lo help us lind a well— known short cttt. we hired l’cter. a local gttidc. attd for tire next few hottrs. my eyes were lixed firmly on ltis brigltt red flip flops as they skimtned the rocky pathway quicker even than the baboons chasing tts silently tip the rock face. Stopping to fill my water bottle in a stream about halfway up the escarpment. the vastness of the landscape began to sink in. How it below the land seemed to fall in waves. from the forest immediately behind Us. over small mttd—lntttcd clearings. past tall. slender stems ofgrass and dusty manioc beds. until it came to a watery full—stop at the edge of lake Malawi. its surface glittering ha/ily in tlte hot African sunshine.
A little over a century ago. Dr laws and his hand of faithful Scottish missionaries had probably trodden the same path as they tnade their way tip from the lakeside to livingstonia. a small stone-built town nestch high in a lip of the escarpment. Named after David l.i\ ingstonc. the famous missionary and explorer. the town sttrvivcd for several decades as a missionary base. its inhabitants recreating all the necessary components of their lives back home. A school. post office. hospital and. of course. a httge. stained-glass windowed church w ere all sturdily constructed itt this [I'UPlCZIl corner ol'Africa. '
These days the mixed cultural heritage makes Livingstonia a
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‘We were on a mission to find those panoramically
fascinating place. even if most modern-day visitors are lured here through curiosity rather than Christian zeal.
One of the most interesting buildings in town is the Stone House. where Dr Laws set up home in 1894. Its graceful stone steps and rickety wooden balcony look as if they've been transported. tardis-sty'le. straight from the shores of a Scottish loch. And. inside what's now a museum. the building‘s parquet floor and neglected shelves are covered with the remains of Malawi‘s colonial and evangelical occupation.
If you want to stay in Livingstonia. you can rent a bed in one of the Stone House’s dilapidated rooms for just a few pounds. But we were on a mission of our own. to find those panoramically-blessed toilets. so. we dragged ourselves out of the museum and set off out of town to make our way to Lukwe Permacultttre Camp. Set tip a couple of years ago by a British architect. the project is a stylish study in sustainable development. Reached from a series of pathways that run close to an enormous waterfall. through a bttcolic tangle of foxgloves. roaming guinea fowl. sunﬂowers and vegetable patches. the camp is set on a gentle curse of the escarpment. with views down to the lake shore.
lt‘s exactly the kind of place people come to get away from the rigours of city life. TVs and swimming pools are definitely off the agenda but guests can either camp or rent a comfortable tented but and gorge themselves on food freshly prepared from produce collected from the on-site garden. Any impact guests tnight have on the environment is kept to a minimum; water from the showers runs off as irrigation and all sewage is composted.
Arriving late in the afternoon. we found ourselves to be the only guests that night. Settling down to sip cold beers as we listened to the waterfall pound its way down to the shore. I suddenly remembered that there was something left to try before the sun set. This isn't the place to go into details bttt let's jttst say I can recommend the view.