Walking in the wilderness

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Oh, to be on foot in the bush! Brian Jackman describes the joy of a walking safari

Lions were roaring when the first grey light of dawn seeped over the Chindeni Hills. But when the sun appeared, casting long shadows through the trees, the cats fell silent as the day came alive, their distant voices drowned out by the endless mantras of Cape turtledoves.

In Zambia’s Luangwa Valley it’s boots-on time. Later it will be too hot to walk, but right now the air is cool enough to be glad of a sweater as you set off in single file through the echoing riverine woodlands, following the game scout with his bush-green uniform and heavy rifle.

It was Norman Carr, that legendary grand old man of the Valley, who reinvented the old-fashioned foot safari. That was back in the 1970s when ecotourism was in its infancy and the Luangwa was an unknown wilderness. Today, led by Carr’s disciples, a new generation of professional guides in the Luangwa continues to set the benchmark for walking safaris.

Walking releases you from the tyranny of roads. Only on foot can you enter what Robin Pope called ‘wild and desperate country’, interpret the maze of tracks in a sand-river, hear every sound, catch the scent of sun-dried grass and elephant dung.

In short, walking in big game country awakens senses you never knew you possessed and, as you discover, there is nothing like tiptoeing through a tall stand of ’suicide grass’ to increase your attention span. That is why in Zambia you never walk without the protection of an experienced game scout who knows how to use the rifle he carries.

Yet the real joy of such mornings comes not from the unpredictable moments of heart-stopping drama, but from the pristine beauty of the world around you.

At every turn, animals reveal themselves: giraffe and zebra, toffee-brown puku, herds of elephants on a slow march to nowhere. And through it all, the river itself flows, wider than the Thames at Westminster, with its oxbow lagoons and ebony groves and bank-side colonies of carmine bee-eaters.

Before you know it you are back at camp in time for brunch. What better way, what better place to spend a morning in Africa?

Try these specialist walking safari operators:

Norman Carr Safaris:  https://timeandtideafrica.com/norman-carr-safaris

Robin Pope Safaris: https://www.robinpopesafaris.net

Remote Africa: https://www.remoteafrica.com

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