We ignored Christmas this year and headed north from Kampala to the Murchison Falls National Park, about a four and half hour drive on metalled roads, until the last section north of Masindi which was murram (hard packed reddish dirt) which is very dusty when there has been no rain. We were mostly the only vehicle in sight, so the dust was not a problem for us, but later, when we drove through villages we felt very guilty as we passed folk in clean clothes, leaving our trail behind us.
We turned off the main park road to visit the ‘Top of the Falls’ and within a few yards were stopped by a troop of baboons crossing the road. We excitedly spotted antelope beside the track, without being able to distinguish quite which kind – short curly horns, straight up horns, curved horns.
At the falls car park we found a great rotunda for picnic lunch, from which we could marvel at the speed at which the waters of the Nile were passing – apparently 300m³/second, if you can imagine that! We then walked to see the falls themselves, where a huge volume of water plunges approximately 40m; 43 metres (141 ft) according to Wikipedia, or 45m according to this blog by a geologist, who was able to answer my question about what kind of rock causes the falls. The answer seems to be a type of schist which is a metamorphic (volcanic) rock – it certainly had a lot of mica to make it sparkle. Given the volume of water plunging through this 6m (20′) gap, it must be a very hard rock.
The concrete block seen middle left of top photo is the remains of a bridge which briefly spanned the falls, constructed in 1960 it was washed away during flooding in 1962 and never replaced. The bridge was suggested by Winston Churchill in 1907 when he estimated it would cost around £10.
Added January 2018: Just found this blog with home video footage of the bridge being used as the camera position while shooting a Tarzan film in 1954 here.
Murchison Falls on right and Uhuru Falls on left
The Uhuru falls, just north of Murchison Falls reappeared during the floods of 1962, but were absent when the bridge was built in 1960. They had previously been described, in 1907, by Surveyor S B Weldon but had dried by 1928. They also dried up during the construction of the Bujagali Dam upstream.
The thunderous roar of the falls and the quantity of water tumbling over the rocks is an awe inspiring sight. So too is the speed at which the river returns to a seemingly calm state downstream. Although it was here below the falls that the first Europeans to see the falls had their canoe upturned by hippos and were lucky to be swept on to a bank free of crocodiles. Samuel and Florence Baker had trekked overland from Sudan in 1864 to follow up on Speke‘s discovery of the Nile and to confirm that it did indeed flow from Lake Victoria into Lake Albert [which Baker named after Queen Victoria’s late husband] and on, up the Nile. Baker also named the falls after Sir Roderick Murchison, an eminent geologist, the then President of the Royal Geographical Society. Sir Roderick has a number of geographical landmarks named after him [including a crater on the moon!] but he never ventured beyond Europe, although the Society at this time, sponsored many of the expeditions to Africa. The falls were renamed Kabarega Falls by Idi Amin, but this name has largely been dropped since. The Murchison Falls National Park was created in 1952 and is part of a wider Murchison Falls Conservation Area, so this name is embedded in legislation and everyday usage.
Our expedition, in somewhat more comfort than the Bakers, continued to a safari lodge on the banks of the Nile downstream.
Other information thanks to:
Bradt Guide to Uganda by Philip Briggs,
Uganda’s Great Rift Valley by Andrew Roberts