< Bike2Malawi Travel Blog – Mamie Martin Fund

Bike2Malawi Travel Blog


Mamie wrote: “We sailed down what is left of the Shire river to the Lake itself. On the way we passed many beautiful little birds and a fine fish eagle. The least said about our boat the better. 

The water of the Lake is pure blue, very lovely after the muddy Zambezi and the sea at its mouth.  […] After sailing past Bandawe, morning found us 20 miles further up the Lake at Nkhata Bay, a beautiful double bay with two sandy beaches. Here on the 15th November did all our wanderings cease and we were at last within the district that is to be our home.”

Zomba to Mangochi

Mamie wrote: “Leaving the subtropical vegetation of the Shire highland for the super tropical bush of the Lake flats. Here the heat began to be pretty awful. The car seemed to be scooping up the air and throwing it in our faces and the last part of the drive I remember as a mixture of woodash, boiling point and a desire for a bath. 

Soon after leaving Liwonde we met a whole troop of baboons. They had been robbing some gardens and fled across the road at our approach. There were about 200 of them.”

Leaving Blantyre

Mamie wrote: “The first part of the drive to Zomba was through the most exhilarating country, with high mountains looking out of the heat haze about a hundred miles away. It was that same Mt Mulanje seen sideways this time. Nearer hand were lesser hills, a paltry five or six thousand feet high with stretches of sheer precipice twenty miles long and about 500 feet high and all smooth rock. In places, the road ran along a precipice and the driver careered down and round the corners at a cheerful 40 mph.”


Mamie wrote: “The height of Blantyre is about 3,200 but there are higher mountains all round. The Mandala hotel is a comfy homely place, The whole house is kept beautifully clean and the food is plentiful and well cooked.

We went to the Mandala stores where I gave my first housekeeping order. Mr Stuart let me see the list his wife has made out for him and I modelled mine on that. I can only learn from experience.

We had tea at Dr Hetherwick’s and then were taken round the Mission. We bought a packet of seeds from Mr B., the gardener. The gardens are wonderful.

We had kind welcoming letters from [missionaries and future colleagues in Malawi]. But we are longing for home letters. Seven weeks today since we sailed from London. We do hope to be at our destination in another week and get our letters from home.” 

Up the Shire valley

Mamie wrote:

“We saw a good deal of the Shire river and also something of the Ruo, a smaller one. At Sankukani we got out and had a very nice lunch with lovely soft fluffy rolls, which, after the sour sodden bread of the Empress, we enjoyed greatly. As time went on, the scenery became more mountainous and the air cooler. We knew that we were rising rapidly, The trees were all putting forth leaves, either green or that pinky shade like young oak leaves. 

Mount Mulanje, towering in the clouds, is higher than any Scottish mountain – more than 10,000 feet. Near Limbe, the railway reaches its highest point, 3,000 feet.” 

Mrs Livingstone’s Grave

November 3rd

“We went ashore to see Mrs Livingstone’s grave. It’s only 59 years since she died in 1862. It is rather neglected and lies among the graves of Jesuit priests. We always tie up at the bank for the night as the navigation is tricky and requires daylight. So far, we have not been long on any sandbank and have always got off by shoving.”

“The entrance to the Chinde is very complicated. The breakers were all around and our direction seemed a mystery. The river is rapidly eating into the spit of land on which the town stands and then the town will be gone. The whole Zambeizi has the look of being a very recent and tentative piece of geological activity.”


31st October Jack wrote:

1st November: “At 12 o’clock we were on board the Empress, a stern-wheeler steamer. In the evening the fireflies and stars came out but no mosquitoes. The Empress towed behind it two barges for the baggage and even more important, for the firewood to drive the engine, taken on at various points on the way up the river. 

2nd November: “Soon after starting we saw a hippo leap out of the water with its jaws wide open just like a book of adventure. 

The actual width of the river is 1-3 miles from bank to bank but as it is dry there are wide stretches of sand, which makes our route complicated, as we are continually having to cross from side to side of the main stream and wriggle over sandbanks. On the sandbanks stand rows of sheik geese, big things like a mixture of geese, herons and swans. There were also lots of pelicans, storks, herons, cranes, divers, sandpipers, plovers, ibises and at one point a colony of beautiful little red winged sand martins. We also saw several crocodiles basking on the end of the water. We had one of the big geese for dinner, shot by the skipper; also some fish on a string bought from a small boy near a sugar factory which we touched at.”


28th October 1921. Now in Mozambique waters, Jack and Mamie transferred to the Empress. The transfer in Beira was difficult for them, ‘crammed into odd rooms on camp beds’ in the hotel. Then they reported that ‘the Portugese’ (Portugal had colonised Mozambique) ‘had taken our luggage to the customs room from which it had to be reclaimed for 4/-.’

29th October – ‘an awful day spent identifying each separate package and seeing it put on a barge. This took two hours in pouring rain.’ Like our cycling trips, it was not all sunshine and strawberries for Mamie and Jack.

They were then taken in a motor launch to the Ipu, the small shop that was to take them to the Empress. There was no room for everyone to sleep and most of the party were sick.


18th October 1921, having changed to the Garth Castle  and set off again, Jack wrote:

“ Durban was a very fine town with broad streets and fine buildings. I treated six of us to tea and strawberries at the Model Dairy. In the Zoo as well as the animals there were beautiful birds of every imaginable shade, some black and orange, some dead black and purple, little ones with pale blue waistcoats and others the colour of bougainvillea.”

Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth)

15th October 1921, Jack wrote:

“In the public park in an enclosure we saw ducks, geese, blue cranes, peacocks, weaver birds, tortoises and springbok and all sorts of interesting butterflies and a most perplexing variety of lines with a glorious scent. We also visited a snake museum.”

Round the Cape

14th October 1921, Jack wrote:

“The liner continued round the Cape. An enormous number of gulls followed us and at one point hundreds of divers were plunging into the sea from the air with splashes as though a ton of coal was being heaved in. I don’t think there can be any coast with more sand than the south coast of Africa. It is as though the continent had been swept out and they didn’t know what to do with the sweepings.”

Cape Town

On 12th October 1921, Jack wrote from Cape Town:

‘We visited an old Livingstonia missionary, Dr Waterston. She is quite a notability in Cape Town and is a most alert old lady, with a forbidding look and an emphatic way of talking about the things she had had to do in the old days.’

Coming into Cape Town 14th July 2021

Just a month after we were hanging around Rick’s Bar in Casablanca, we are heading around the Cape of Good Hope and approaching Cape Town. In 1921, Jack Martin wrote:

‘We had a splendid view of Table Mountain as we came in and saw the whole of Capetown and the bay. Although it was eight o’clock when the customs were finished with us and it was too dark to see much, we went through the streets trying to realise it was Africa.”

Travel tips to help you on your way from Daphne Loads

One  #Bike2Malawi cyclist gives her 5 top picks for hot cycling gadgets and accessories on the 10,679 mile ride from Scotland to Malawi.

  1. Handy wicker shopping basket

Update your cycling gear with a cute basket that sits in front of the handlebars. So uncool that it acts as a powerful anti-theft device.

2. Integrated fitbit

Need to know how many miles you’ve covered and how many calories you’ve taken in? This state-of-the art integrated fitbit is worn around the midriff and gives unmediated access to real-time data without the need for a separate smartwatch. Made entirely of body fat and 100% organic.

3. Stereo ears

Elevate your cycling experience to the next level with a pair of ears. Bluetit-enabled, this groundbreaking feature enables you to enjoy birdsong as you travel.

4. Early warning sound system

A variety of squeaks, creaks and gear-crunches increases your audibility on the road and lets pedestrians know that you are coming. It can also enhance communication with other road – users, provoking comments such as “You need a drop of oil on that, hen!”

5. Choice of bikes

Widely regarded as one of the best strategies for high-demand cycling, a choice of bikes is invaluable for meeting a range of different conditions. I favour an upright tricycle, a stationary bike that goes marginally slower than the trike, but not a rowing machine that for the purposes of Bike2Malawi is, sadly, not classified as a bike. Otherwise it would be a good option for the maritime stages of the trip.

Casablanca 14th June 2021

Now we are passing Casablanca. Moira wanted to share a movie poster with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman but we could not find a free one that we had permission to use. Hopefully this image conjures up the movie a little. While Mamie and Jack would not have approved of ‘Rick’ in ‘Casablanca’ (1942), their romance was strong and life-long. It was particularly evident in the personal letters between them in the years of their long engagement. We salute all romance as we sail down the African coast.

Southampton – 5th June 2021

On 22 September 1921, Jack and Mamie sailed out of Southampton for Africa on the Dunluce Castle. It was decreed at the time that missionaries had to travel First Class and so they had a cabin with electric light. Mamie wrote home, rather wistfully that there had been a dance and concert in the out-of-bounds Third Class with a very good violinist. They would be on this ship for six weeks.