Rhodesian strip road


In the winter of 1956, Jack Chase, the lion hunter, invited Tim Hughes to spend a week of his school holidays with him to see the Central Kalahari, West of Mahalapye in Bechuanaland. Tim made a plan with Ian, a Gang member.

At the end of the school term the two friends took their grids (bicycles) and backpacks with them on the train to Bulawayo and cycled to Ian’s home.  They spent the next week mostly at The Bulawayo Museum where a friend of Ian’s worked.  Ian collected beetles and even found one unknown to science that was named after him.


The following week Tim and Ian set off to to visit Jack the lion hunter.   The grid Tim was using was the one he kept at school to save pocket money on rail freight not his best Raleigh at home on the farm.  They rode their grids on the strip-road through undulating country between granite kopjies (hills). Fast cars and trucks forced them off the narrow bitumen strips time and again.  About a third of the way to Plumtree, the first leg of the trip, they stopped at the village of  Figtree where they bought cold Cokes and sandwiches. Tim looked at the billboard outside a cycle store showing an African on a Raleigh bicycle pursued by a lion.  He knew the advert had flopped.  Africans associated Raleigh bicycles with a lion about to eat them.  He had no such fears.

Marula, another village named after a renowned tree, signaled they were two thirds of the way to Plumtree. At Coldridge siding they were tempted to call in at Riach’s Farm, Seafield, but it was getting late.  On arrival at Plumtree they ate at the railway cafe.  Lloyd House, their boarding house during school terms was all locked up so Tim investigated the “Holy of the Holies,” the School Prefects’ Common Room where they slept the night on the comfy sofas.

Very early the next morning they breakfasted at the Railway Cafe and headed for the border. The guards regularly allowed Plumtree school boys through as they knew they would be back in the afternoon so Tim and Ian were waved through.  The road in Bechuanaland of corrugated gravel and patches of sand made progress slow. Tim said to Ian, “How about we ride on the side of the railway line?”  They wheeled their grids through the dense Mopani forest although Tim knew the railway line was fairly distant.

After half an hour Ian said, “We are lost, we are walking in circles”.

It was midday.  They knew they could be lost in Mopani bush without land marks and the sun overhead.  Tim stuck to his purpose and found the line ten minutes later.  Riding on the flat swept path alongside the line took them past an Afrikaner railway fettler’s cottage where they asked for water.  The lady of the house seemed pleased to have visitors and gave the boys some cookies and biltong (jerky).  Long before sundown Tim knocked on the door of his Uncle John’s home at Francistown.

“Where have you come from?” asked John Millard.

“We rode our bikes from Bulawayo”.

“You Fools! There are man-eating lions on that road”.

“It’s okay.  We used the railway line.”

A blog on the Raleigh ad can be seen on:…ifferent-folks/.

Many thanks to Tim Hughes of Queensland, Australia for the excerpts from his unpublished manuscript Matambega and Son written in the 1980’s.  The picture was obtained by a circuitous route and has lost its source.  Please let me know who the credit belongs to and I will post it.