Betws-y-Coed and the Slate Mine

Betws-y-Coed is a gorgeous quaint little town foundered around a monastery in the 6th century. It means ‘Bead house’ or ‘Prayer house in the woods’ and is about half an hour’s drive into the country from the marina. In 1815 the famous Thomas Telford designed the bridge that linked Betws-y-coed and brought trade links to the village.

Philip and James

St Michael’s church was built in the 1300’s which is the origin of the name Betws meaning ‘prayer house’

14th century St Michael’s Church
Church of St Mary

The railway was built in 1868 which increased the population to around 500. Church of St Mary’s was built in 1873. The population has increased by one baby born every 2 years and one adult passing away every 10!

The reason for our visit here was to see the slate quarry. The slate quarry was opened in 1846 by successful quarry owner, John Whitehead Greaves. In 1836 Greaves proposed a railway line should link the quarries to the sea.

When the Ffestiniog Railway was opened in 1836 he traveled on it’s first historic train. In 1843 he became treasurer of the railway then Chairman in 1844. Just two years later he purchased the slate quarry. Smart move! By 1846 his son, now managing the quarry, built an incline for the slate to go directly from the quarry to the railway then has the slate transported to a fleet of sailing vessels waiting at the port for transport to their markets.

Today the slate quarry is a museum. Production had a dramatic decline with cheaper slate, of low quality making it’s way from China which seems to be the story everywhere. Population today 564.

The National Slate Museum
Water Wheel – modern power supply for this entire operation

Philip could explain this perfectly. It’s right up his alley …. but this is how a woman explains it.

Equipment had to be built to build the water wheel. That amazed me to start with. It’s one hundred years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution so I guess all these machines are now available. The water wheel played a major part in modernising the manufacturing process. With a foundry, machining, timber cutting and blacksmith all under one roof, the slate mine increased it’s production from 7,000 tons to 23,000 tons of slate per year. Everything had to be made under one roof. I could draw similarities to our company AusProof Pty Ltd. All manufactured under one roof. Quality control and repairs being done immediately on site. You can’t just pop down to the local hardware store! It’s 1870 for goodness sake!

Modern European power of the 1800’s

Flowing water turned this massive 15.4 meter wheel. It’s 1.6 meter width turned on a 30cm axle. It’s the size of a five story building! With the speed the wheel was turning, the inside of the outer wheel looks flat but there are actually teeth machined precisely to fit the size of the smaller gear wheel.

One shaft attached to the smaller wheel run below the ceiling through the entire factory giving a turning mechanism for the workings of all machines. Gear wheels and belts drove all the lathes, saws and cutting machines throughout the factory.

Belt driven cutting machine for railway sleepers

This was all made to get the slate out of the mountains. Every building we have seen in Wales has a slate tiled roof. Cutting slate tiles was a 5 year apprenticeship only given to the sons of the aristocrats. In his first year he worked for zero wages and had to supply his own tools. You would want to be sure of your career path, wouldn’t you! A good tradesman should cut between 450 – 500 slate tiles a day.

Modern 1870’s Foundry
Dated on the foundry roof trusses ‘Oct 1890’ and ‘JP 1945’
Foundry molds still similar to today’s foundries
Pattern room
All cast in the foundry
Logs sliced for wooden planks
Steal nails made by the blacksmith
Cutting slate with chisel, hammer and crowbar. No high visual work clothes or steal capped boots provided here.
Hot water for tea in the dining hall
Belt driven saw
Machine oil

Now back to Betws-y-Coed for lunch. Good old British fish and chips with mushy peas! It doesn’t get better than that in the UK.

Panic attack! Went to pay but didn’t have my credit card or iPhone. Used Philip’s ‘Find a Friend’ on his iPhone which pin pointed my phone at the public toilets. Sprinting across the road I found the delightful caretaker who had put it aside. So grateful! Good lesson learnt, do not put your phone on the toilet roll holder!

Main town of Betws-y-Coed
‘The Ugly House’
Obviously, this builder\owner was not a stone mason!
Spar is a South African supermarket chain.
In Afrikaans it means ‘Save’
A drive through the countryside.
Over the millennia, glaciers and ice caused larger rocks to split forming this landscape of smaller rocks
Hiking and abseiling means the sun is shining in England!
It’s as if a plug has been taken off an ant nest. People everywhere!
Can you spot the climbers!
Green countryside. Rock walls fencing off properties… and there are plenty of rocks around.
You can never take the boy out of the man!

A walk down town

A little bit of history first but where do I start! Civilisation here goes back as far as Neanderthals some 230,000 years ago. But, let’s bring time forward to modern humans arriving around 9,000 BC and even later. The Romans began their conquest of Britain in 43AD. They departed in the 5th century opening the doors to invaders. Rulers of Britain extended their control over Welsh territories and into western England but they were unable to unite Wales for long. King Edward I conquered Wales and in 1282 seized control the church here and built his castle with walls surrounding their homes, markets and trading area. Inside the walls were now for the British and the Welsh were banished to the outside. Curfews at night would have kept the Welsh out only to enter during the day to trade. No wonder the Welsh have revolted against the British over the centuries. Despite heavy British rule the Welsh have always retained their language and culture.

800 years ago, having British heritage, Philip would have been welcomed within the castle gates. I am of Irish decent so who knows if I would have gotten in! Or smuggled in under a bail of hay in the back of a horse driven cart! I think I’ve seen too many Robin Hood movies!

The photos below show our walk to the main shopping town of Conwy. It’s quaint little shops, florists, bakeries, butcher and coffee shops leaves a nostalgic feeling of bygone years.

Cattle grid crossing, not sure why, for horses and carriages on the left, walkers through the centre gate and cars to the right
Walking path around the river towards town centre
Following the stone walled pathway towards the castle
End of the walkway
High Street ….. enter only if you’re British!
Oops..No! That was 800 years ago!
Dogs are allowed anywhere and I mean anywhere! This little pooch (not the ornament in the window) but the one sitting on the lounge in a coffee shop is very much the standard here.
Yesteryear Toy Shop, was owned by James’ parents, Mike and Wendy (Georgina). They now own the store next door with the same stripped awning, Conwy Collectibles.
Local butcher sells beautiful meats and ready made meals even South African boerewors!

The Florist
The local bakery where everything is baked on the premises.
The red building – The Smallest House in Britain
Occupied by a man over 6′ tall then by an elderly couple

We now wait for our main crew member to arrive from Australia, Carrie De Britt on 29th May. At the moment we are planning to sail on 7th June, northwards to Scotland, through the Caledonian Canal, Loch Ness to Inverness. Weather permitting, sail on wards to the Shetland Islands then Tromso in Norway.

Changes can happen at any time though. Watch this space….


No! It’s not a spelling mistake! It’s Welsh and the longest known word of any language.

It means: ‘The church of Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the church of Tysilio by the red cave’. Here is proof, there is a place with this name….

Philip with a shop assistant in traditional Welsh dress

I didn’t attempt to learn how to say it but James was very fluent and the perfect guide for our Conwy tour. Established 600 years before Cook discovered Australia and 300 years before Bartholomew Dias discovered Cape Horn, South Africa, Conwy welcomes you with its 13th century medieval castle off the starboard bow.

Castle built by Edward 1 in 1287

Worship has flourished for nearly 850 years in St Mary’s and All Saints Church where foundations were laid in 1172. Unbelievable! The European ‘Dark Ages’ and it is still thriving. The Great Plague of 1347 estimated loss of 75-200 million people across Europe and Asia. Unbelievable! Such a fascinating place. Loving it!!!

A family of seven taken by the plague, inspired the poem by William Wordsworth ‘We Are Seven’

I am estimating the population at about 25-30,000. Edward 1 delighted in conquering this Welsh town, taking over the church then claiming his territory by building a castle in 1287 with walls keeping the English in and Welsh out of the main city.

Castle walls around Conwy
Tour guides James and father Mike with Philip
The Mulberry – Nice young Welsh lad at the local marina restaurant and pub
The smallest house in Great Britain
Old unused telephone booth
brought back to life to bring life back …. installed with a Defibrillator. What a brilliant idea!

Typical street, shops and homes on second and third levels
Hanging Salmon and Prawn Kebab – The Mulberry Restaurant Yum Yum!!!

Hi Robbie (Wilson)! Lovely talking to you yesterday. Looking forward to hearing from you on my blog.

Leaving France to Alderney and UK

Cherbourg, France to Alderney in the Chanel Islands

A break in the weather finally came. James arrived on the 25th March bringing sunshine and light breezes. A message to Doc Kitchen; it was impossible to get Philip’s eye injections here, so let’s get out and find another ‘you’ in the UK before we have to organise an emergency flight for him back to Rockhampton!

Morning of 26th we had a very pleasant farewell visit from Francois who gave Philip a bottle of Puech-Haut Saint-Drezery Rose wine for his birthday tomorrow and myself, a beautiful book on Cherbourg. Thank you Francois and for advising us to put a heater on French Kiss! Our heater is now known as ‘Francois’!

Planning to leave at 10:30am, Sophie arrived on the dot to wave us goodbye. Being the ‘Godparents’ of French Kiss, they have both been wonderful to us, an honour to be invited to their home for dinner; onto Francois’ yacht for dinner and drinks; meeting Sophie’s girls Maude and Mathilde and translating french when we needed it. We are extremely grateful.

10:20am we pulled off the dock and motored through the Petite Rade passed the Military Wall boundry into the Grande Rade. We have lived in France all together for 4 months. It was sad to leave.

Leaving the ‘Petite Rade’ (Small Harbour).
To the left is the French prohibited Military Zone
Outer entrance to the Grande Rade (Grand Harbour) started by Napoleon and completed by Hitler.
Outer walls of the Grande Rade where Napoleon had 93 of his war ships waiting for battle. 1804-1814.

With only 5 knot winds we set the mainsail and continued to motor all the way to Alderney in the Chanel Islands.

French coast line

As soon as we arrived we took our tender over to the Harbour Master where we had our passports stamped and yacht papers signed to state our vessel had left the EU. Europe is quite confusing with which countries are in the EU, the Schengen area and Common Areas of Passage.

James and Philip taking the rubbish to the bins.
Alderney Island – Chanel Island Group

27th March 2019. Happy Birthday Philip! What a birthday present …. crossing the English Chanel. The weather was certainly in our favour so we decided to sail\motor parallel with the Traffic Separation System through the night, then once that ended to sail towards Lands End, UK. All went well so we carried on into another night doing 3 hour shifts each from 9pm to 6am. Through the day we shared and took a nap when we could. Taking a short cut through the Menai Straits we stopped on the third night, tying onto a buoy at Port Dinorwic, untying at 3am to make The Swellies on the slack high tide. Making it through the worst part of the straits with James on the helm we anchored at Angelsey for the day to catch the high tide into Conwy. Our autopilot has been named ‘James’.

Menai Straits from west coast (Isle of Angelsey) through to Bangor
First steps on Welsh soil! Anglesey, NE point.
James’ exercise for the day! A row to the mainland for a walk.
Lighthouse at Angelsey. ‘No Passage Landward’
At low tide, rocks were revealed making an easy walk to the lighthouse
Lush green paddocks dotted with white sheep all over the countryside.
A little chilly in the northern hemisphere!!!
Taking a break from French Kiss

Llangbadrig Church -Isle of Angelsey If you see a walking sign (above right hand side) it means you can step over the farmers fence (see wooden plank steps) and walk through his property. It is a public walk way!

****************************************************A message from Francois I just had to copy and paste…. Like Philip always says: ‘Trees and mountains never meet but people always do!’

Fair winds my friends!
See you soon somewhere… up in Scotland, down in Africa, far away in Australia or just here in Cherbourg where our home is yours…
Enjoy and take care!
Friendly yours.

Time to cut the umbilical cord!

23rd March, 2019

Well, all we need now is fresh bread and veggies! French Kiss is prepped and ready. Born in Cherbourg, France, registered as an Australian, ‘FRENCH KISS, GLADSTONE’, she is ready to cut her umbilical cord and start her long journey home.

Our position: Latitude: N 49 degrees 38.840′ Longitude: W 1 degree 37.201′

I love that Longitude …. 1 degree W (west)

Greenwich is situated 5 miles south of London on the River Thames. Greenwich Meridian is 0 degrees known as GMT or now, UTC time. Coordinated Universal Time which is the standard that regulates world clocks and time. UTC starts at 0 measuring the Meridians of Longitude. Brisbane time is UTC 10+ meaning 10 hours ahead of Greenwich. Our Queensland coast sees the sun 10 hours before Greenwich\London.

15 degrees = 1 hour. 15 degrees x 24 hours = 360 degrees (circle) divided 180 east and 180 west of Greenwich meeting at the opposite side of the planet is the International Date Line. Gladstone’s Latitude is 23 degrees 50.35′ South and Longitude 151 degrees 16.6′ East. That’s 15 degrees x 10 hours from Greenwich and slightly inland = 151 degrees.

The Equator is 0 degrees and from here measures the Parallels of Latitude. The North Pole is 90 degrees N. The South Pole is 90 degrees S. Gladstone is 23 degrees south of the Equator and 67 degrees north of the South Pole so I am excited to be 1 degree west of Greenwich where it all starts.

Our first passage plan is to cross the Chanel to the UK and sail up the west coast to Conwy in Wales. 1st June we will attempt, through the Scottish Caledonian Canal, Inverness and Shetlands to reach Tromso in Norway then higher still to Svalbard, reaching the 80th parallel. This is approx. 600 nautical miles south of the North Pole.

I am unable to upload photos at the moment but will add when I can. The biggest sentence I have learnt in French: je voudrais un taxi a la marina s’il vour plait! I would like a taxi to the marina, please! Bonjour, merci beaucoup, and au revoir! Very few French speak English. It was a difficult country to get anything done or make appointments. Philip and I used our iPhone translator all the time.

All the French people we have met have been extremely friendly. We have lived here for nearly 4 months and thoroughly enjoyed the food, wine, cheese and experience. Cherbourg has heaps of history including the Titanic’s last visit. Napoleon’s statue stands in a park by the main road dividing the city and the marina. A monument to the French Resistance stands on opposite side of the street. With a forceful glare, Napoleon sits tall on his horse, his hand pointing seaward where is 93 war ships would have waited in the Grand Harbour originally started by himself….later finished by Hitler. Did you know, Napoleon always wore his hat sideways? Hats were worn with the corners pointing forward and back but he wanted to be instantly recognisable on the battlefield so wore his hat sideways. This is a fascinating place!

Tanzanian Serengeti – Hakuna Matata!

26th February – 5th March, 2019

It’s always good to be back in Africa. This trip we met up with friends, Jennifer Martin from South Africa and her sister Caroline Van Rensburg from Scotland all meeting at Nairobi International Airport for our flight to Kilimanjaro.

So excited to see our friend and guide Solomon Mkumbo (Solly) who was waiting for us. We stayed the night at River Trees Lodge where we had a very pleasant night with Solly’s beautiful wife and my three Tanzanian grandchildren. The following days we drove through the Central and Southern Serengeti, spending the last two nights at a lodge near the Ngorongora Crater.

Philip and Solly – Nyumbani Camp

Solly made sure we saw the Big 5, the Great Migration across the southern area where half a million wildebeest calves are born and a quarter of a million taken by lion, hyena, jackal, vultures and other predators. Not comforting to see, a few tears shed by us girls when a baby springbok was caught by a female hyena and her cubs, though no different to the poor creatures trying to cross the Mara River during our last visit, being taken in such a gruesome way by crocodiles. Life here is just eating and breeding. Every living thing is food.

Jenny and Caroline overlooking our tented camp below

Our entire trip was wild. Lunch was had out on the Serengeti plains surrounded by mainly wildebeests, lions, hyena, zebra and gazelles. Our tented accommodation was unfenced only protected by Masai Warriors. Lovely people living a simple life. They take nothing from the earth. All plant life is for their cattle which is a show of wealth. They eat only meat for breakfast and dinner which has been preserved in sheep fat. They drink milk and only when celebrating do they mix it with blood. Masai can have many wives. Their children sleep with the mother until the age of approx. 10 when they are taken away for 2-3 months to be taught how to be men, protect their village from predators especially lions and finally to be circumcised with any available knife. Once they are healed they come home to stay in another mud hut for young men their own age.

Nyumbani – The happiest people and camp in the Serengeti.

Solly is well educated and experienced with African wildlife, flora, birds, Masai and tribal customs; even gave us a star gazing session one night with his laser light. An amazing man! He answered every question we had and said no question is a silly question, we could ask anything. Philip didn’t think so! He said some questions are ‘kak vra’! In Afrikanse, a really crap question and an award should be handed to the worst ‘kak vra’. Well, what happens on holiday stays on holiday and we won’t mention names but someone asked why our Masai Warrior had strips of leather standing up on his shoes.

I guess the only way to answer a ‘kak vra’ is with a ‘kak answer’.

Solly replied, ‘It’s an antennae for his WiFi’!

You see ….. Solly knows everything!

Swahili words learnt: Jumbo means ‘hello’. Asanti means ‘thank you’. Hakuna Matata means ‘no worries’. Simba means ‘lion’.

Preparing for our trip!

A huge amount of preparation is required for our next adventure. Selecting crew; courses to prepare the ones not experienced; dental and medical checks; travel documents for all crew; Carmen at HelloWorld Gladstone prepared with all details of crew for last minute flights; Insurance coverage for global rescue (hopefully not required); Insurance cover for high altitude restricted areas; clinics through UK, Norway, Svalbard for medical checks; Arctic clothing; provisions list including a good rum or whiskey to celebrate crossing the Arctic Circle; yacht preparation – a spare for every possible thing that can break; safety equipment all compliant; navigation equipment updated; ability to download weather reports wherever we are; visas and customs entry requirements for France, Wales, Scotland, Norway, Svalbard; return documentation; refreshing our knowledge and reading all books on sailing north; using cameras, videos, go-pro, drones, our IT guy Geoff on-call 24/7 for internet – iPhones, iPads and laptops! Not to mention finalising finances, homes and business here before we leave. Leaving that all up to our son-in-law Grant. All made possible by our son, Aston who is doing a brilliant job of managing the ‘Monster’.

Leaving our two girls, Shona and Ashleigh who we will miss … till the plane lifts off the tarmac in Gladstone!!!

Our grand’children’, Habana and Huxley who we will miss a little further into the flight. See you all in 7 months.

A few ‘goodbye’ drinks at the Breezeway, Curtis Is.

With just 3 weeks to go before we head back to French Kiss in Cherbourg Marina, France, we enjoyed the company of those who love Friday night’s gathering at the Breezeway, Curtis Island. Owned by Alan and Ailsa Smith, the Breezeway bar overlooks the Pacific Ocean with it’s welcoming breeze after a hot humid Australian day. A beer, wine or favourite thirst quencher goes down very well. Good music and company, chatter and laughs is a pleasant way to enjoy the night life. Other night time activities are turtles nesting between October to January with hatchlings pushing their way up through the sand, down the beach to the ocean from January to March. An experience never forgotten by new comers. It’s our best kept secret with a 10km beach, Turtle Street’s beautiful water and bay, grasslands, lagoon, marshes, woodlands and wildlife.

We even have our own Royal Sandfly Golf Course created and maintained by Alan Gardner covering an area over grasslands and mudflats. There you go Alan… you are in my blog!

Mont Saint Michel

A full day trip from Cherbourg to Mont St Michel was an awe inspiring experience. Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, according to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared in 708 to the Bishop of Avranches and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. It is approx. 1000 acres surrounded by tidal ocean. On top is God, the abbey and monastery; below, the great hills, then stores and housing; at the bottom, outside the walls, houses for fisherman and farmers. It was only accessible at low tide to the many pilgrims to its abbey, but defensible as an incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned would-be assailants. The tides vary greatly, at around 14 meters between high and low water marks. The Mont remained unconquered during the Hundred Year War, a small garrison fended off a full attack by the British in 1433. The population today approx. 50. The reverse benefits of its natural defense were not lost on Louis XI, who turned the Mont into a prison. Thereafter the abbey began to be used regularly as a jail. One of France’s most recognizable landmarks, visited by more than 3 million a year (second to the Eiffel Tower), the Mont and it’s bay are now a World Heritage Site.

Walk or take a lift along the new access on low tide
Archangel Michael