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The First North American Ringing Group to Tour South Africa

A trip of a lifetime

by June Kelly

Butler Tour: “Once in a Lifetime” trip to South Africa [1st August – 15th August 2009]
South Africa is one of the most diverse and enchanting countries in the world. With eight world heritage sites, a multitude of game reserves and national parks, over 1350 ha of national botanical gardens and exotic combinations of landscapes, people, history and culture, South Africa offers the traveler a unique and inspiring experience. Add eight bell towers and the Butler tour begins. Ringers from the North American Guild and friends taking part in the tour organised by Eileen & Bruce Butler were Chris & Helen Haller, Jim Snyder, Mary Platt, Beverly Faber, Theresa Rice and June Kelly. Ross Finbow also joined us in Capetown and Johannesburg.

We visited the regions of Western Cape [Cape Town], Eastern Cape [Wilderness, Garden Route, Grahamstown, Kariega game reserve and Port Elizabeth] KwaZula-Natal [Durban] and Gauteng [Johannesburg]

Western Cape – In and around Cape Town
Cape Town’s varied history and combination of mountains and sea make it one of the most attractive cities in the world. It is known affectionately as the Mother city and is one of the oldest urban centres in South Africa dating from 1652. Cape Town has a lot to offer from scenic drives, beautiful beaches, museums and art galleries. The Victoria and Alfred waterfront is set against the magnificent backdrop of Table Mountain. This popular area offers shops, museums and restaurants and tours such as a sunset cruise in Table Bay. We did lunch over looking Camps Bay and enjoyed the sound of the rolling waves. Ross joined us for dinner that evening at Baila on the V&A waterfront.

The first ring of the tour was on the 8 bells at St Mary’s Church Woodstock, Cape Town. We were met by Ed Elderkin and two of the local ringers. A peal board in the tower recorded the first peal on the bells and the first peal of Grandsire Triples [5040] in South Africa as rung on the 15th December 1904. As we rang out at 8am on this Sunday morning, the sun shone nicely and Table Mountain created a beautiful backdrop for this ring of bells. We were granted the privilege of an extra service ring that morning at the nearby Cathedral of St George which allowed Ross the opportunity to ring these bells before heading back to Johannesburg. The ring of ten bells with a tenor of 30 cwt is housed in a purpose built tower which was completed in 1979 and is a ground floor ring. The present Cathedral dates from 1901, replacing the original building of 1834. Again we were joined by the local ringers and the Dean greeted us and gave us his blessing for a successful tour. The Dean had just returned from a visit to the USA

A drive before lunch took us to Table Mountain National Park to view the Cecil Rhodes Memorial [1853-1902] which is perched on the slopes of Devil’s Peak. This area holds fabulous views over Capetown and indeed the clear blue skies added to the panoramic views. This helped to pass the time as we waited on a change of car for Bruce as vehicle number 2 was now causing problems!! We had lunch in the Camps Bay area at the aptly named restaurant ‘Summertime’ on this winter’s day which was becoming more and more like a summer’s day.
Table Mountain towers dramatically at 3,562 ft [1,086m] over Capetown. The cable car for Table Mountain was out of service and we could not experience rambling over the almost flat ‘tabletop’ to enjoy the fabulous views. Instead, we drove to Signal Hill in the Cape Peninsula National Park where every day a cannon is fired to announce the hour of noon. The gun originally signaled the correct time to ships in Table Bay. We carried on to Lion’s Head were plenty of people were out walking. The views across the bay were breathtaking and if you were lucky you could capture the shimmer of the sun across the sea. The drive was completed with a visit to one of the oldest wine estates in South Africa, Groot [Great] Constantia. The estate was purchased by Governor Simon van der Stel in 1685 as a scenic piece of farmland which he developed into several vineyards less than 20 years later. The impressive Cape Dutch manor house with its collection of period furniture, silverware and ceramics dates back originally to the 17th century. The grounds are also home to a restaurant, shop and wine museum. We returned to St George’s Cathedral where we had arranged to ring for the evening service. We were joined by more of the local ringers and a good hour’s ringing followed. We returned to our hotel and later that evening, took the shuttle bus to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront to seek out a restaurant for dinner where we could sit and mull over our day in the Cape with some local wine.

Franschhoek is less than a hour drive from Cape Town and on route through some very scenic country side and surrounded by the now all familiar mountain range, we passed a family of baboons on the roadside that were not in the least bothered by the passing traffic! Franschhoek also known as the Valley of the Huguenots is a little village sitting in a fertile valley where the French first made wine in South Africa over 300 years ago and one of the premier destinations in the world of wine. Theresa and June, who missed out on a wine tasting session earlier, availed of one here while the rest of the group went sightseeing in the village.
After lunch, we continued our drive along the Western Cape and headed for the coastal area of Overberg. The term Overberg means "over the mountain" and the area covers the east and south-west of Cape Town. Here the wine lands give way for the wheat and when ripe form a rolling golden carpet. As you drive through this beautiful landscape you will have the pleasure of viewing the wide stretch of majestic mountains on your right hand side going towards Cape Town. Overberg is also known as the Whale Coast and home to Hermanus, the self-proclaimed whale capital of the world. While we were somewhat too early in the season to view the whales, Bruce claims to have spotted one! Chris and Helen delighted us all with the naming of the many various types of birdlife in the area.

Eastern Cape [Wilderness, Garden Route, Grahamstown, Kariega game reserve and Port Elizabeth]
Leaving the Western Cape, we set out on the long drive to the area known as Wilderness on the Garden Route for two nights where the climate is wonderful all year round. Back in the 1800's, Wilderness was already renowned for its hospitality and the natural beauty of the surrounding area. Wilderness is set between the Kaaimans River and the Goukama Nature Reserve, whilst being bordered by the Outeniqua Mountains. Renowned for it tranquil sea and beaches which stretch on forever, Wilderness has become an internationally sought after holiday resort. Wilderness is also surrounded by many rivers and natural lakes and lagoons. Wilderness has many types of wildlife, in particular birds. Many types of water birds breed here and this makes it ideal for bird-watchers. This was heaven for Helen and Chris!

On route, we stopped for lunch at Swellendam which is the third oldest settlement in South Africa. It lies at the north eastern edge of the Overberg region, 220km from Cape Town. Swellendam was founded by the Dutch East India Company in the year 1745 and is famous for its architecture and history. The local 3 piece jazz band provided some welcome music while we dined alfresco. Our accommodation in Wilderness was at the Palms which was a wonderful place to stay and best described by one visitor as one of the pearls in the paradise of South Africa.


We set out to explore more of the Garden Route which officially runs from the town of George to Nature's Valley, just past Plettenberg Bay. We had lunch at a restaurant called The Beaches overlooking a sandy beach called Keurboomstrand on the Indian Ocean which stretches all the way to Antarctica. Plettenberg Bay was originally christened Bahia Formosa (beautiful bay) by early Portuguese explorers and the horseshoe-shaped bay is one of the most glamorous and beautiful spots along the Garden Route.

Maybe it was preparation for our pending Safari as we embarked on a visit to the Elephant Sanctuary at The Crags in Plettenberg Bay. The sanctuary is home to 6 African elephants and we were able to touch, feed and walk trunk-in-hand with them. Each elephant has a dedicated handler and a fully qualified guide will accompany you and share fascinating facts about these highly intelligent creatures. We also visited the Big Cat sanctuary near by. We were able to enter the enclosures of these colourful cats which ranged in size from a larger domestic cat to the Cheetah. They made us very welcome and were not in awe of the many visitors. We had to view the young leopard from outside the enclosure while he interacted with the guide. The documentary before hand recommended that open toe ‘sandals’ were not a good idea to wear into the enclosures as some of the cats were partial to ‘toes’ for their dinner. We were in our sandals though and interestingly the cats did not like the ‘painted’ toe nails of some of the group but were busy eyeing up Bruce’s toes when the guide suggested we should move on!!

It was time to become acquainted again with the art of bellringing and so we set out on another long drive for the city of Grahamstown to join the weekly practice at the Cathedral. Our drive allowed us to wave good bye to the Garden Route as we embarked on the first part of the journey to Port Elizabeth. This scenic route took in Tsitsikamma National Park, Storms River mouth and Jeffrey’s Bay. Signs along the route ask you not to the feed the Baboons; otherwise a fine of 500 rand will be imposed [68$/ £42]. As if to tempt us, we witness a Baboon calmly walking across the motorway! We are now on the well known N2 for Grahamstown and stop off at Blue water Bay, Port Elizabeth for lunch. Local knowledge advised that we should try the fish and chips and this was very good advice indeed as we had the best ever takeaway of super fresh fish and chips. Back on the N2 and with just 10km to Grahamstown, we come upon an accident whereby a HGV had overturned and the driver was being airlifted to hospital.

Grahamstown is set in a warm hollow amidst the hills of the Eastern Cape. It is an interesting town having amongst its features, the oldest letterbox dating from 1859 and letters posted from this box receive a special frank: ‘The Oldest Official Letterbox’. We made sure to post some cards from here. Grahamstown is also home to the oldest surviving independent newspaper in South Africa, the Grocott's Mail. It was founded in 1870 by the Grocott family and it is presently a local newspaper operated by the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, and still retains its name. Two young trainee journalists visited the tower during one of our rings and interviewed us for an article for the newspaper.

In 1904 Rhodes University College was established in Grahamstown through a grant from the Rhodes Trust and in 1951 it became a fully-fledged University. Today it provides world-class tertiary education in a wide range of disciplines to over 6,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students. From the world of bellringing, Rhodes had a famous Professor of Geography, now retired in the name of Colin Lewis. It was to Colin’s tower of The Cathedral of Michael & George, tenor 25 cwt that we joined with the local bellringers for the weekly practice. The band is young and very keen to learn the art of bellringing. During the course of the evening, one of the local ringers Judith Orpen had the opportunity to ring a bob course of Plain Bob Doubles. This was the final piece of work that she required in order to complete her Bellringing course and received her certificate. The evening ended with a quarter peal of 1260 Plain Bob Triples.


Dinner that evening was at Norden’s, The Cock House restaurant and we were joined by the Dean and his wife along with Colin and his wife and some special friends. We were delighted that Judith and Siyabulela also joined us for dinner. Norden’s is one of Grahamstown’s most admired landmarks and they list their most famous guest as Nelson Mandela. Last but not least, Grahamstown is also known as the festival city of South Africa where for two weeks in July, the city plays host to the world’s second largest arts festival.

After breakfast at High Corner guesthouse on High Street, we set out to ring the 6 bells at the Holy Cross Monastery, Hillandale where the tenor is 3 cwt. This proved to be a challenging ring but did not deter us from ringing two quarter peals on our second visit after experiencing the world of the Safari.
Only forty minutes from Grahamstown or eighty minutes from Port Elizabeth, is the game reserve of Kariega. This would be our base for the next two days where we would become immersed in the world of the Big 5 namely the Elephant, Leopard, Buffalo, Lion and Rhino. Kariega is set in 9000 hectares of pristine African wilderness incorporating the picturesque Kariega and Bushman’s Rivers. The game reserve also offers an expansive variety of fauna, flora and birdlife. Our guide Shaun arranged for an afternoon and early morning game drive. These last well over three hours and it is fantastic to experience the unforgettable game viewing from our open jeep. We even had the pleasure out on the drive as the sun was setting to avail of some refreshments before returning to our chalets. Kariega also offered unguided walks and Mary being our fitness expert was delighted to keep up her training on the dedicated trails. Not to be missed is the stunning river cruise which was a calm oasis after the excitement of the game viewing. What did we see apart from the Big 5? We also said hello to the Hippo, Hyena, Giraffe, Zebra, Eland, Wildebeest, Warthog, Ostrich, Vervet monkey and a wide variety of antelope and also a an abundance of birdlife. There were a lot of Termite mounds around the reserve and one such mound was 100 years old. Helen sampled ‘termite’ and liked the flavour! Before returning to Grahamstown, we had booked our second early morning game drive in the hope that we would see the family of lions and we were lucky. We drove without delay to accompany the lions as they set out on their early morning walk. They did not mind us being on their patch and it was a privilege for us to be walking with the lions albeit in the jeep. Kariega was a busy place with many other groups visiting and each sharing their experiences of the safari.

Leaving the world of the safari behind, we returned to the world of bellringing where we were due to return to ring at the Cathedral of Michael and George, Grahamstown after the 9.30am service. Colin and Siyabulela rang with us and we enjoyed a good hour’s ringing. It was at this ring, that we were interviewed for the oldest surviving independent newspaper in South Africa, the Grocott's Mail. Following lunch, we arranged to return to the Monastery at Hillandale and ring two quarter peals. This gave June the opportunity to ring a quarter peal for the first time in South Africa and she enjoyed it so much that she decided to follow immediately with a second quarter!

Dinner that evening was at the Calabash restaurant which was a traditional African fare where we recounted our safari experience over the last few days and checked our plans for a brief stay in Port Elizabeth before flying to Durban for two nights.


We are more than half way through our time in South Africa and we depart Grahamstown for Port Elizabeth but not before we post our cards at the oldest post box in South Africa. Port Elizabeth is known for its sunshine and safe sandy beaches. The city is the second largest city in terms of area and the fifth largest in terms of population in South Africa. Even though it was winter time, the temperature was 26 degrees celsius. Our guesthouse, Margate Place was situated in a quite street, very close to popular swimming beaches, restaurants and all major beachfront attractions. The recommendation for lunch was Barnacles on the coast where afterwards we took a stroll on the beach and got out feet wet in the Indian Ocean. Mary has a great picture of her feet in the Indian Ocean! Our visit to Port Elizabeth also provided the opportunity for Bruce to meet with his cousin and her husband. We arranged a welcome gathering at our B&B and adjourned for dinner to a nearby restaurant.

KwaZula-Natal [Durban]
Our next date with ringing is at St Mary’s Durban where we will join the weekly practice from 5.30 – 7.30pm. We fly from Port Elizabeth to Durban with Kulula airlines and on arrival arrange to collect our hire cars. Bruce sprung into action again as being the Master packer of luggage which was essential on this occasion as the cars on offer were somewhat smaller. Finally we are on our way to the Quarters Hotel on Avondale Road which was originally four Victorian homes and now tastefully restored to create a very comfortable hotel.

Durban is situated in the province of KwaZulu Natal, on the east coast of the South Africa. The city is set on Natal Bay and benefits from year-round warm waters making it one of South Africa's top vacation spots. Day two in Durban gave us the opportunity for some sightseeing. We headed for the area known as the Golden Mile which is a string of golden sandy beaches where we enjoyed a good walk before lunch. We also had time to call to the BAT centre which has an enormous studio and you see the artists at work on their art and craft. Purchases were made and you could bargain with the artist for a good price, which we did! On our afternoon guided tour of the city, we went to the Spice market where we had a chance to become familiar with the aromas of the many different Indian spices. Next, was a drive into the grounds of Howard’s University which provided us with a panoramic view of the city. One cannot miss the awe inspiring Howard College Campus tower which is in contrast to the more traditional style of architecture around the campus. Last but not least we had the pleasure of visiting Durban’s famous Botanical gardens which is 160 years old this year. Our guide took us on the garden tour which was quick but very informative. We just had time to return to the hotel and be ready to meet with our contact from St Mary’s, Simon Milliken who would guide us to the tower. St Mary's Church at Greyville has a ring of ten bells and the tenor is 18cwt. This was a well attended practice and a variety of methods were rung. Following the practice, a number of the ringers joined us for dinner at an Indian restaurant and a good evening followed.

Gauteng [Johannesburg]
It is Thursday, August 13th and the third last day of our tour as we leave Durban and head for Johannesburg. We take the N3 and stay with it for a good eight hours before we arrive in the Sandton area of the city where we will stay for two to three nights. Johannesburg is an extraordinary City, born just over 120 years ago with the discovery of gold and since then it always has been a City of Commerce and Opportunity. The city has many names - Johannesburg, Joburg, Jozi or Egoli meaning place of gold.

Our first ring was at All Saints Anglican Church, Fourways Gardens and the tenor was 2½cwt. Our agreed ringing time was from 10.30am to 12 noon. However, with the extra roadwork’s taking place in preparation for 2010 FIFA world cup, we were running late by one hour. Our contact David kindly waited for us and gave us a history of the church and bells. The bells were a joy to ring and one of the local ringers was delighted with the chance to do some ringing. We stopped for some tea and sandwiches kindly arranged by David and returned for more ringing. All too soon it was 1pm and our ringing time was over. We said our goodbyes to David and rather than return to the hotel, we decided to do some sightseeing and enjoy the lovely weather.

However, our plans were promptly altered when Chris’s car would not start. Bruce rang the car-hire company and they arranged for a replacement car which was not going to arrive until 4pm. Bruce contacted Richard at St George’s, Parktown to let him know that we would be running late. We passed the three hours by walking around the grounds, sitting out in the sunshine and some people even took an afternoon nap. Mary handed out some Sudoku sheets to keep us busy!! At last, we are on our way to Parktown and join the weekly practice with the local ringers. These are a ring of 8 bells with a 4cwt tenor and a long draught. However, they sounded well and a good evening’s ringing was enjoyed by all. We arrived back at the hotel and re-gathered later to take the shuttle bus to downtown Sandton and have our last dinner of this very successful and interesting tour.

Saturday, August 15th was the official last day of the tour and Mary left for home and Beverly to stay with friends for a few days in Johannesburg. For the rest of us, we took the opportunity to catch up on our sightseeing before departing for the long trip home over the next few days. We went to visit the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site which included going underground in the Sterkfontein Caves and then on to the visitor interpretation centre at Maropeng; a city tour of Johannesburg and Soweto.

Thank you to the bellringers of South Africa who gave us a great welcome.

Many thanks once again to Eileen and Bruce for the tremendous amount of time and effort that they put into the planning for this trip. Their professionalism in managing the tour is always evident and to be in South Africa was wonderful.
June Kelly

South Africa: Quarter Peals
North American Guild, Grahamstown
Cath Ch of S Michael & S George, Thursday, 6 August 2009
1260 Plain Bob Triples
Eileen J Butler
Beverly Faber
Mary Platt
Theresa M Rice
Christian J Haller
Colin A Lewis
Bruce N Butler (C)
Siyabulela Dyasi
First in Africa:1,2 ,3,4,5,7

The first time that Siyabulela has rung the heavy tenor to a quarter peal. Rung during the Butlers' Ringing Tour of South Africa, this being the 1st ringing tour of South Africa by a band from North America.

Dedicated to the memory of Dr. Derek Henderson, former Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, who died this day. These bells would not have been restored without his support in making the restoration of the Cathedral bells a Rhodes University project. May his soul rest in peace and rise in glory.

North American Guild - Hillandale, Grahamstown
Holy Cross Monastery, Sunday, 9 August 2009
1260 Plain Bob Doubles
Siyabulela Dyasi
Christian Haller
June Kelly
Colin Lewis
Bruce N Butler (C)
James Snyder
In celebration of the life of Ian Robert Knox, former Ringing Captain of St. George's Church, Johannesburg

North American Guild - Hillandale, Grahamstown
Holy Cross Monastery, Sunday, 9 August 2009
1260 Plain Bob Doubles
Mary Platt
Theresa Rice (C)
Eileen J Butler
Beverly Faber
June Kelly
Siyabulela Dyasi
Rung to celebrate National Women's Day in South Africa and for Dimie Randall who celebrated her 100th birthday last month. Also congratulations to Judith Orpen who rang her exam and passed on Thursday, August 6 at Grahamstown Cathedral

Posted Oct 22, 2009

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Eileen J ButlerOct 23 2009, 2:12 am

We have many more photos to share if there is any interest, please let us know.

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