I hope the title attracts readers to the article but I really struggled to pull Sally at times!
Some time ago I was persuaded by the Editors of my parish magazine, the Quedgeley News and the Gloucester City Cycling Club magazine ‘Spokespiece’ to write a short piece about Bells and Bikes in Northamptonshire which they both published. Having just returned from a similar trip in and around Kingston-upon-Hull I have anticipated their demands to give an insight into ‘Bell Ringing’ from a beginner’s perspective.
The 2010 Young Bell Ringers Cycling Tour (YBRCT) were accommodated and fed at the Endsleigh Centre, a Pastoral, Retreat and Conference Centre in Hull. The director is Sister Catherine a member of the Sisters of Mercy - step out of line and she will afford no mercy as some of the wayward members of the tour soon became aware. She is a Nun with a hard exterior and a soft centre, has a voice with a fine cutting edge but is full of the Irish blarney!
Earlier this year both my wife and I decided, having enjoyed the trip in 09 so much, to try our hand at the ancient art of campanology. It looked so easy - just pull the rope and let it go up and down!! However, it is far from easy but under the watchful eye of both Ruth and Geoff Stickland we are learning, very, very slowly. I suppose I should first apologise to those within earshot of St James’s Church as Thursday is practice night when Ann and I try our hand. In order to ring one must initially climb the tower (thankfully some are at ground level), a daunting experience which can be frightening! Don’t be put off but when the tower starts to rock - it’s akin to disembarking a yacht and feeling the jetty moving. Disregard your trepidation and enter the Bell Chamber where you are confronted by a number of ropes hanging from the ceiling, each rope has a thick section of coloured wool tufting called a ‘Sally’. From here on in the experts take over and tuition commences. Although I said it looked easy, I can now assure you it is definitely not. It takes many months to affect a successful ring where the bell feels light and easy to manoeuvre but that comes with time and continual practice. You would think that given the opportunity to ring at 28 towers we would be accomplished ‘Ringers’ - not so - it takes years! Our ringing should have commenced in Hull on Sunday evening in two towers but regrettably, as learners, we were only allowed to ring at one. ‘Quasimodo’s’ decision was right and pleased us both as the lengthy ropes which hung from a cavernous bell chamber looked difficult to pull. The evening meal was a welcome distraction. Monday we crossed the Humber to ring south of the river. It went reasonably well and we were both pleased with ringing despite my nerves although Ann was not happy with a two hour ride home. Tuesday’s ringing saw us reach by the coast in the seaside town of Withernsea where we were attracted by the all-pervading smell of chips. With a rest on the beach and a punnet of chips we were ready for the next tower. The last tower was St Patrick’s in Patrington, hit by the 5.2 scale earthquake on 27 Feb 08 that caused considerable damage to the spire. Was it safe? Feeling jaded and not wishing to climb outside over the transept to get to the chamber I declined to ring. My wife was braver than I! More than 15 miles home into the wind saw me earn my beer - I gave her a helping hand most of the way! However, saddle weary, walking became a different experience but that evening we rang at Beverley Minster with a massive weight of bells, a magnificent abbey in which we had a tinkle and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
By mid week Ann was suffering on the bike having cycled over 90 miles in two days, I was concerned with ascending towers in cleated cycling shoes and at times we both struggled with the considerable variation of bells and ropes. It was time to conjure-up a long lost friend who lived in Grimsby so we decided to have a day off. But! Wednesday evening we returned to ring at St Mary’s in Beverley another tower with 34 hundredweight of bells.
On Thursday the first tower was over 25 miles away at Goole - some brave guys rode the distance but did not quite make the first church! The more sensible amongst us drove to the last tower with the bikes and cycled round the other 5 churches. The roads around the area were very busy and no fun to cycle on, especially with some unfriendly drivers! As a beginner I was very concerned at being given Selby Abbey, a 12 bell tower, to organize and run. I need to decide what sequence is rung, who rings and who calls the ringing but thanks to my very informative Abbey contact John and all the visiting team my first tower went without a hitch. It took two guys to ring the tenor up - it was great to watch Ed and James perform - and even better to hear that bell. I have never heard such a rich, mature, fulsome and resonant sound - I think it was the first time I had really listened and heard a bell. The bells did not need to be rung down which was a bonus. Interestingly, my contact’s brother joined the RAF as an apprentice of the 86 Entry with my brother - it’s a small world. What a day - it was Ann’s birthday, we got lost, had a domestic, I made an insensitive comment, she cried and we argued but had a superb Italian meal in the evening. Geoff and I had a glass or two and all was well in the end!!
Friday, our last day, took us west of Hull to ring only 4 towers, a stroll in the park but on completing our weeks ringing at All Saints in North Cave we had to decide which way to return to Hull. Obviously the quickest but that included the biggest and longest hill of the week - guess who had to walk and suffer the indignity of the comments of a number of team members - thanks guys - and it rained! After a good soak in the bath Friday night we spent a very pleasant evening in the Centre relaxing and watching the presentation of ‘Wally of the Week’. I still think young John should have won it! Fancy using someone’s bike, knocking the reflector into the wheel and breaking a spoke - what a Wally! Our spirits were dampened as on her return to our lodgings Ruth had a disagreement with some rail tracks. Unfortunately, a foolish BMX rider cut across her path causing Ruth to fall off her bike resulting in a number of stitches to her eyebrow, a badly bruised cheek and a broken thumb. It just wasn’t Geoff and Ruth’s week as on the Wednesday night someone broke into Geoff’s car. His Thursday morning was spent resolving the issue with the police and insurance getting the window replaced.
To end - despite cycling more miles, climbing more towers and exerting ourselves in the effort of ringing, we both put on even more weight than last year! Nevertheless, it was great fun and I expect we provided great entertainment for the professional ringers watching us attempt to ring. Thanks for all their help - see you next year - maybe!
Paul Bridges, August 2010