Learning to Ring

or The Ap-peal-ing Tale of a Novice Campanologist

When I tell people I am learning to ring the bells this is usually followed by, “What made you want to do that?” (and the look from my work colleagues who now have confirmation that I am a bit mad). So I thought this would be a good place to start.

I had enjoyed listening to the bells ever since we came to Goldhanger particularly as they were ringing as we were walking around the sea wall with the dog or on Christmas Eve whilst staggering home from the pub. Carrying on from there I just felt it was important that they should continue to be heard.

I think my husband may have mentioned this to Caron and this was followed with an invitation to turn up and give it a go.

I had no real appreciation of what was involved. I could imagine the moving ropes and would have doubts about catching them (at school I was useless at any games involving either hitting a moving target or catching) and whether I would be strong enough or fit enough?

Therefore it took a number of months to pluck up the courage but eventually decided to try and see how I got on.

Everyone was very friendly, welcoming and very patient. After a visit up the tower to look at the bells and the mechanism, initial lessons were to stand with a helper who firstly explained how to hold the end of the rope and then pull the backstroke (with the helper handling the hand stroke and ensuring that they were ready to catch the rope should anything go wrong). A similar process is adopted on the hand stroke (pulling the Sally, the stripey fluffy bit) and then adding in the feeling of keeping hold of the tail end in the left hand while pulling the Sally.

Progress was initially slow, and I can – after all – be very impatient, so when Andrew offered the opportunity to have some longer one-2-one lessons I jumped at the chance.

The clapper is tied so that the bell doesn’t actually ring and annoy the neighbours.

For these as all other lessons the movements and techniques are built up in easy stages with the teacher looking after the parts of the strokes that you are not doing. We started with the bell in the down position, pulling the rope so that it would chime and gradually increasing the swing of the bell to a ringing position. As this improves the bell moves nearer to the balance point (bell pointing up). It is important to get the idea of what this feels like, so you can control the movement, stop the bell bouncing off the stay or worse still breaking the stay, be able to stand the bell in the up position.

There was some homework to do , I needed to practice the hand movements and making sure that the hands stay touching as much as possible during ringing, for this I used the rope on my washing line/ airer in the kitchen, the pull chord on the blinds a bit bizarre but then you are able to practice the technique in slow motion with the pace not being forced by a moving bell.

Alongside the practical bit in the church I was also registered for the nationally recognised “learning the ropes” scheme which comes with a log on a website with resources and the theory bits. One of the videos that was massively helpful to me was of a ringing bell with a person handling the rope at the bottom and you can see the impact of what the ringer was doing to what happened. It was at this point I had the first light bulb moment as to the actual difference between the hand and back strokes and the fact that the backstroke is started from a much higher point as the rope is wound around the ringing wheel at that point.

Now at the point when I can ring the bell unaided it’s time to join in with the others. Again this is built up and you start with one other and gradually increase the numbers. Each bell in order.

Next stage is to master being able to speed up or slow down the ringing speed in order to change the order of bells. “Call Changes” This is done by adjustments in where you catch the Sally or the length of the tail end.

The rules are very simple but I was having to concentrate so hard on the ringing technique I lacked enough thought capacity for working out the order of the bells and therefore found the really simple rules difficult to follow and would often need to ask where I should be in the order. As technique improves the ringing becomes more natural and there is now enough brain capacity to concentrate on where I should be. (most of the time)

I was then off for my first outing to another church on this occasion in Writtle. Here there were a number of learner ringers at different stages each with their own helpers/ teachers. I was nervous and worried that I might break something. There was some chaos with ropes being missed and going all over the place which was quite distracting but I used the same skills as the ones to filter out the noise in the office and stayed really focused and managed to ring. I was the allowed to ring with call changes with some of the other members of the band.

After a number of weeks practicing I was allowed to turn up to ring for a service. This just happened to be for Christmas Day – so no pressure. I turned up at the church very nervous , legs and arms both almost turned to jelly as I pulled the rope for the first time. After the first couple of pulls the nerves subside although having to intensively concentrate. Things go reasonably well.

I have continued with this since improving consistency and correcting faults as they have appeared.

The next stage for me is to complete the couple of things left at the level one of the ITTS course and I am now getting to the point of moving on to learn the first of the change ringing methods – Plain hunt.

More to follow in a later edition perhaps?

So if you feel the inclination and want to give it a try the practice night in Goldhanger is on Wednesday evenings 7.30 – 9 pm you would be welcome to turn up or catch one of the ringing team and have a chat.

Article by Clare Gebel