Bells in down position

Bell Ringers' Outings

A Day Out Visiting Lovely Hertfordshire Villiage Churches


Angela Davis third from left.

Another Saturday outing for our cheery bell ringers. We met up as usual in Waitrose car park on Windmill Hill. It was a rather cold and grey day but we were determined to enjoy it. We had five churches to ring at during the day and the first would be at 10.00. Our merry band included Peter, Janet, John, Jason, Bea, Gill, David, Derek, Emma, Mark, Angela, Joy and me. It was great to welcome Joy back to our team. Joanne would be joining us later. We set off just after 9.00 with drizzle in the air. This would be Emma and Mark’s first ringing outing. I am sure they were quite apprehensive.

With Jason driving we tore up the A10 as if our lives depended on it, arriving at 9.55 for our first ring of the day St Mary the Virgin at Westmill. There were ewes with their lambs just on the other side of the fence from the church yard, a lovely setting. This was a ring of six bells with a long draught although it did have guides halfway up to the 20 foot ceiling! The bells here were not as heavy as our bells at St Mary Magdalene. The heaviest being the No.4 weighing in at 8cwt 1qt 3lbs (in old money) and also the oldest bell of our trip dating back to 1460. We all like to have a go on the oldest bell if we can. The church was quite plain inside but with some amazing wood carving behind the altar in the lady chapel.

We rang the bells up and most of us coped well with the flighty ropes and rang some call changes to get our outing underway. Emma rang the No.2 bell, her first outing ring and did very well. Mark managed his first go as well but he looked terrified! We have all been there and can remember what it felt like. We were happy with our first ring of the day but mustn’t linger the next church is expecting us at 11.00.

It was just a short way to our next church, St Mary’s Aspenden. This was a ring of 8 bells, all dating from late 1600s to mid-1700s except for the No. 7 which was a youngster by comparison made in 1936. The heaviest here was the tenor which is usual. Weighing in at about the same weight as our tenor. The church yard was very pretty and full of cowslips. We had to enter the tower by a small side door down some steps. It felt as though we were entering a dungeon. We were greeted by a nice lady who explained that their water had been turned off due to a dreadful leak somewhere yet to be detected which had cost the church over £300 in water bills! (Restricted flushing was discussed!)

The bell tower was accessed by a ladder through a trap door. It was a galleried ring with a lovely view of the church. Eight of us got the bells up ready to ring. We did Plain Hunt on 7, Bob Doubles on 6 and Bob Doubles with the three tenors (not the singers!). We all enjoyed a good ring here. In the ringing chamber there were several old oak plaques on the wall one of which dated 1721 was inscribed “Beware this is God’s House”. We were suitably well behaved. Mark had another good go and Emma managed rounds and call changes well.

We enjoyed this church but lunch was calling so we adjourned to the Fox Pub in Aspenden, very handy, for a delicious meal, where Joanne joined us. Thank you Joy for buying us all a drink. The food was good and some of us, not all, had magnificent puddings! We set off after lunch to St John the Baptist at Cottered. The weather had not improved over the lunch period and if anything was getting colder. There was still rain in the air occasionally but nothing like the rain that had fallen the previous night.

There were only five bells at Cottered and we had to remember to disconnect the clock from the workings so as not to cause damage. We weren’t sure which string to pull for the disconnection but we chose correctly fortunately. The churchyard was extensive and beautifully kept, the inside was again quite plain and there was a small organ just next to the ringing chamber. There was also an amazing new stained glass window erected for the millennium with pictures of John the Baptist and in contrast some original wall paintings dating from around 1500. A lovely church in a quiet backwater.

The draught here was another whopper! Such a long way for the ropes to travel before the sallies disappeared. The ropes felt very soft and as there were only five bells it was necessary to ring faster than usual. I rang the treble and all the other bell ropes were arranged in a line on the other side of the chamber with everyone looking towards the treble. Very disconcerting! Jason, Angela, Joy, John and Peter had a go next and did some call changes. In the bell chamber there was an amazing piece of equipment – a big blue fluffy ball shape on the end of a stick which must have been at least 18 feet long. We decided that it was a device for getting the cobwebs off the very high ceiling – ingenious.

2018 Bellringers Outing 01

We were due at our next church at 15:00 and off we set with Jason taking up the lead. The lanes were quite narrow and overtaking was not an option so we processed to Ardeley in an orderly queue. The countryside was very green following all the rain we had had so it wasn’t a surprise when we rounded a corner in the lane and going down hill encountered an extensive puddle, more the size of a pond, completely covering the lane at the bottom of the small hill. We paused. Discussion was had about the inconvenience of turning round and finding another way, after all our schedule would take a beating if that were to happen. Tentatively Jason set the car towards the waters. It was probably only about 8 inches deep however great caution was necessary to avoid too much backwash. I assume the other cars followed at a sensible distance as we all arrived at St Lawrence at Ardeley and parked along the side of the road against the wall to the churchyard. The path to the church passed a village pond and through a lovely lych-gate. The church dated back to the 15th century and like the others that we had been in today was mostly built with flint and clunch! Clunch is a soft limestone which was used for domestic buildings as it was easy to cut into shape. (I thought I would mention this as I like the word Clunch!).

St Lawrence church was another ground floor ring, so no steps to negotiate. This was a ring of six bells and the sallies looked lovely and fluffy but despite looking welcoming the ropes were very lively. A brave team got the bells up ready to ring but we all found it quite difficult to ring them, and not one of us enjoyed the ringing here. On the plus side when it was time to ring them down I had no trouble at all as my bell seemed to ring itself down. We used the time that we didn’t ring having the group photograph taken, kindly, by Emma. It was raining so we sheltered at the front of the little village hall which was opposite. Then we all piled back into the cars for the last ring of the day at Albury.

It seems that there is a pattern developing with our team outings and that is after a busy day ringing in all sorts of different churches and contending with many sorts of bells arrangements, our illustrious organisers manage to keep the heaviest bells of the day for the last church, just when we are all exhausted.

A very pleasant gentleman greeted us as St Mary the Virgin Albury and kindly showed us where the loo was, around the back of the church and through a little arched doorway, most useful as this was our last ring of the day and our journey home would soon be upon us. He also explained to us on our arrival that only experienced ringers would be allowed to ring here – he stayed to make sure we were obedient. However these were definitely the best bells of the day and it was really good to finish the day feeling pleased. The three heavier bells dated from the mid 1600s and the other three were cast in 1984. Quite a contrast in age but they sounded lovely. Some of us had a go at call changes and then Gill, Jason, Joy, Jo, John and Peter brought the ringing day to a close with some more call changes and then ringing the bells down in peal! (?)

We had all had a good day despite the unpleasant weather. It was finally time to head home and Jason kindly drove me and Angela to our respective front doors.

Thanks are due to Jason and Bea for organising the churches and the excellent lunch venue. I think they particularly enjoyed the lunch sampling. It was good to see our new recruits, Emma and Mark, doing so well and being brave enough to ring in different churches. I wish them well. Thanks also to Peter for keeping us all on our best behaviour.

Some of you will be pleased to know that this will be my last ramblings for the time being unless I am invited back, as I am moving away to live by the sea and will be ringing hopefully at St. Mary’s at Felpham, West Sussex, if they will have me. Thank you to Peter for teaching me to ring and putting up with my panicking from time to time over the last few years. I never thought I would be able to ring but I think I can manage well enough now. All the best.

Angela Davis