Learning Bell Ringing

“Whatever you do, promise me you won’t let go of this rope.” Some firm instructions on my first day learning to ring the church bells in my village were welcome. It felt daunting to say the least. My journey with learning to ring bells came quite by accident.I always aim to learn a new skill each year as part of my January list but had not considered what might be this years topic.Ringing church bells hadn’t even entered my head.

I was simply in conversation with a couple of people from my local village and the subject of the church bells came up. I innocently asked how easy it was to ring them and within moments had an invitation to meet the bell captain at my local church. “I would love to teach you bell ringing,” he said smiling.

So, the following week I arrived in church and followed him to a door at the back to the bell tower. Up a tiny staircase to a hidden room where the ropes hung. The bells were above us and I was directly in line with the church clock ticking away. Within that room itself were many bell ringing memories. A certificate recording a grandsire of peals in memory of a previous bellringer, the calendar marked with up and coming weddings, and scribbled numbers on how to ring specific formations. From a tiny window I could see village gardens and nearby fields.

The bell captain began by telling me how the bells had to be “rung up” so they were ready to use. Until that time I had no idea how dangerous bells could be and how they needed to be stored safely. Standing on a box I was instructed in the rope.

“Never let this go,” he said.I dreaded to think what might happen if I did. We pulled on the rope, letting the bell come down to ring. It was really heavy and something that startled me somewhat. As the bell came up I caught the “salley” or the upward part of the rope and pulled again. Getting used to the weight and feel of the bell was the more difficult part of the process. But I wanted to learn more.

When the other bellringers came they demonstrated following in formation. I had always enjoyed listening to church bells but to see the energy of ringing each massive bell in formation was quite a thing. The church tower shook as all those bells rang out over the countryside. I could feel it as I sat against the wall. The next stage for me is to ring independently and then to do some following with the other ringers. Who knows- one day I might even get to ring at someone’s wedding.

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