In a summer remarkable for its many deluges it would be good to report that the first weekend of July bucked the trend and our annual tour took place amid blue skies and blazing sunshine. Sadly this was not the case and the Friday that marked the start of the Four Shires Guild's first extended weekend tour also witnessed some of the more spectacular deluges of this exceptional summer. The chosen destination was the South Wales borders and as the advance party of tourists began their journey, the main route into the area, the M50, was closed due to torrential flooding. After a detour they successfully reached the first tower of the weekend, SS Dinigat & Mary, Dingestow (6, 8cwt), and afterwards enjoyed a sumptuous meal at the village inn.
It was an early start on the Saturday for those who decided to take the day trip option. The first tower was St Teilo, Llantilio Pertholey (6, 12cwt) in a picturesque riverside setting beneath the Skirrid Mountain, where Grandsire and Stedman were successfully completed. An attempt at Cambridge Minor was of somewhat questionable quality.
The second tower was the esteemed St Mary's in Abergavenny 10, 25cwt), an ambitious choice for a daytrip without guaranteed numbers. However, with the assistance of some of the local ringers, it proved to be the ringing highlight of the day with a well-struck touch of Plain Bob Royal.
We continued down river to St Bartholomew in Llanover (5, 6cwt) where we were able to change the tune to St Simon's Doubles. Here we also found an historic ringing connection, as it was the site of the grave of Sir Benjamin Hall, a local worthy and politician after whom 'Big Ben' was named. As befitted a renowned 'larger than life' character the mausoleum dominated the pretty churchyard.
The remote setting lacked a hostelry suitable for lunch so the majority made their way to Usk to find refreshment in close proximity to the first tower of the afternoon. St Mary's in Usk (8, 14cwt) tripped along beautifully to the regular triples and major repertoire, most notably Stedman and Plain Bob and it was good to meet up with the tower captain, a fairly regular visitor to the Four Shires area because of his connections with the Fire Service Guild.
After the treats provided by Usk, the second afternoon tower, St Clement, Cwmcarvan (6,8cwt) brought us all back down to earth. Another remote location with deep-set bells that were quite difficult to hear provided us with a challenging forty-five minutes.
Sadly we were not able to make any comparisons with the next six as this proved to be the curse of all tour organisers: we found ourselves locked out. Fortunately for both tourists and the local landlord this setting was less remote and, while fruitless attempts were made to gain access, a source of refreshment was readily available. After a short break and before a convivial meal at the local Weatherspoon's, the last stop was St Mary the Virgin in Monmouth (8, 17cwt). The following morning this tower benefited from the attendance of nine hardy tourists to boost their Sunday Service band.
Our thanks to Richard for all his efforts in organising this successful event and having the foresight to plan a flexible tour to suit everyone's availability and budget.
Words: Isobel Murphy
Photos: Stuart Cummings
(Is this to be a template for future tours? Will Richard serve up something similar for 2013? If members thought this an excellent tour, perhaps they might encourage Richard to organise another along these lines by telling him so! Ed)