Recent Mid-Week Monthly Tours
THE JANUARY TOUR: 15th JAN (the 303rd)
As I drove towards Kidderminster the sun was shining, but as I got nearer to Upper Arley thick dark clouds were looking at me. Snow was not forecast was it; or did I misread the forecast? As I turned off the main road to drop down towards the river it started to rain and sleet was mixed in it. Driving up to the Church I went alongside the River Severn looking brown and quite high after all the rain that we have had. Upper Arley is a ring of 6 with a tenor weight of 8 cwt in a very spacious ringing room. The bell ropes had been hanging in one of those heating machines that we see described in The Ringing World at times. Plenty of space for us to sit in this cold tower, to look at the menu and make a decision about lunch. Ringing here was organised by Brenda. Coming out of the tower we came out into sunshine and what a stunning view over the countryside and the river below. All we needed was a steam locomotive to go past on the Severn Valley Railway.
Now it was off to Wolverley, just a short drive away. Here the Church is perched up on a hill where once again there is a good view and hard to think that you are only just outside Kidderminster. This Church still has its balconies on three sides, something we do not see very often these days. Here was a ring of 8 with a tenor of 9cwt. Looking around the peal boards on the walls you very often see names of people that you have heard of but on this occasion there was one board with one of our own ringers on it - Paul Evans. Afterwards Paul advised us that he believes this the only peal board on which his name appears. Here our ringing was organised by Robin, with those ringing the 4th bell taking care where they stood; did not want people falling down the stairs, which were very close by.
Time for lunch at The Lock Inn just a short distance away from Wolverley Church where we found we had a room all to ourselves. As the name suggests it was by the canal lock and the lock was quite unusual. Normally when you are opening the lock gate you are pushing or leaning against a large straight wooden bit to open the gate but in this instance, because the lock gate was so close to the road bridge, this wooden part was angled. I am not sure I have seen one like this before.
Replenished it was back into the cars for the drive to Wollaston and we changed counties driving through part of Staffordshire before entering the West Midlands. These bells are a 10cwt 6, slow turning so ringing was sedate. Alan took charge of the ringing here, but had quite a job persuading us to move from our warm spots to ring. The ringing room here was small but there was a door that led out onto the balcony. Here at the back were radiators and they were on. Small carpet squares were placed over the radiators providing seats: oh what warmth on a cold day.
it was raining when we left Wollaston and a bit breezy as we headed to Amblecote driving through Stourbridge. Arriving at Amblecote we found a ring of 8 with a tenor weight of 7cwt, which have been rehung within the last few years. Once again the ringing room was small, but here they had another room with seating, which provided space for chatting without disturbing the ringing. At this tower our ringing was organised by Geoff. By now some had already left and others were making their way home, while others were thinking how to avoid the road works at Lydiate Ash by the M5.
Our thanks go to Pat for organising the day, no ground floor rings but all rings handled well. Also thanks to those who organised the ringing, ranging from Grandsire, Plain Bob to London. There was ringing to suit all standards.
THE FEBRUARY TOUR: 29th FEB (the 304th)
February is my favourite Four Shires tour, for the first time I arrive home in daylight, a glimmer of hope for the winter turning and of lighter days not far away.
We were greeted by milky white snowdrops at Sherbourne raising their heads on a dull dismal day, together with a few brave crocuses with a splash of colour at Whitnash at the end of the day when it had just about stopped raining. Even the moorhen in the village duckpond at Sherbourne scuttled off for cover out of the rain.
We write a lot about the bells and churches we visit, and often overlook the other vital ingredient in our days, and that is the individuals who turn up no matter what, to join in the ringing.
We are a diverse bunch, and the midweek tours have no committee (hurrah! I hear you say), no chairman, no ringing master, just a group of people sharing a common passion. Individuals take turns to organise a day, leading to a wide range of locations and towers you may not otherwise ring in, and where each tower's ringing is run by a different volunteer. Thanks go especially to Isobel who co-ordinates us all, produces a list once a year for us all to sign up to, email us to let us know where we are going, and sort out contributions for the towers.
I have been going for 10 years or so, I forget exactly, and choose to spend 10 days or more per year with Four Shires friends ringing. That adds up to more than 100 days of real friendship, support, encouragement not just of the ringing kind, exchange of views (mostly over lunch) and an opportunity to learn and ring things that for me would otherwise not be possible. It is better than a family, because you can choose whether or not to take part, without any prior expectations whatsoever, what more could you wish for?
This month we had the gothic splendour of Sherbourne, no expense spared; the thoughtful history of each bell described behind it in Barford, with a 14th Century 3rd bell lighter than the treble; Wellesbourne conveniently located to the rear of the pub which served pies as big as plates and fish described as "whales", they were certainly large; and a terrifying notice displayed to all comers in Whitnash (photo: Clive Sparling).
We enjoyed some excellent ringing from Bob Doubles to some exotic Grandsire & Stedman spliced, please ask Clive for more details if you are curious. Why not come and join the "geriatrics" and see for yourself. If I can ring, climb towers and enjoy myself half as much as these "geriatrics" when I get there I will be delighted, in the meantime I will continue to enjoy the unique experience with thanks to all of you who make it so special.
THE MARCH TOUR: 19TH MAR (the 305th)
March 19th, officially the last day of winter, demonstrated the season's tenacious hold on the temperature and a reluctance to allow the clouds to part. Under these conditions twenty of us journeyed to the Buckinghamshire countryside just to the west of Milton Keynes.
Lillingstone Lovell's medieval tower houses an "interesting" ring of 6, previously bells 2 to 7 of a ring of 8. Despite their auditory idiosyncrasies, the bells went relatively easily, enabling us to bring round Plain Bob, Cambridge, Norwich, Stedman and Little Bob.
The ringing room at Cosgrove provided us with some amusing cartoons highlighting the dangers of teaching ringing, the work of a local artist.
As well as our usual repertoire an attempt at Alnwick proved slightly problematic but did ultimately succeed.
The Grand Union Canal passes through the village enabling us to enjoy lunch at a canal side pub.
Some of us explored the towpath and discovered an unusual horse tunnel underneath the canal, testimony to how much average male height has increased in the last two centuries.
The picturesque coaching town of Stony Stratford was our first venue of the afternoon. Here we saw the pubs that are supposedly the source of a “Cock and Bull” story. The easy going bells of the only 8 of the day enabled us to score Single Oxford
Bob Triples, a Four Shires favourite as well as Plain Bob, Stedman, and Yorkshire.
Leaving the historic scenery behind, we negotiated the multitudinous roundabouts of Milton Keynes to our final tower, the stately 6 at Shenley. Here Oxford Treble Bob was successfully brought round together with a better rendition of Alnwick.
Our thanks to Colin Lord for arranging another enjoyable day.