This afternoon saw the Annual Meeting of the Huntingdon District of the Ely Diocesan Association. Last year we hosted this at our own tower in St Ives. This year it was the turn of St Neots, which has a 10-bell tower. As I have never rung at a 10-bell tower before this was something of a challenge. And a tenor bell of some 29cwt — ours is a mere 12cwt, so the bells are considerably heavier than I am used to. The tower at St Neots is large and spacious, certainly compared with the few other towers I’ve been in. Here is a comfortable ringing chamber, 30 feet or so up the tower, with plenty of space for the 10 ropes to fall nicely in a large circle, and room around the ringers to sit or stand.
Soon after I arrived the ringing master called for a plain course of Bob Royal — that’s on all ten bells — and I decided to stand behind one of the ringers (bell 7) and see what it was like.
Then some call changes were rung, and I had a go at this, partly to get a feel for the bells, but even so I managed to make a few mistakes. Sigh. I sat down, not entirely impressed with myself.
Next the ringing master called for a touch of Grandsire Caters — that’s 9 bells, and a tenor cover. I stayed in my seat, but was eventually persuaded to ring bell 7, with an experienced ringer standing alongside me. Now in theory I can ring a touch of Grandsire Triples, and Caters is ‘only’ a couple more dodging places in 8-9 up and down. The bobs and singles are the same as for Triples. And then there’s the extra two ropes — counting my place up to ninth place was one thing, but could I see what was happening amidst all those ropes?
So, starting on 7, I dodged with 6 and then up to the back — easy because it is over 8 and 9. Down to the lead is still okay because the bells are still just plain hunting (so every other bell: up the even numbers and down the odds). Then as I came off the lead a Bob was called. ‘You’re in the hunt now,’ said the friendly voice at my side; ‘Thanks,’ I thought gratefully, vaguely aware of the fact. (Hindsight is a wonderful thing: I started by dodging 6-7 up, so I knew my next dodge would be 4-5 up; I should have also considered that a bob at that point would mean making 3rds place and going into the hunt; I should not have been surprised, but somehow I had not thought about what to do at a bob — let alone the inevitable single.)
Still, plain hunting is nice and easy, except that it’s on 10 bells, well 9 bells, because the tenor is just covering. Oh, and the treble is always the last bell when you’re in the hunt in Grandsire, so I only had to worry about 8 bells. And in fact that’s only 7 other bells. But with all these ropes, that’s still quite hard to see, certainly when you’ve not done it before. It was a bit like ringing Major for the first time — then I could see my place when I was in 2nd or 3rd, and when I was in 7th or 6th, and somewhere in the middle was 4th and 5th. Here, however, I could see my place when I was in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and when I was in 9th, 8th, 7th. And somewhere in the middle was 5th place and 6th. So ring at about the right place and hope for the best! ‘Bob!’ came the call and I double-dodged 4-5 down, coming out of the hunt. Now carry on plain hunting, and remember that you have to dodge 6-7 down next time.
I don’t remember the exact details of the touch, but there were a number of other bobs, which had me, for example, double-dodging in 8-9 up. And there was another call of ‘Single!’ Help, what do I do at a single?! Another friendly word from my minder put me right, and the touch continued and eventually completed.
Everyone seemed to think I’d done quite well, although perhaps they were just being polite. For myself, I thought I did just about tolerably, and it was an interesting experience: my ropesight was pretty good, just about good enough to cope with ringing Caters (though probably not good enough to ring Royal); my striking and handling could be improved, especially when ringing these heavy bells, somewhat heavier than I am used to; and I need to commit Grandsire to memory just a little better — I really shouldn’t have been caught out going into the hunt, and I ought to remember about singles and what to do at one.