Like most things it began as a 'good idea', and migrated to being 'a very good idea'. In the cold light of dawn (well 8am) on a wet May Day Bank Holiday Monday, it had developed to being a 'we must be bonkers' sort of idea, as we set off - destination Oxfordshire, for the Open Day organised by the Bicester Branch, of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Bellringers. Yes, for the first time in over two decades we were off on what ringers refer to as 'a tower grab', the opportunity to ring at a few new towers. Sixteen to be precise! In order to acheive this we had to move on from tower to tower, keeping up with the advertised schedule, travelling in what appeared to be ever decreasing circles around Bicester, but if you knew the area, was probably a very well thought out route.
We had intended to be on the road by 7:30am, but I am not a morning person, so that ambition had always been a tad optimistic! The forecast indicated that the weather would improve. I took this photo at the traffic lights in Henley in Arden, as the skies were lightening, the glowing roofs indicating that change was on the way - and not just with the bells...
At the first tower Plain Hunt was the extent of our ambitions. Some ringers do not bother with the rings of 3 and 4, but other than Open Days it is quite hard to get the chance to ring at towers with fewer than 5 bells, and you never know how well they have been maintained. If there is sufficient local interest in bells they usually get augmented.
Souldern, was our second tower - a light weight ring of six, with a tenor at 7-3-6. By now the sun had put in an appearance. Beside the main path was a timely reminder concerning the potential slipperyness of the footpath.
The steward on duty advised us that we might need to wait as they had carried a gentlement who used a wheel chair up the tower. Shortly afterwards, a procession of ringers trooped down the spiral staircase carrying two wheels, a seat and the occupant - who was carried over the shoulder of his capable accomplice...This duo proceeded to ring at most of the towers on the day. I was reminded of their determination when faced with the odd ladder to climb. If they could manage, how could I not?
Fritwell, a 7cwt ring of four was next. Our last 'tower grab' was about 21 years ago, and navigation was by OS map. Today we were using postcodes in the satnav to locate the towers. Here our navigation miscalculated slightly as we ended up in a close near by, and had a little bit of a walk to the church but we found it.. and a quicker way back to the car afterwards! We could have stopped for refreshments, but we were on a mission with a schedule to keep to...and the loo was occupied.
Caversfield was our next destination. We spotted a row of cars as we entered the village, wound down our windows and could clearly hear the bells. Here Stedman came to grief, but Plain Bob was successful.
Stratton Audley an 11 and a half cwt ring of 5 were challenging. Only one of the bells was not on plain bearings. On the bright side the church had a loo, which was much appreciated! When we met the Steward at another tower later he asked gleefully how we had liked the "gorilla bells" and yes, strong arms were definitely an asset there!
Outside the pub was a massive carved chair which the KHT tried a for size.
Launton, a light (6-3-21) riing of six were next, accessed up an external metal staircase and then a short flight of stone steps into one of the cosiest ringing chambers I have ever visited.
Ludgershall a ring of 5 with a tenor just under 10cwt were next. They were rung from a ringing floor accessed under the stone arches.
Below the ringing floor was a vestry type room, with these amazing carved doors.
The church also had oil lamps similar to where I ring, only these had been converted to electricity - don't tell Phil!
Brill was the last tower before lunch. A very picturesque village with a very pleasant green featuring a very unsympathetically converted chapel, that just made you want to shout
It is sad enough when sacred buildings are converted, but to try and turn it into a suburban style home with integral garage really, really, really really does not work! The idyllic location just added insult to injury!
However, the church did have a very nice modern window inside.
This was a ground floor ring, so no climbing spidery staircases, or rickety ladders.
Cambridge was a surprise, in that it staggered to an unsatisfactory conclusion...
Lunch was eaten overlooking the magnificent windmill at Brill, before moving on to join the post lunch queue at Piddington.
Ambrosian, Charlton on Otmoor Bletchingdon, all merge into one, but I was taken with this sign on the screen at one of the churches "You are now entering the Mission field" - a salutary reminder!
The last tower listed was Bicester - we arrived just as the heavens opened, though from the look of the pavements this wasn't the first shower. to have passed by that afternoon. We had been watching the increasingly darkening skies for sometime, but the rain only reached us at the previous tower.
The Guild had booked the last tower, Kirtlington, for some event that didn't happen, or didn't happen there, I am not quite sure which! As it was booked they tagged it on to the end of the Open Day. We would have been well pleased to have got all sixteen towers, so to ring at seventeen out of sixteen was a great achievement!
Thanks to those who arranged the route, gave up their time to open the towers and to those who rang with us on the day. The countryside was beautiful, the towers were interesting and the ropes were mainly long. It was a great way to spend an indifferent Bank Holiday. How long until our next tower grab I wonder...?