Buckden Towers, Buckden, Cambridgeshire
It had been an intention of mine for many years to go on the young persons cycle tour, but for one reason or another I simply hadn’t made it. To be honest I think the prospect of getting really tired every day cycling to a few towers called me to ask why people raved so much about it. However, as the thirty second annual young persons cycle tour came round I finally managed to join it and on Sunday 24th July rolled up to the first tower suitably nervous at not knowing how many people I would know, whether I would be able to keep up, or if I’d enjoy myself. I needn’t have worried.
Buckden Towers in Bedfordshire played host to the tour this year, a splendid red-brick castle like building, formerly the residence of the Bishop of Lincoln. In the main tower spiral (‘curly’ as the sign boasted) staircases to the boys and girls dorms gave a magical Hogwarts feel to the place, with a common room on the ground floor and dining area in the basement. By the time we had arrived and got settled, having rung for the local evensong, one of the tour traditions was already well up and running…the beer. Three barrels had been collected by Phil The Pint during the day and we were all tucking in before dinner (cheers to Cliff for providing all the glasses!). Before too long people who’d not met before were talking like old friends and a predictable president of loud late nights was set (despite a complaint from an unmentionable member of the party, who seemed shocked to discover there were young people on this cycling tour!).
Monday materialised seconds after heads hit pillows (or so it seemed) and having had no where near enough sleep we headed to breakfast. Many, including myself, were less than keen on cereal and toast but with the prospect of a days cycling ahead it had to be done. No sooner had the washing up been cleared than we were on our bikes and heading east into Bedfordshire. A long and uncharacteristic (for this area of the country) hill started the day ominously, not steep but with the wind in our faces it wasn’t welcomed, and with my legs already beginning to ache I felt a sudden worry hit me and began to think there was no way I’d keep up. However I made it to the first tower in plenty of time, as did all of the group and the weeks real focus began. It was after the first tower that a bit of off road shortcutting lead to the first puncture of the tour. As we came across the scene, a bridge over the A14, Dale’s tyre was being attended by Mary Jane…to no avail it appeared as he arrived at the next tower cycling on a very un-filled tyre. The day went on and the rain held off and by lunch we had reached Saint Ives, and a well needed pub by the river. Suitably replenished the day continued without incident, a good 4 inserted by Peter strategically to add both mileage and fun after lunch. The last tower provided a little more amusement with some observations from an onlooker during the ringing and ‘external stand’ moments! Those on the tour know what I mean!!!
After a long days cycling a beer and dinner were in order before heading out to local practices (thankfully in cars). The caterers at Buckden must have underestimated the appetite of ringers who have been cycling, because an on going theme for the early days of the week was small portions. A problem that was finally addressed by Thursday after a complaint had been made. Their response was to produce gallons of Bolognaise, pasta and garlic bread. Not to be beaten we were determined to finish the lot, and to their surprise (largely due to Dave and Cliff) we did ourselves proud, clearing pretty much everything.
Rather surprisingly the weather held off pretty much all week, and although it was damp, we only once really got emptied on, even then only for a few of minutes. This was attributed to Peter Triplow’s well judged prayer at the beginning of the week. Nice one Peter! Clearly he asks to those who listen…either that or he pitied us mad fools for riding around in it all week?!?
A drunken agreement made by Dave and Peter on last years tour began to kick in on Tuesday when a charity shop in Saint Neots was raided by a large group of the males on the tour. One of the problems with a lot of beer is that things that are incredibly stupid seem like a better idea, and many of us who were nothing to do with the original agreement were roped (willingly after a few beers) into the whole affair – as you will soon see!
During the week we rang on a whole spectrum of bells, from the really good to the quite frankly scary (a lot of which seemed to be the extra 3’s and 4’s Peter had added), one such 3 shook violently every time a bell struck and I was amazed the whole thing didn’t come tumbling down. We covered the entire compass during the week as well, with a varying mileage. On Thursday it was so laid back that many walked between a lot of the towers! It was also on Thursday, at Abbots Ripton, that the weeks motto ‘Big Wide Gaps’ came into its own. While a band attempted to ring Ripton singles, a chorus from outside the ringing room sang (or yelled in tones of loonusy) along with each word representing one bell. Great credit to the band for successfully managing it (albeit at second attempt) with us lot prating around and laughing our heads off outside! Afterwards we were told they could hear our yells half way down the church path!
Friday was the most tiring day but also one of the warmest. Many headed down through the mud tracks of the Four Shires Way, one of the youngest at heart concerning many by falling off her bike and getting caked in mud. We were firmly assured though that she was absolutely fine…if only we were all so sturdy! By the time we’d headed back into Buckden for the last time the ‘agreement’ was beginning to haunt many of us.
A splendid buffet had been laid on for us in the common room on the last night, and it was here that the special guests soon arrived, strait from the boys dorm! Some people getting way too much enjoyment out of the whole affair (Dave!!!). The week finished as it started, with lots of beer, lots of laughter and lots of fun. As with almost every night that week, the keenest (or most foolish) of us saw in the early hours, with antics providing amusement. Most based around Dave’s fictitious man and giant dog which he apparently spotted whilst taking a walk in his dress!
Saturday morning was a fitting send off with both rough and good bells, but much sooner than any of us wanted it was time to say good by. Talks of a two week tour skipped around and one last go at Mavis’ game in the churchyard amused onlookers as the human ball un-knotted itself. The week was a lot of fun with some really good ringing, ranging from rounds and calls up to Bristol Surprise Royal. The towers were varied and on the whole really good, the arrangements were superb. Huge thanks must go to Ruth and Geoff Stickland, and to Peter Triplow for arranging such a brilliant week. I know I will be signing up again next week. I can’t wait!
Jude S. Carriot, October 2005